54199922 zimbabwe Zimbabwe profile

The fortunes of Zimbabwe have for almost three decades been tied to President Robert Mugabe, the pro-independence campaigner who wrested control from a small white community and became the country's first black leader.

Until the 2008 parliamentary elections, Zimbabwe was effectively a one-party state, ruled over by Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF.

A power-sharing deal agreed after the polls raised hopes that Mr Mugabe might be prepared to relinquish some of his powers.

The partnership was shaky and often acrimonious, but the coalition succeeded in agreeing a new constitution, which was approved by referendum ahead of fresh elections in July 2013.

However, following Mr Mugabe's re-election as president in 2013 and Zanu-PF's gaining of a two-thirds majority in the parliamentary poll, the power-sharing coalition was ditched.

Mr Mugabe continues to preside over a nation whose economy is in deep crisis, where poverty and unemployment are endemic and political strife and repression commonplace.

wpid 64432075 zim cattle g1 Zimbabwe profile Control over the land has been a major issue in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is home to the Victoria Falls, one of the natural wonders of the world, the stone enclosures of Great Zimbabwe – remnants of a past empire – and to herds of elephant and other game roaming vast stretches of wilderness.

For years it was a major tobacco producer and a potential bread basket for surrounding countries.

But the forced seizure of almost all white-owned commercial farms, with the stated aim of benefiting landless black Zimbabweans, led to sharp falls in production and precipitated the collapse of the agriculture-based economy. The country has endured rampant inflation and critical food and fuel shortages.

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At a glance

Politics: President Robert Mugabe, in office since 1980, gained a new term in controversial elections in 2013

Economy: Economy appears to be stabilising after years of crisis with rampant inflation, “de-industrialisation” and shortages of food and fuel. Agricultural production has shrunk

International: Several countries shun Zimbabwe in the hope of promoting democratic reform

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

Many Zimbabweans survive on grain handouts. Others have voted with their feet; hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans, including much-needed professionals, have emigrated.

Aid agencies and critics partly blame food shortages on the land reform programme. The government blames a long-running drought, and Mr Mugabe has accused Britain and its allies of sabotaging the economy in revenge for the redistribution programme.

The government's urban slum demolition drive in 2005 drew more international condemnation. The president said it was an effort to boost law and order and development; critics accused him of destroying slums housing opposition supporters.

In 2010 the government passed a controversial indigenisation law as part of its policy to force foreign firms to cede economic control to black Zimbabweans. The policy has so far been applied to the mining industry.

Indigenisation was one of Mr Mugabe's key campaign issues in the 2013 election, and on being re-elected he vowed to pursue the policy with renewed vigour.

The former Rhodesia has a history of conflict, with white settlers dispossessing the resident population, guerrilla armies forcing the white government to submit to elections, and the post-independence leadership committing atrocities in southern areas where it lacked the support of the Matabele people.

Zimbabwe has had a rocky relationship with the Commonwealth – it was suspended after President Mugabe's controversial re-election in 2002 and later announced that it was pulling out for good.

wpid 64432074 zim ruins afp1 Zimbabwe profile The ruins of Great Zimbabwe are the remains of a lost civilization

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 54199922 zimbabwe Zimbabwe profile

The fortunes of Zimbabwe have for almost three decades been tied to President Robert Mugabe, the pro-independence campaigner who wrested control from a small white community and became the country's first black leader.

Until the 2008 parliamentary elections, Zimbabwe was effectively a one-party state, ruled over by Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF.

A power-sharing deal agreed after the polls raised hopes that Mr Mugabe might be prepared to relinquish some of his powers.

The partnership was shaky and often acrimonious, but the coalition succeeded in agreeing a new constitution, which was approved by referendum ahead of fresh elections in July 2013.

However, following Mr Mugabe's re-election as president in 2013 and Zanu-PF's gaining of a two-thirds majority in the parliamentary poll, the power-sharing coalition was ditched.

Mr Mugabe continues to preside over a nation whose economy is in deep crisis, where poverty and unemployment are endemic and political strife and repression commonplace.

wpid 64432075 zim cattle g Zimbabwe profile Control over the land has been a major issue in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is home to the Victoria Falls, one of the natural wonders of the world, the stone enclosures of Great Zimbabwe – remnants of a past empire – and to herds of elephant and other game roaming vast stretches of wilderness.

