Gabon and Togo joined the Commonwealth on Saturday, becoming the latest nations with no historic ties to Britain to enter the English-speaking club headed by Queen Elizabeth II.
The 54-nation group of mostly former British colonies accepted Togo and Gabon's application for membership on the final day of its leadership summit in Rwanda.
"We have admitted Gabon and Togo as new members, and we all welcome them to the Commonwealth family," Rwandan President Paul Kagame said at the closing press conference.
The French-speaking West African states are the first new members to join the Commonwealth since Rwanda in 2009.
Born out of the British Empire, the Commonwealth represents one-third of humanity and spans nations across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.
Mozambique -- a former Portuguese colony -- became the first Commonwealth member without historic links to Britain when it joined in 1995.
Togo's Foreign Minister Robert Dussey said membership opened the door to 2.5 billion consumers in the Commonwealth realm, offered new education opportunities, and tapped a "craze" for English among his countrymen.
‘Our joining the Commonwealth of Nations family has been purposedly seeked in order to strengthen cooperation between our States and fraternizing among peoples’, President Faure Gnassingbé tweeted overnight.
The Commonwealth has admitted Gabon and Togo as its 55th and 56th members respectively. Both countries are former French colonies.
Leaders accepted applications by the two west African countries at the closing session of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali, Rwanda. It follows formal expressions of interest by Gabon and Togo and consultation with member countries.
Rwanda was the last country to join the Commonwealth, in 2009.
Welcoming the announcement, Commonwealth Secretary-General The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland, QC, said:
“The Commonwealth, which began as eight nations in 1949, is growing to 56. Our continued growth, beyond the scope of our history, reflects the advantages of Commonwealth membership and the strength of our association. I am thrilled to see these vibrant countries join the Commonwealth family and dedicate themselves to the values and aspiration of our Charter.”
Gabon is a sparsely populated country of two million people, bordering Cameroon - also a member of the Commonwealth - and Equatorial Guinea, and the Republic of Congo.
Togo is bordered by Ghana – a Commonwealth member - and Benin and Burkina Faso. It has a population of approximately 7.8 million people.
Neither country has an historic association with the Commonwealth, with both gaining independence from France in the 1960’s.
The eligibility criteria for Commonwealth membership, amongst other things, state that an applicant country should demonstrate commitment to democracy and democratic processes, including free and fair elections and representative legislatures; the rule of law and independence of the judiciary; good governance, including a well-trained public service and transparent public accounts; and protection of human rights, freedom of expression, and equality of opportunity.