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.
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.
Spanish King Juan Carlos to Ceuta in 2007 angered Morocco, which claims sovereignty over the territory
Somalia was without a formal parliament for more than two decades after the overthrow of President Siad Barre in 1991.
Years of anarchy followed the downfall of President Barre, and it was not until 2012, when a new internationally-backed government was installed, that the country began to enjoy a measure of stability once more.
The decades of fighting between rival warlords meant that the country was ill-equipped to deal with natural disasters such as drought, and around half a million people died in the Somali famines of 1992 and 2010-12.
Comprised of a former British protectorate and an Italian colony, Somalia was created in 1960 when the two territories merged. Since then its development has been slow. Relations with neighbours have been soured by its territorial claims on Somali-inhabited areas of Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti.
Thousands of Somalis have been displaced by ongoing conflict
In 1970 Mr Barre proclaimed a socialist state, paving the way for close relations with the USSR. In 1977, with the help of Soviet arms, Somalia attempted to seize the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, but was defeated thanks to Soviet and Cuban backing for Ethiopia, which had turned Marxist.
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At a glance
No effective government for more than two decades after 1991
New internationally-backed government installed in 2012
The self-proclaimed state of Somaliland and the region of Puntland run their own affairs
Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring
In 1991 President Barre was overthrown by opposing clans. But they failed to agree on a replacement and plunged the country into lawlessness and clan warfare.
In 2000 clan elders and other senior figures appointed Abdulkassim Salat Hassan president at a conference in Djibouti. A transitional government was set up, with the aim of reconciling warring militias.
But as its mandate drew to a close, the administration had made little progress in uniting the country.
In 2004, after protracted talks in Kenya, the main warlords and politicians signed a deal to set up a new parliament, which later appointed a president.
The fledgling administration, the 14th attempt to establish a government since 1991, faced a formidable task in its efforts to bring reconciliation to a country divided into clan fiefdoms.
Its authority was further compromised in 2006 by the rise of Islamists who gained control of much of the south, including the capital, after their militias kicked out the warlords who had ruled the roost for 15 years.
With the backing of Ethiopian troops, forces loyal to the interim administration seized control from the Islamists at the end of 2006.
Islamist insurgents – including the Al-Shabab group, which later declared allegiance to al-Qaeda and in 2012 announced its merger with the global Islamist terrorist group – fought back against the government and Ethiopian forces, regaining control of most of southern Somalia by late 2008.
Ethiopia pulled its troops out in January 2009. Soon after, Al-Shabab fighters took control of Baidoa, formerly a key stronghold of the transitional government.
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Foreign intervention in Somalia
1992 – UN troops arrive to monitor ceasefire after fighting which followed fall of Siad Barre. US-led task force delivers aid
1993 – UN mission is dealt a fatal blow when US rangers are killed in incident made famous by Hollywood film Black Hawk Down
1995 – UN troops withdraw, leaving warlords to fight on. UN casualties number 150
2006 – Ethiopia sends troops to defend interim government
2007 – African peacekeeping force AMISOM deploys
2011 – Kenya enters Somalia in pursuit of al-Shabab militia
Somalia's parliament met in neighbouring Djibouti in late January and swore in 149 new members from the main opposition movement, the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia.
The parliament also extended the mandate of the transitional federal government for another two years, and installed moderate Islamist Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad as the new president.
However, the government's military position weakened further, and in May 2009 Islamist insurgents launched an attack on Mogadishu, prompting President Ahmad to appeal for help from abroad.
Al-Shabab consolidated its position as the most powerful insurgent group by driving its main rival, Hizbul Islam, out of the southern port city of Kismayo in October 2009.
But al-Shabab was wrongfooted by a series of government and African peacekeeper offensives and a Kenyan army incursion in 2011. They withdrew from Mogadishu in August 2011, the port of Baidoa in February, the key town of Afgoye in May and the port of Merca in August, and lost their last urban stronghold – the major southern port of Kismayo – in October 2012, along with the major inland town of Wanla Weyn.
In a sign of growing confidence, Somalia's first formal parliament in more than 20 years was sworn in at Mogadishu airport, marking an end to the eight-year transitional period.
Parliament chose Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, an academic and civic activist with little political experience, as president in September 2012. He in turn appointed an economist and businessman, Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid, prime minister with a brief to stamp out nepotism and clan rivalry.
The long-standing absence of authority in the country led to Somali pirates becoming a major threat to international shipping in the area, and prompted Nato to take the lead in an anti-piracy operation. International efforts were seen to bear fruit in 2012, when pirate attacks dropped sharply.
In 2011, the plight of the Somali people was exacerbated by the worst drought in six decades, which left millions of people on the verge of starvation and caused tens of thousands to flee to Kenya and Ethiopia in search of food.
After the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991, the north-west part of Somalia unilaterally declared itself the independent Republic of Somaliland. The territory, whose independence is not recognised by international bodies, has enjoyed relative stability.