For years it was a major tobacco producer and a potential bread basket for surrounding countries.

But the forced seizure of almost all white-owned commercial farms, with the stated aim of benefiting landless black Zimbabweans, led to sharp falls in production and precipitated the collapse of the agriculture-based economy. The country has endured rampant inflation and critical food and fuel shortages.

Continue reading the main story

At a glance

Politics: President Robert Mugabe, in office since 1980, gained a new term in controversial elections in 2013

Economy: Economy appears to be stabilising after years of crisis with rampant inflation, “de-industrialisation” and shortages of food and fuel. Agricultural production has shrunk

International: Several countries shun Zimbabwe in the hope of promoting democratic reform

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

Many Zimbabweans survive on grain handouts. Others have voted with their feet; hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans, including much-needed professionals, have emigrated.

Aid agencies and critics partly blame food shortages on the land reform programme. The government blames a long-running drought, and Mr Mugabe has accused Britain and its allies of sabotaging the economy in revenge for the redistribution programme.

The government's urban slum demolition drive in 2005 drew more international condemnation. The president said it was an effort to boost law and order and development; critics accused him of destroying slums housing opposition supporters.

In 2010 the government passed a controversial indigenisation law as part of its policy to force foreign firms to cede economic control to black Zimbabweans. The policy has so far been applied to the mining industry.

Indigenisation was one of Mr Mugabe's key campaign issues in the 2013 election, and on being re-elected he vowed to pursue the policy with renewed vigour.

The former Rhodesia has a history of conflict, with white settlers dispossessing the resident population, guerrilla armies forcing the white government to submit to elections, and the post-independence leadership committing atrocities in southern areas where it lacked the support of the Matabele people.

Zimbabwe has had a rocky relationship with the Commonwealth – it was suspended after President Mugabe's controversial re-election in 2002 and later announced that it was pulling out for good.

wpid 64432074 zim ruins afp Zimbabwe profile The ruins of Great Zimbabwe are the remains of a lost civilization

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 54270745 ceuta melilla Ceuta, Melilla profile

Ceuta and Melilla, fragments of Europe on north Africa's Mediterranean coast, came under Spanish control around 500 years ago.

Madrid says they are integral parts of Spain. On three sides they are surrounded by Morocco, which views the Spanish presence as anachronistic and claims sovereignty.

But improving relations were jeopardised in November 2007 by Spanish King Juan Carlos's first visit to the territories in more than 30 years, which King Mohammed VI strongly condemned.

Spain also controls a scattering of islets along the north African coast, including uninhabited Perejil, which was at the centre of a spat in 2002 when Moroccan soldiers occupied it before being removed by the Spanish army.

wpid 62842730 ceuta 2005 Ceuta, Melilla profile Moroccan youths survey Ceuta: The territories have been used as staging posts for immigration to Europe

More recently, differences over Ceuta and Melilla have not prevented a warming of relations between Morocco and Spain, particularly economic ones. Morocco's premier has advocated “neighbourly” talks on the issue.

With its rebuilt 15th century cathedral, shipyards and a fish-processing plant, Ceuta is viewed by Spain as the more strategically-valuable enclave. The town is a 90-minute ferry ride from mainland Spain.

Melilla, conquered in 1497, is a modern town with a distinctive old quarter.

The territories are surrounded by fences, intended to deter illegal immigrants. But Ceuta and Melilla are nonetheless used by many Africans as stepping-stones to Iberia. Many migrants are caught and some drown while attempting to make the sea crossing. People trafficking is common.

After a series of increasingly-desperate attempts by would-be immigrants to surmount the barriers in 2005, Spain and Morocco agreed to deploy extra troops to try to secure the borders.

Ceuta and Melilla are linked to Spain by ferry services to Malaga, Algeciras and Almeria. Borders and defence are controlled by Madrid. Tourism is an important money-earner with duty-free goods being a big draw for visitors.

wpid 70295348 ceuta king g Ceuta, Melilla profile Spanish King Juan Carlos to Ceuta in 2007 angered Morocco, which claims sovereignty over the territory

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 73772468 egypt Egypt profile

Long known for its pyramids and ancient civilisation, Egypt is the largest Arab country and has played a central role in Middle Eastern politics in modern times.

