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History of the Commonwealth

The Second World War and its aftermath changed the face of the modern world forever. It also changed the nature of the British Commonwealth, marking its transition to a multi-racial association of sovereign and equal states.

The process began with India and Pakistan's independence in 1947. Over the next five decades a number of milestones followed, reshaping the Commonwealth into its present form.

In 1949, the conference of Commonwealth prime ministers revised the criterion that stated Commonwealth membership was tied to the Balfour Report's 'a common allegiance to the crown', which then allowed India, a republic, to enter the Commonwealth. They all agreed however, to recognise King George VI as the 'symbol of their free association and thus Head of the Commonwealth'.

At the same time the word 'British' was dropped from the association's title to reflect the Commonwealth's new reality.

Committed to racial equality and national sovereignty, the Commonwealth became a natural association of choice for many new nations emerging out of the decolonisation in the 1950s and 1960s.

The great increase in membership of the Commonwealth has made it a more complex, international organisation requiring a new range of roles that enables the organisation to continue to promote and support international programs in cultural diversity, education, technology, economic development and community-based development initiatives.

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CHOGM history

The first meetings of Commonwealth leaders, known as Colonial Conferences, were held as far back as 1887. In 1911, these were replaced by Imperial Conferences that took place at regular intervals up until 1937.

Between 1944 and the early 1960s, Commonwealth Prime Ministers Meetings (CPMMs) were held almost annually in London. During this time, leaders came to terms with the outcome of the war, sought to redefine the Commonwealth relationship and grappled with the pressing international issues of the day.

The CPMM of 1949 and its London Declaration marked the final transition from the old Commonwealth to the new.

In the 1960's, southern African issues dominated CPMMs. Rhodesia's unilateral declaration of independence in late 1965 led to the convening in Lagos, in January 1966, of the first CPMM outside London and the first organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat which had been established a year earlier. In procedural terms this meeting was also notable for establishing the practice that the host country's government, rather than the British Prime Minister, should preside over the meeting.

At Singapore, in 1971, the term 'Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting' was adopted to encompass both Presidents and the Prime Ministers. CHOGMs have since been held every two years.

Originally known as the Prime Minister's Meetings, the summits were renamed Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM) in 1971 and are now held every two years in a different Commonwealth country.

CHOGM 99, Durban, South Africa
CHOGM 97, Aberdeen, Scotland

See also List of Commonwealth leaders' meetings 1994-2001.

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