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 g10 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 afp10 Zimbabwe profile The ruins of Great Zimbabwe are the remains of a lost civilization

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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 g4 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.

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At a glance

wpid 55193876 egy sphinx3 afp4 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 g4 Egypt profile Most of Egypt's population is concentrated along the River Nile

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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 20059 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 g9 Ceuta, Melilla profile Spanish King Juan Carlos to Ceuta in 2007 angered Morocco, which claims sovereignty over the territory

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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 201016 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 g16 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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 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 puntland9 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 g9 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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 54199073 cape verde Cape Verde profile

Poor in natural resources, prone to drought and with little arable land, the Cape Verde islands have won a reputation for achieving political and economic stability.

The former Portuguese colony comprises 10 islands and five islets, all but three of which are mountainous.

During the 20th century severe droughts caused the deaths of 200,000 people and prompted heavy emigration. Today, more people with origins in Cape Verde live outside the country than inside it. The money that they send home brings in much-needed foreign currency.

From the mid-1990s, droughts cut the islands' grain crop by 80%, and in 2002 the government appealed for international food aid after the harvest failed.

wpid 52277376 capeverde migrant2 afp4 Cape Verde profile Increasing numbers of Europe-bound migrants have been intercepted in Cape Verde's waters

Nonetheless, Cape Verde enjoys a per capita income that is higher than that of many continental African nations. It has sought closer economic ties with the US, EU and Portugal.

In 2008 Cape Verde became only the second country after Botswana to be promoted by the United Nations out of the ranks of the 50 least developed countries. In recent years it has seen economic growth averaging 6%, the construction of three international airports and hundreds of kilometres of roads.

Tourism is on the rise, but there are concerns that it poses a threat to the Cape Verde's rich marine life. It is an important nesting site for loggerhead turtles and humpback whales feed in the islands' waters.

Cape Verde became independent in 1975, a year after its sister colony, Guinea-Bissau, won freedom from Portugal. The two countries planned to unite, but the plan was ditched after a coup in Guinea-Bissau in 1980 strained relations.

In 1991 Cape Verde held its first free presidential elections, which were won by Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro, who replaced the islands' first president, Aristides Pereira.

wpid 61771385 cape verde citadel g4 Cape Verde profile The 15th century town of Cidade Velha – listed as a World Heritage Site – was the first European settlement in the tropics

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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 g11 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 g11 Reunion profile The waters around Reunion are home to a variety of creatures, including sea turtles

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 54027457 south africa South Africa profile

Diversity is a key feature of South Africa, where 11 languages are recognised as official, where community leaders include rabbis and chieftains, rugby players and returned exiles, where traditional healers ply their trade around the corner from stockbrokers and where housing ranges from mud huts to palatial homes with swimming pools.

The diverse communities, however, have not had much representation for long.

Until 1994 South Africa was ruled by a white minority government which was so determined to hang onto power that it took activists most of the last century before they succeeded in their fight to get rid of apartheid and extend democracy to the rest of the population.

The white government which came to power in 1948 enforced a separation of races with its policy called apartheid. It dictated that black and white communities should live in separate areas, travel in different buses and stand in their own queues.

wpid 67499650 zuluwomendurban131013 afp4 South Africa profile

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At a glance

Politics: The ANC scored its fourth election victory in April 2009

Economy: One of continent's biggest economies. Poverty widespread, high crime rate associated with high unemployment. Economy moved into recession in May 2009

International: Plays a leading role in diplomatic and anti-poverty initiatives in Africa. Emerged from international isolation in 1994 at the end of the apartheid era

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

The government introduced grand social engineering schemes such as the forced resettlement of hundreds of thousands of people. It poisoned and bombed opponents and encouraged trouble in neighbouring countries.

The apartheid government eventually negotiated itself out of power, and the new leadership encouraged reconciliation. But the cost of the years of conflict will be paid for a long time yet, not least in terms of lawlessness, social disruption and lost education.

South Africa faces major problems, but having held four successful national elections as well as local polls since the end of white rule, a democratic culture appears to be taking hold, allowing people at least some say in the search for solutions.

South Africa has one of the continent's biggest economies, though this went into recession in May 2009 following a sharp slowdown in the mining and manufacturing sectors. The construction industry, on the other hand, benefited from a huge programme of government investment ahead of the 2010 World Cup.

South Africa is, along with China, Brazil, Russia and India, a member of the BRICS club of emerging world economic powerhouses.

Many South Africans remain poor and unemployment is high – a factor blamed for a wave of violent attacks against migrant workers from other African countries in 2008 and protests by township residents over poor living conditions during the summer of 2009.

Land redistribution is an ongoing issue. Most farmland is still white-owned. Having so far acquired land on a “willing buyer, willing seller” basis, officials have signalled that large-scale expropriations are on the cards. The government aims to transfer 30% of farmland to black South Africans by 2014.

South Africa has the second-highest number of HIV/Aids patients in the world. Around one in seven of its citizens is infected with HIV. Free anti-retroviral drugs are available under a state-funded scheme.

wpid 67510348 capetn231109 getty4 South Africa profile

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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 201015 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 g15 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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 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 g9 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 afp9 Zimbabwe profile The ruins of Great Zimbabwe are the remains of a lost civilization

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