In the 1950s President Gamal Abdul Nasser pioneered Arab nationalism and the non-aligned movement, while his successor Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel and turned back to the West.

The protests that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 raised the hopes of those seeking democratic reform and an end to decades of repressive rule.

But it was the Islamists who initially benefited, before they were themselves swept away by the military and secularist protesters, prompting speculation about a return to authoritarianism.

Regional importance

Egypt's ancient past and the fact that it was one of the first Middle Eastern countries to open up to the West following Napoleon's invasion have given it a claim to be the intellectual and cultural leader in the region. The head of Cairo's Al-Azhar Mosque is one of the highest authorities in Sunni Islam.

wpid 64330571 egypt tahrir g Egypt profile A popular uprising in early 2011 forced President Mubarak from power, ushering in a long period of instability.

But the historic step by President Anwar Sadat to make peace with Israel in the 1979 Camp David agreement led to Egypt being expelled from the Arab League until 1989, and in 1981 Mr Sadat was assassinated by Islamic extremists angry at his moves to clamp down on their activities.

President Hosni Mubarak took a more conciliatory approach, but Islamic groups continued their campaigns sporadically. They have been responsible for deadly attacks that often targeted tourists and resort areas, and began to harass Egypt's Coptic Christian community.

While providing stability and a measure of economic progress, Mr Mubarak's rule was repressive. An emergency law in force nearly continuously since 1967 muzzled political dissent, and the security forces became renowned for brutality. Corruption was widespread.

Continue reading the main story

At a glance

wpid 55193876 egy sphinx3 afp Egypt profile

Politics: President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February 2011 amid an uprising, handing power to the military. The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood won elections but was ousted by the army a year later amid mass protests

Economy: The Egyptian economy is the second largest in the Arab world after Saudi Arabia, but struggles to support the growing population

International: Egypt has been a key ally of the West; it has played a major role in the Israeli-Arab conflict

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

Encouraged by the protests that overthrew the long-term leader of Tunisia, mounting popular anger burst to the surface in huge anti-government demonstrations in January 2011 that eventually ended President Mubarak's long rule.

The protesters' hoped-for transition democracy proved elusive, however, as post-revolutionary politics became polarised between the newly ascendant Islamists on the one hand and the military as well as liberal and secular forces on the other. A growing Islamist militant insurgency has also shaken Egypt's stability.

Following a year of interim military rule, the first presidential elections in half a century were won by Islamist Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi in 2012.

But a year on, growing dismay at the government's actions among many Egyptians – primarily secularists, liberals and Coptic Christians – boiled over in another wave of protests. Siding with the demonstrators, the military ousted Mr Morsi and violently suppressed the protest sit-ins held by the Brotherhood in response.

The new authorities outlawed the Brotherhood, started drafting a new constitution and curbed media freedom. The army chief, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, won the presidency in the May 2014 elections. His rise has left some fearing an effective return to military rule.

Geography and economy

Egypt's teeming cities – and almost all agricultural activity – are concentrated along the banks of the Nile, and on the river's delta. Deserts occupy most of the country.

The economy depends heavily on agriculture, tourism and cash remittances from Egyptians working abroad, mainly in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries.

However, rapid population growth and the limited amount of arable land are straining the country's resources and economy, and continuing political turmoil has paralysed government efforts to address the problems.

wpid 61898162 egypt aswan g Egypt profile Most of Egypt's population is concentrated along the River Nile

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 54272259 garowe Puntland profile

Puntland, an arid region of north-east Somalia, declared itself an autonomous state in August 1998.

The move was in part an attempt to avoid the clan warfare engulfing southern Somalia. Nevertheless, the region has endured armed conflict, and grabbed the world headlines with an upsurge in pirate attacks on international shipping in the Indian Ocean.

Unlike its neighbour, breakaway Somaliland, Puntland says it does not seek recognition as an independent entity, wishing instead to be part of a federal Somalia.

