54027812 zambia Zambia profile

Zambia, in south-central Africa, is the continent's biggest copper producer and home to the Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

The Victoria Falls – also known locally as the ''Smoke that Thunders'' – are to be found along the Zambezi River and have UNESCO World Heritage status.

They are one of the country's many natural features which have been enticing a growing number of tourists, along with the wide variety of wildlife to be found in large game parks.

wpid 64453466 zambia elex3 20067 Zambia profile Zambia has generally been peaceful since gaining independence

Another draw for visitors is the fact that Zambia has been peaceful and generally trouble-free, especially compared to most of the eight neighbours with which it shares a border.

The area was colonised in the 1800s and ruled by Britain as Northern Rhodesia until 1964, when it made a peaceful transition to independence.

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At a glance

Politics: Michael Sata won the presidency in 2011, unseating a government that had been in power for 20 years

Economy: Improved copper prices and investment in mining have improved prospects for export earnings

International: Thousands of refugees from the Angolan civil war have yet to return home

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

Economy

Kenneth Kaunda – who led the country at independence and for the next three decades – introduced central planning into the economy and nationalised key sectors including the copper mines. His policies, together with a drop in copper prices, are blamed for the country's economic woes during his time.

The country was also made to suffer for its support of liberation movements trying to remove white rule in South Africa and what is now Zimbabwe.

The country's economic fortunes began to change in the late 1990s when the privatisation of the mining sector began to draw in foreign investment and improve output. Government support for agriculture is also said to have contributed to economic growth, averaging around 6% a year in recent years.

China in particular has invested heavily in Zambia, creating jobs and new infrastructure. Census date suggests about 100,000 Chinese live in the country, and about 500 firms are active in sectors across the economy.

On the flipside, labour relations at Chinese-owned firms have sometimes been tense, and some Zambians complain of being exploited.

Politics

President Kaunda imposed single-party socialism, in which his United National Independence Party (UNIP) was the only legal political party within a ''one-party participatory democracy''.

Constitutional change was introduced in 1991 under popular pressure, allowing a multi-party system and a change of leadership.

Zambia has a reputation for political stability and a relatively efficient, transparent government.

However, social conditions are tough. Poverty is widespread. Life expectancy is among the lowest in the world and the death rate is one of the highest – largely due to the prevalence of HIV/Aids.

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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 afp6 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 getty6 South Africa profile

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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 g5 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 afp5 Zimbabwe profile The ruins of Great Zimbabwe are the remains of a lost civilization

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 53733184 namibia Namibia country profile

Namibia, a large and sparsely populated country on Africa's south-west coast, has enjoyed stability since gaining independence in 1990 after a long struggle against rule by South Africa.

Germany took control of the area which it called South West Africa in the late 1800s. The discovery of diamonds in 1908 prompted an influx of Europeans. South Africa seized it during World War I and administered it under a League of Nations mandate.

Germany has apologised to Namibia for the colonial-era killings of thousands of members of the Herero ethnic group; their descendants have asked Berlin for financial compensation.

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At a glance

wpid 54436581 nam himbawoman afpgetty3 Namibia country profile

Politics: President Pohamba took over from independence fighter Sam Nujoma, who led the ruling SWAPO party until 2007. The opposition has only minor representation in parliament

Economy: Main trading partner is South Africa. Government keen to step up land acquisitions from white farmers

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

Namibians achieved independence in 1990 after a bush war of almost 25 years. Inter-racial reconciliation encouraged the country's white people to remain and they still play a major role in farming and other economic sectors.

In recent years supporters of land reform have become more vocal. The expropriation of white-owned farms began in 2005 and the government says it aims to resettle many thousands of landless citizens.

Like its neighbours, Namibia's wellbeing is being threatened by the HIV/Aids epidemic, which is estimated to affect 25% of Namibians. Mr Nujoma made the fight against the disease a national priority.

In the late 1990s secessionist troubles in the Caprivi Strip, in eastern Namibia, prompted thousands to flee to Botswana. In 2002 the government declared that the area was safe for tourists.

