54270748 st helena St Helena, Ascension, Tristan da Cunha profiles

St Helena and its dependencies – 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.”

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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 g4 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 g4 Ghana country profile Ghana has generally managed to avoid civil strife

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 54270750 western sahara Western Sahara profile

A mainly desert territory in north-west Africa, Western Sahara is the subject of a decades-long dispute between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front.

The territory is phosphate-rich and believed to have offshore oil deposits. Most of it has been under Moroccan control since 1976.

Western Sahara fell under Spanish rule in 1884, becoming a Spanish province in 1934.

A gradual increase in national consciousness and anticolonial sentiment during the subsequent decades led to a guerrilla insurgency by the Spanish Sahara's indigenous inhabitants, the nomadic Saharawis, in the early 1970s.

The Polisario Front was set up on 10 May 1973 and established itself as the sole representative of the Saharan people. Some 100,000 refugees still live in Polisario's camps in Algeria.

wpid 61951288 saharawi parade g18 Western Sahara profile Polisario Front rebels parade during a ceremony marking their declaration of independence

Madrid Agreement

In October 1975 the International Court of Justice rejected territorial claims by Morocco and Mauritania. The court recognised the Saharawis' right to self-determination and Spain agreed to organise a referendum.

But in November 1975, Moroccan King Hassan II ordered a “Green March” of over 300,000 Moroccans into the territory. Spain backed down and negotiated a settlement with Morocco and Mauritania, known as the Madrid Agreement.

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At a glance

Seized by Morocco after Spain and Mauritania withdrew

Polisario Front seeks independence

Morocco only prepared to grant autonomy

Territory rich in phosphates, fisheries and possibly offshore oil

Cease-fire in place since 1991

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

Signed on 14 November 1975, the deal partitioned the region. Morocco acquired two-thirds in the north and Mauritania the remaining third. Spain agreed to end colonial rule.

Polisario declared the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) on 27 February 1976 and announced its first government on 4 March.

The current SADR president, Mohamed Abdelaziz, was elected Polisario secretary-general in August 1976.

In August 1978, one month after a coup, a new Mauritanian government signed a peace deal with Polisario and renounced all territorial claims.

Morocco moved to occupy areas allocated to Mauritania. Algeria in turn allowed refugees to settle in its southern town of Tindouf, where Polisario still has its main base.

Polisario led a guerrilla war against Moroccan forces until 1991.

Referendum

In April 1991 the UN established Minurso, the United Nations Mission for a Referendum in Western Sahara. Its brief was to implement a peace plan outlined in a 1990 Security Council resolution. In September 1991 a UN-brokered ceasefire was declared.

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Key dates

wpid 57238877 morocco greenmarch g18 Western Sahara profile

Moroccan settlers head for Western Sahara during the 'Green March'

1884: Spain colonises Western Sahara

1973: Polisario set up

1975: World Court rules people should decide on sovereignty

1975: “Green March”, Spain agrees to hand over to Morocco, Mauritania

1976: Spain withdraws, SADR declared

1979: Morocco annexes Mauritania's share

1976-1991: Guerrilla warfare

1991: Minurso established

1991: Ceasefire declared

1996: UN suspends referendum moves

2001: Baker plan

2007-8: Talks fail to reach resolution

The peace plan provided for a transition period, leading to a referendum in January 1992. Western Saharans would choose between independence and integration with Morocco.

Minurso was to total 1,000 civilian and 1,700 military personnel. Its brief was to monitor the ceasefire, the confinement of warring parties to designated areas and the exchange of prisoners.

While the ceasefire held, the mission was never fully deployed. Nor was the transition period ever completed. A key sticking point was an “identification process”, to decide who was eligible to vote.

Identification was to be based on a census carried out by Spain in 1973. Polisario wanted to rule out Moroccans who settled in Western Sahara after the Green March.

In May 1996 the UN suspended the identification process and recalled most Minurso civilian staff. Military personnel stayed to oversee the truce.

Initial attempts to revive the process foundered over Morocco's worries that a referendum would not serve its interests.

Baker plan

Peace returned to the drawing board when UN special envoy James Baker mediated in talks between Polisario and Morocco in London, Lisbon and Houston in 1997, then in London again in 2000.

Agreements were reached on the release of POWs, a code of conduct for a referendum campaign, UN authority during a transition period – but not on voter eligibility. Further talks were held in Berlin and Geneva in 2000, but again ran into trouble.

In a new bid to break the deadlock, James Baker submitted a “Framework Agreement”, known as the Third Way, in June 2001.