The region's leadership refused to take part in peace talks in Djibouti in 2008 that led to the formation of a new transitional federal government headed by a moderate Islamist PM, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, but later reluctantly recognised the new administration.

wpid 62820915 som puntland Puntland profile Puntland is a destination for displaced Somalis from the south

Sporadic fighting has broken out between Puntland and Somaliland over the ownership of Sool and Sanaag regions, which are claimed by Puntland on the basis of ethnicity. Violence also accompanied a political power struggle in 2001 between rival claimants to the Puntland leadership.

Livestock herding and fishing sustain the people – many of them nomads – of the drought-prone region. The money sent home from overseas workers is an important source of foreign exchange.

Maritime piracy

Since 2005, the region has become infamous as the hub of a burgeoning piracy operation in the seas around Somalia, particularly in the Gulf of Aden, where the pirates prey on key international shipping lanes to and from the Suez Canal.

The issue has achieved a high profile internationally, and several states, including the US, France, Britain and China, have deployed warships to the seas around Somalia to protect shipping.

Piracy has brought vast amounts of money into the region, leading to accusations that the authorities are turning a blind eye to the problem. Puntland's leaders have frequently promised to curb the pirates' activities, but with little apparent success.

It is widely viewed a socially acceptable and lucrative lifestyle, and has attracted former fishermen, ex-militiamen and technical experts.

Many in Somalia defend the attacks on foreign ships as a justified response to illegal fishing and the dumping of toxic waste along Somalia's long and poorly policed coastline.

Puntland is a destination for many Somalis displaced by violence in the south; some of them attempt to make the sea crossing to Yemen.

The region's coast was hit by the December 2004 Asian tsunami; more than 300 people were killed and thousands lost their livelihoods. A famine in 2011 and a cycloone in late 2012 added to the region's woes.

The territory takes its name from the Land of Punt, a centre of trade for the ancient Egyptians and a place shrouded in legend.

wpid 71094239 puntland migrants g Puntland profile Puntland's coast has been a jumping off point for migrants, such as those seen in this 2007 picture waiting to cross to Yemen

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 61880280 malawi 2012 Malawi country profile

Malawi, a largely agricultural country, is making efforts to overcome decades of underdevelopment and the more recent impact of a growing HIV-Aids problem.

For the first 30 years of independence it was run by the authoritarian and quixotic President Hastings Kamuzu Banda, but democratic institutions have taken a firm hold since he relinquished power in the mid-1990s.

After President Banda lost the first democratic presidential election in 1994 his successor, Bakili Muluzi, established a far more open form of government. Corruption, poverty and the high rate of HIV-Aids continued to hamper development and fostered discontent with the new authorities.

wpid 75228385 malawi lake g Malawi country profile Lake Malawi is important for fishing as well as transport

Continue reading the main story

At a glance

Politics: Turbulent politics has hampered governance

Economy: More than half the population lives below the poverty line. Moves are under way to exploit uranium reserves to boost meagre export earnings, and there are plans to explore Lake Malawi for oil and gas

International: Until January 2008, Malawi was one of only six African countries to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan rather than China

Profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

Most Malawians rely on subsistence farming, but the food supply situation is precarious and the country is prone to natural disasters of both extremes – from drought to heavy rainfalls – putting it in constant need of thousands of tonnes of food aid every year.

Malawi has been urged by world financial bodies to free up its economy, and has privatised many loss-making state-run corporations.

Since 2007 the country has made real progress in achieving economic growth as part of programmes instituted by the government of President Mutharika in 2005. Healthcare, education and environmental conditions have improved, and Malawi has started to move away from reliance on overseas aid.

Its single major natural resource, agricultural land is under severe pressure from rapid population growth, although the government's programme of fertilizer subsidies has dramatically boosted output in recent years, making Malawi a net food exporter.

Tens of thousands of Malawians die of Aids every year. After years of silence, the authorities spoke out about the crisis. A programme to tackle HIV-Aids was launched in 2004, with President Muluzi revealing that his brother had died from the disease.

wpid 75228387 malawi bike Malawi country profile Many Malawians depend on subsistence agriculture but the land is under pressure from population growth

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 54270753 renunion Reunion profile

Rugged, volcanic Reunion is a territory of France in the Indian Ocean.

