Usually refered to simply as `The Commonwealth`, the Commonwealth of Nations came into being as the countries which formerly made up the British Empire gained independence.
The old arrangement was replaced by an association of sovereign nations, one that still exists today.
Unlike other international organisations, it is not designed according to a blueprint but has been allowed to evolve and member nations retain their independence whilst choosing to remain `in association` with each other. You may feel that this compares favourably with some of the other international forums.
It will never be a fashionable organisation, and yet it has survived for decades and of those nations eligible to join, most choose to do so. There are at present 54 member states containing 2 billion citizens and accounting for 20% of world trade.
That`s enough background, now on to the main event.
Commonwealth Day (the second Monday in March) has now expanded to become Commonwealth Week, a series of events which this year included a Celebrating the Commonwealth concert in London by jazz bods Hugh Masekela and Zara McFarlane, hosted by comedian Hardeep Singh Kohli.
This year`s theme is `Connecting Cultures`, and this theme was explored by H M Queen Elizabeth II, Head of the Commonwealth and Kamalesh Sharma, Commonwealth Secretary-General in their Commonwealth Day messages.
There are numerous Commonwealth-related websites, but here are a few that may be of interest ;
The Commonwealth Secretariat - www.thecommonwealth.org
The Commonwealth Foundation - www.commonwealthfoundation.com
Friends of the Commonwealth - www.commonwealthfriends.org
Not everything about the Commonwealth is perfect.
Last year the UK Dept for International Development rated the Commonwealth Secretariat (CS) as performing poorly in it`s aid programmes. However, it acknowledged that the CS "could play a key role in strengthening democracy and supporting development ...and in making the Commonwealth`s voice heard on global issues" but found that the C S`s programmes "are thinly spread over many interest areas and it`s potential is not being realised."
The two organisations have since agreed, despite some areas of disagreement, to achieve an improvement. To me, an organisation whose works are independently assessed and in which agreed programmes of reform are pursued within a disciplined framework, is preferable to some (not all) Non Government Organisations who have no real system of evaluation and often see no need for one.
In January 2011, Conservative politician William Hague, in his capacity as Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, called for a "reinvigorated Commonwealth" and praised it`s "unique character" and often "unsung achievements".
Despite it`s imperfections, I have to agree with him.