Mogadishu residents could enjoy the beach again in late 2012 after the withdrawal of extremists who banned such social gatherings of men and women
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.
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.
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.
Puntland's coast has been a jumping off point for migrants, such as those seen in this 2007 picture waiting to cross to Yemen
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. The archipelago lies around 500 kms off the west coast of Africa.
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.
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.
The 15th century town of Cidade Velha – listed as a World Heritage Site – was the first European settlement in the tropics
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.
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.
The waters around Reunion are home to a variety of creatures, including sea turtles
Once hailed as a potential model for African development, Guinea-Bissau is now one of the poorest countries in the world.
It has a massive foreign debt and an economy that relies heavily on foreign aid.
Compounding this, the country experienced a bitter civil war in the late 1990s in which thousands were killed, wounded or displaced.
Formerly Portuguese Guinea, Guinea-Bissau won independence from Portugal in 1974 after a long struggle spearheaded by the left-wing African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). For the next six years post-independence leader Luis Cabral presided over a command economy.
Guinea-Bissau is one of the world's biggest producers of cashew nuts
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At a glance
Politics: This former Portuguese colony has suffered a civil war and several coups, the latest in April 2012. A new president was elected in May 2014
Economy: Political instability and mismanagement have undermined the economy. Country is dependent on primary crops – mainly cashew nuts – and subsistence agriculture. Government often struggles to pay wages.
International: Country has become transhipment point for Latin American drugs; army clashed with Senegal's Casamance separatists in 2006
Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring
In 1980 he was overthrown by his army chief, Joao Vieira, who accused him of corruption and mismanagement. Mr Vieira led the country towards a market economy and a multi-party system, but was accused of crony capitalism, corruption and autocracy. In 1994 he was chosen as president in Guinea-Bissau's first free elections.
Four years later he was ousted after he dismissed his army chief, thereby triggering a crippling civil war. This eventually ended after foreign mediation led to a truce, policed by West African peacekeepers, and free elections in January 2000.
The victor in the poll, Kumba Yala, was ousted in a bloodless military coup in September 2003. The military chief who led the coup said the move was, in part, a response to the worsening economic and political situation.
Mr Vieira won the 2005 elections but his rule was brought to a bloody end in March 2009, when renegade soldiers entered his palace and shot him dead, reportedly to avenge the killing hours earlier of the army chief, a rival of the president.
The country's vital cashew nut crop provides a modest living for most of Guinea-Bissau's farmers and is the main source of foreign exchange.
Guinea-Bissau is also a major hub for cocaine smuggled from Latin America to Europe. Several senior military figures are alleged to be involved in the trafficking of narcotics, prompting fears that the drugs trade could further destabilise an already volatile country.
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.
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.
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.
Somaliland's main export is livestock, with sheep and camels being shipped from Berbera, the country's largest port
Burundi, one of the world's poorest nations, is struggling to emerge from a 12-year, ethnic-based civil war.
Since independence in 1962 it has been plagued by tension between the usually-dominant Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority.
The ethnic violence sparked off in 1994 made Burundi the scene of one of Africa's most intractable conflicts.
It began to reap the dividends of a peace process, but faces the formidable tasks of reviving a shattered economy and forging national unity.
Burundi lies on Lake Tanganyika, the world's longest freshwater lake
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At a glance
Politics: Stability appeared to be within reach after years of bloody conflict, but post-election tension in 2010 has renewed fears of civil war
Economy: Half the population lives below the poverty line. Coffee and tea account for most of the foreign currency earnings
International: The conflict in neighbouring DRCongo provides emerging rebel groups with room to plan attacks
Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring
In 1993 Burundi seemed poised to enter a new era when, in their first democratic elections, Burundians chose their first Hutu head of state, Melchior Ndadaye, and a parliament dominated by the Hutu Front for Democracy in Burundi (Frodebu) party.
But within months Ndadaye had been assassinated, setting the scene for years of Hutu-Tutsi violence in which an estimated 300,000 people, most of them civilians, were killed.
In early 1994 parliament elected another Hutu, Cyprien Ntaryamira, as president. But he was killed in April alongside the president of neighbouring Rwanda when the plane they were travelling in was shot down over Kigali.
Another Hutu, Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, was appointed president in October 1994. But within months, the mainly Tutsi Union for National Progress (Uprona) party withdrew from the government and parliament, sparking a new wave of ethnic violence.
Following long-running talks, mediated by South Africa, a power-sharing government was set up in 2001 and most of the rebel groups agreed to a ceasefire. Four years later Burundians voted in the first parliamentary elections since the start of the civil war.
The main Hutu former rebel group won the vote and nominated its leader Pierre Nkurunziza as president.
The government and the United Nations embarked on the lengthy process of disarming thousands of soldiers and former rebels, as well as forming a new national army, but the authoritarian behaviour of the government following disputed elections in 2010 has cast a shadow over the reconciliation process.