The densely-populated island once prospered from the cultivation of sugar cane, but tourism and financial aid from Paris now underpin its economy.

Reunion's culture, cuisine and ethnic mix reflect the story of its settlement.

French colonists arrived on the island, then known as Bourbon, in the 1640s. Slaves from Madagascar and mainland Africa were brought in to work the island's coffee plantations. Later arrivals included labourers from south and east Asia.

wpid 71094241 reunion surfing g Reunion profile Reunion is an attractive destination for surfers. However, several fatal shark attacks have prompted the authorities to restrict the sport

The island was ruled as a colony until 1946, when it was made a “departement”, or administrative unit, of France. The Reunionese are French citizens and many of them wish to remain so; independence movements have been sporadic and there is little will to sever ties with Paris.

Sugar cane was introduced during a brief period of British rule in the early 19th century. It provides the raw material for Reunion's main exports. Tourism is also important; attractions include spectacular gorges and “cirques” – natural amphitheatres surrounded by mountains.

A large wealth gap has fuelled social tensions. These spilled over into violence in 1991 when 10 people were killed in anti-government riots. Unemployment is high, particularly among the young, and migration is commonplace. Violence once again flared up in March 2009 in protest at rising food prices.

Reunion is home to one of the world's most active volcanos, the Piton de la Fournaise, which has erupted more than 170 times since the mid-17th century. Lava flows have closed roads and damaged buildings.

The territory is prone to tropical storms; a cyclone monitoring station in the capital serves the Indian Ocean region.

wpid 71094243 reunion turtle g Reunion profile The waters around Reunion are home to a variety of creatures, including sea turtles

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 52802752 ghana Ghana country profile

Ghana was the first place in sub-Saharan Africa where Europeans arrived to trade – first in gold, later in slaves.

It was also the first black African nation in the region to achieve independence from a colonial power, in this instance Britain.

Despite being rich in mineral resources, and endowed with a good education system and efficient civil service, Ghana fell victim to corruption and mismanagement soon after independence in 1957.

In 1966 its first president and pan-African hero, Kwame Nkrumah, was deposed in a coup, heralding years of mostly-military rule. In 1981 Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings staged his second coup. The country began to move towards economic stability and democracy.

wpid 61818031 ghana elmina castle g Ghana country profile Elmina Castle, an important centre of the slave trade

In April 1992 a constitution allowing for a multi-party system was approved in a referendum, ushering in a period of democracy.

A well-administered country by regional standards, Ghana is often seen as a model for political and economic reform in Africa.

Cocoa exports are an essential part of the economy; Ghana is the world's second-largest producer.

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At a glance

Politics: Ghana is one of the more stable nations in the region, with a good record of power changing hands peacefully

Economy: Ghana is the world's second largest cocoa producer behind Ivory Coast, and Africa's biggest gold miner after South Africa. It is one of the continent's fastest growing economies, and newest oil producer

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

The discovery of major offshore oil reserves was announced in June 2007, encouraging expectations of a major economic boost.

Production officially began at the end of 2010, but some analysts expressed concern over the country's ability to manage its new industry, as laws governing the oil sector had not yet been passed.

The Ghanaian economy proved to be relatively resilient because to the world economic shock of 2008-9, mainly because of the high prices of cocoa and gold. It has continued to post some of Africa's highest annual GDP growth rates.

Ghana has a high-profile peacekeeping role; troops have been deployed in Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone and DR Congo.

Although Ghana has largely escaped the civil strife that has plagued other West African countries, in 1994-95 land disputes in the north erupted into ethnic violence, resulting in the deaths of 1,000 people and the displacement of a further 150,000.

wpid 60996903 ghana street g Ghana country profile Ghana has generally managed to avoid civil strife

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 54272256 somaliland Somaliland profile

A breakaway, semi-desert territory on the coast of the Gulf of Aden, Somaliland declared independence after the overthrow of Somali military dictator Siad Barre in 1991.

The move followed a secessionist struggle during which Siad Barre's forces pursued rebel guerrillas in the territory. Tens of thousands of people were killed and towns were flattened.