Deserts occupy much of the country; their dunes take on shapes and colours according to the elements. The country also boasts game-rich grasslands and a semi-arid Central Plateau, large tracts of which are given over to livestock farming.

wpid 61652521 namibia epupa g3 Namibia country profile Namibia has some spectacular scenery, such as the Epupa waterfalls on the border with Angola

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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 20058 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 g8 Ceuta, Melilla profile Spanish King Juan Carlos to Ceuta in 2007 angered Morocco, which claims sovereignty over the territory

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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 g6 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.

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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 g6 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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 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 puntland6 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 g6 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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 54199226 ethiopia Ethiopia profile

Ethiopia is Africa's oldest independent country and its second largest in terms of population. Apart from a five-year occupation by Mussolini's Italy, it has never been colonised.

It has a unique cultural heritage, being the home of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church – one of the oldest Christian churches – and a monarchy that ended only in the coup of 1974.

It served as a symbol of African independence throughout the colonial period, and was a founder member of the United Nations and the African base for many international organisations.

 67216136 ethopia1 Ethiopia profile Ethiopia's Orthodox Church is a defining feature of national identity

Ethiopia has suffered periodic droughts and famines that lead to a long civil conflict in the 20th Century and a border war with Eritrea.

In the first part of the 20th Century Ethiopia forged strong links with Britain, whose troops helped evict the Italians in 1941 and put Emperor Haile Selassie back on his throne. From the 1960s British influence gave way to that of the US, which in turn was supplanted by the Soviet Union.

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At a glance

Politics: Veteran Prime Minister Meles Zenawi died in August 2012. Secessionist groups maintain a low-level armed struggle

Economy: One of fastest growing non-oil economies in Africa. Depends heavily on agriculture, which is often affected by drought. Coffee is a key export

International: Eritrea hived off in 1993 and a border dispute escalated into full-scale war in 1999. Border tensions persist. Ethiopian troops helped oust Islamists who controlled southern Somalia in 2006. Ethiopia is seen as a key US ally

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

Drought

Although it has had fewer of the coups that have plagued other African countries, Ethiopia's turmoil has been no less devastating. Drought, famine, war and ill-conceived policies brought millions to the brink of starvation in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1974 this helped topple Haile Selassie. His regime was replaced by a self-proclaimed Marxist junta led by Mengistu Haile Mariam under which many thousands of opponents were purged or killed, property was confiscated and defence spending spiralled.

The overthrow of the junta in 1991 saw political and economic conditions stabilise, to the extent that the country is regarded as one of Africa's most stable.

Eritrea

Eritrea gained independence in 1993 following a referendum. Poor border demarcation developed into military conflict and full-scale war in the late 1990s in which tens of thousands of people were killed.

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Rebel threat

Ogaden National Liberation Front – ONLF

Separatist group in Ogaden region, home of ethnic Somalis

Aims to defend rights of Ogadeni people, defend resources from exploitation by state

Has conducted low-level guerrilla campaign since 1994

2007 attack on oilfield killed 65 Ethiopian troops and 9 Chinese workers

A fragile truce has held, but the UN says ongoing disputes over the demarcation of the border threaten peace.

Ethiopia is one of Africa's poorest states, although it has experienced rapid economic growth since the end of the civil war. Almost two-thirds of its people are illiterate. The economy revolves around agriculture, which in turn relies on rainfall. It is one of Africa's leading coffee producers.

Many Ethiopians depend on food aid from abroad. In 2004 the government began a drive to move more than two million people away from the arid highlands of the east in an attempt to provide a lasting solution to food shortages.

wpid 52642606 ethiopia famine afp4 Ethiopia profile Drought-prone and short of food, Ethiopia has suffered a series of famines in recent decades

At the end of 2006 Ethiopia sent between 5,000 and 10,000 troops into Somalia to support forces of the weak transitional government there and helped to oust the Islamists who had controlled southern Somalia for six months.

But, despite initial successes, the Ethiopians were unable to break the power of the Islamists, who gradually began to win back lost territory.

Ethiopia's presence in Somalia formally ended in early 2009, when it pulled its troops under an agreement between the transitional Somali government and moderate Islamists.

wpid 61783665 ethiopia omo g4 Ethiopia profile The Omo valley, where a massive and controversial dam is being built

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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 g7 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 g7 Reunion profile The waters around Reunion are home to a variety of creatures, including sea turtles

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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 g5 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 g5 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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