With the opposition accusing President Nkurunziza of seeking to rewrite the constitution for his party's own gain and of behaving increasingly like a dictator, there were fears of a new wave of unrest ahead of a presidential election scheduled for 2015.
Burundi appears to be recovering from ethnic tensions
St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha are remote islands about midway between Africa and South America in the South Atlantic Ocean.
Though far from each other, they form a single territorial grouping under the sovereignty of the British Crown. Apart from Ascension, the islands are only accessible by sea.
St Helena is probably best known as the island to which French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled in 1815 after his defeat at Waterloo. The Zulu Chief, Dinizulu, was confined to St Helena in 1890 and up to 6,000 Boer prisoners were held there after the South African war of 1899-1902.
After being discovered by the Portuguese in 1502, St Helena became a busy way station for sea farers up until the late 1800s when steam started replacing sail, and the opening of the Suez Canal changed the pattern of sea routes.
Its fortunes, however, have declined and several of its residents have left. But the British government hopes to reverse the trend and help the island become self-sufficient by making it accessible by air and therefore more attractive to tourists.
The plan is for an airport to be completed in 2016. The (Royal Mail Ship) RMS St Helena is currently the only public form of access to the island.
Ascension Island, a desert island situated just south of the equator, is a vital staging post for Britain in the South Atlantic. Being about half way between Britain and the Falklands, it served as a key logistical base for troops heading for the Falklands war in 1982.
Ascension was an important communications and operations centre during both World Wars and its Wideawake Airfield is now shared by the British and American air forces.
The island has a transient population of about 1,000, mainly Britons, Americans and St Helenians involved in the military, telecommunications and satellite tracking. It can be reached by air or by the RMS St Helena.
Britain has expressed the intention of applying to the UN to extend its territorial rights around Ascension Island on the grounds that the island's landmass actually reaches much further underwater.
This would give Britain more extensive rights over any oil or gas reserves in the areas.
Tristan da Cunha was at one time on the main trading route between Europe and the Indian Ocean, but the small community living there is now extremely isolated.
It is situated 2,800 km west of Cape Town, South Africa, and is part of a group of islands which includes Inaccessible, Nightingale, Middle, Stoltenhoff, and Gough – which has a manned weather station.
Although Tristan da Cunha was discovered in 1506, it remained uninhabited until it was used by US whalers in the late 1700s. The British navy stationed a garrison there during Napoleon's exile on St Helena, and when the garrison was withdrawn, three men stayed behind and became the founders of the present settlement.
According to Tristan da Cunha's official website the island “was ignored by early explorers as a possible home due to its rugged mountain landscape, absence of natural harbour, lack of land for agriculture, and a harsh climate with heavy rain and high winds at all seasons. It took an extra-ordinary breed of people, ready to live at the margins of life, to settle and eventually thrive in the world's most isolated community.”
It says that Tristan da Cunha “offers the world a special social and economic organisation evolved over the years, but based on the principles set out by William Glass in 1817 when he established a settlement based on equality.”
Mauritius, a volcanic island of lagoons and palm-fringed beaches in the Indian Ocean, has a reputation for stability and racial harmony among its mixed population of Asians, Europeans and Africans.
The island has maintained one of the developing world's most successful democracies and has enjoyed years of constitutional order.
It has preserved its image as one of Africa's few social and economic success stories.
Once reliant on sugar as its main crop export, Mauritius was hit by the removal of European trade preferences but has successfully diversified into textiles, upmarket tourism, banking and business outsourcing.
The strategy helped the island's economy weather the world financial crisis of 2008-9 better than expected.
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At a glance
Politics: Navin Ramgoolam became premier in July 2005 and was defeated in the 2014 elections. Changing coalitions are a feature of politics
Economy: Political stability and efforts to diversify have helped Mauritius become one of Africa's most prosperous economies.
International: Mauritius claims the Chagos Islands, administered by Britain and home to a US military base on Diego Garcia
Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring
Various cultures and traditions flourish in peace, though Mauritian Creoles, descendants of African slaves who make up a third of the population, live in poverty and complain of discrimination.
Mauritius was uninhabited when the Dutch took possession in 1598. Abandoned in 1710, it was taken over by the French in 1715 and seized by the British in 1810.
It gained independence in 1968 as a constitutional monarchy, with executive power nominally vested in the British monarch. It became a republic in 1992.
The island of Rodrigues and other smaller islets also form part of the country.
Mauritius claims sovereignty over the Chagos islands, which lie around 1,000 km to the north-east. The British territory, which was separated from Mauritius in 1965, is home to the US military base on Diego Garcia. The British government oversaw the forced removal of the Chagos islanders to Mauritius to make way for the base.
The country is home to some of the world's rarest plants and animals. But human habitation and the introduction of non-native species have threatened its indigenous flora and fauna.
The dodo – a flightless bird and a national symbol – was hunted into extinction in the 17th century.