Though not internationally recognised, Somaliland has a working political system, government institutions, a police force and its own currency. The territory has lobbied hard to win support for its claim to be a sovereign state.

wpid 62814097 somaliland 2010 Somaliland profile Somaliland has escaped much of the chaos that plagues Somalia

The former British protectorate has also escaped much of the chaos and violence that plague Somalia, although attacks on Western aid workers in 2003 raised fears that Islamic militants in the territory were targeting foreigners.

Although there is a thriving private business sector, poverty and unemployment are widespread. The economy is highly dependent on money sent home by members of the diaspora.

Duties from Berbera, a port used by landlocked Ethiopia, and livestock exports are important sources of revenue.

Embargoes

The latter have been hit by embargoes on exports, imposed by some Gulf countries to inhibit the spread of Rift Valley Fever.

Somaliland is in dispute with the neighbouring autonomous Somali region of Puntland over the Sanaag and Sool areas, some of whose inhabitants owe their allegiance to Puntland.

Somaliland's leaders have distanced themselves from Somalia's central transitional government, set up in 2004 following long-running talks in Kenya, which they see as a threat to Somaliland's autonomy. In June 2012, however, they agreed to talks in London with the Somali government on settling Somaliland's status, under the aegis of Britain, the European Union and Norway.

Somaliland was independent for a few days in 1960, between the end of British colonial rule and its union with the former Italian colony of Somalia. More than 40 years later voters in the territory overwhelmingly backed its self-declared independence in a 2001 referendum.

wpid 71094238 somaliland camels g Somaliland profile Somaliland's main export is livestock, with sheep and camels being shipped from Berbera, the country's largest port

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 54024887 sierra leone Sierra Leone country profile

Sierra Leone, in West Africa, emerged from a decade of civil war in 2002, with the help of Britain, the former colonial power, and a large United Nations peacekeeping mission.

More than 17,000 foreign troops disarmed tens of thousands of rebels and militia fighters. A decade on, the country has made progress towards reconciliation, but poverty and unemployment are still major challenges.

A lasting feature of the war, in which tens of thousands died, were the atrocities committed by the rebels, whose trademark was to hack off the hands or feet of their victims.

wpid 64438491 sierra beach2 g Sierra Leone country profile Sierra Leone has sandy beaches fringed by lush, forested hills

A UN-backed war crimes court was set up to try those from both sides who bore the greatest responsibility for the brutalities. Its last case ended in The Hague in April 2012, with judges finding former Liberian leader Charles Taylor guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes in the Sierra Leone civil war.

Continue reading the main story

At a glance

Politics: Sierra Leone is recovering from a 10-year civil war which ended in 2002; democracy consolidated at 2012 elections, the first held without UN supervision

Economics: Substantial growth in recent years, but Sierra Leone remains bottom of UN's league for human development

Profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

Sierra Leone has experienced substantial economic growth in recent years, although the ruinous effects of the civil war continue to be felt.

In September 2010, the UN Security Council lifted the last remaining sanctions against Sierra Leone, saying the government had fully re-established control over its territory, and former rebel fighters had been disarmed and demobilised under the auspices of a professional national army.

Economic recovery has been slow partly because the reconstruction needs are so great. Around half of government revenue comes from donors.

The restoration of peace was expected to aid the country's promotion as a tourist destination in the long term. Sierra Leone boasts miles of unspoilt beaches along its Atlantic coast, and hopes to emulate its near-neighbour Gambia in attracting tourists.

Sierra Leone is also rich in diamonds and other minerals. The trade in illicit gems, known as “blood diamonds” for their role in funding conflicts, perpetuated the civil war. The government has attempted to crack down on cross-border diamond trafficking and to persuade foreign investors that blood diamonds are a thing of the past.

Sierra Leone has a special significance in the history of the transatlantic slave trade. It was the departure point for thousands of west African captives. The capital, Freetown, was founded as a home for repatriated former slaves in 1787.

wpid 61678781 sierra diamond g Sierra Leone country profile Diamond production – by hand as well as on an industrial scale – is an important export earner for Sierra Leone

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