It provided for autonomy for Saharawis under Moroccan sovereignty, a referendum after a four-year transition period, and voting rights for Moroccan settlers resident in Western Sahara for over a year.

This formula was rejected by Polisario and Algeria. Then in July 2003, the UN adopted a compromise resolution proposing that Western Sahara become a semi-autonomous region of Morocco for a transition period of up to five years.

A referendum would then take place on independence, semi-autonomy or integration with Morocco.

This compromise was seen as addressing Moroccan concerns, in a bid to entice it to agree to a referendum.

Impasse

Polisario signalled its readiness to accept, but Morocco rejected the plan, citing security concerns. Envoy James Baker resigned in June 2004 and the UN process remains deadlocked.

Talks resumed between Morocco and the Polisario Front in March 2008 in New York, with Mauritania and Algeria also attending. They made no progress.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought to break the impasse during a visit to North Africa in September, but the pursuit of al-Qaeda networks in Morocco and Algeria took precedence.

In January 2009 UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed US diplomat Christopher Ross as his new special envoy to deal with Western Sahara. Mr Ross was once US ambassador to Algeria.

In November 2010, several people were killed in violent clashes between Moroccan security forces and protesters near the capital Laayoune, shortly before UN-mediated talks on the future of the territory were due to open in New York.

More recently, the US has backed calls for the UN to monitor human rights in the territory, prompting another rift with Morocco. The US redeployed forces intended for joint military exercises in Morocco in April 2013 after Morocco cancelled them.

wpid 61951290 saharawi women2 g18 Western Sahara profile Tented camps have been home for Western Sahara refugees for more than three decades

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 53348565 liberia Liberia profile

Liberia is Africa's oldest republic, but it became better known in the 1990s for its long-running, ruinous civil war and its role in a rebellion in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

Although founded by freed American and Caribbean slaves, Liberia is mostly inhabited by indigenous Africans, with the slaves' descendants comprising 5% of the population.

The West African nation was relatively calm until 1980 when William Tolbert was overthrown by Sergeant Samuel Doe after food price riots. The coup marked the end of dominance by the minority Americo-Liberians, who had ruled since independence, but heralded a period of instability.

wpid 76689882 liberia market g5 Liberia profile

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At a glance

Politics: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became president in 2006 after the first polls since the end of the civil war

Economy: The infrastructure is in ruins. The UN voted to lift a ban on diamond exports, which fuelled the civil war, in April 2007. A ban on timber exports was lifted in 2006

International: 15,000 UN peacekeepers are in place; ex-president Charles Taylor has been convicted for war crimes in Sierra Leone; Liberian refugees are scattered across the region

Health: One of the countries badly affected by the deadly Ebola epidemic which hit west Africa in 2014

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

By the late 1980s, arbitrary rule and economic collapse culminated in civil war when Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) militia overran much of the countryside, entering the capital in 1990. Mr Doe was killed.

Fighting intensified as the rebels splintered and battled each other, the Liberian army and West African peacekeepers. In 1995 a peace agreement was signed, leading to the election of Mr Taylor as president.

The respite was brief, with anti-government fighting breaking out in the north in 1999. Mr Taylor accused Guinea of supporting the rebellion. Meanwhile Ghana, Nigeria and others accused Mr Taylor of backing rebels in Sierra Leone.

Matters came to a head in 2003 when Mr Taylor – under international pressure to quit and hemmed in by rebels – stepped down and went into exile in Nigeria. A transitional government steered the country towards elections in 2005.

Around 250,000 people were killed in Liberia's civil war and many thousands more fled the fighting. The conflict left the country in economic ruin and overrun with weapons. The capital remains without mains electricity and running water. Corruption is rife and unemployment and illiteracy are endemic.

The UN maintains some 15,000 soldiers in Liberia. It is one of the organisation's most expensive peacekeeping operations.

wpid 61647095 08 img 24075 Liberia profile Liberia has a spectacular coastline, as adventurous surfers are beginning to discover

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 54271182 zanzibar Zanzibar profile

The Indian Ocean islands of Zanzibar and Pemba lie off the east African coast.

The semi-autonomous territory maintains a political union with Tanzania, but has its own parliament and president.

A former centre of the spice and slave trades, present-day Zanzibar is infused with African, Arab, European and Indian influences.

Zanzibar's original settlers were Bantu-speaking Africans. From the 10th century Persians arrived. But it was Arab incomers, particularly Omanis, whose influence was paramount.

They set up trading colonies and in 1832 the Omani sultan moved his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar, which had become a major slave-trading centre. Zanzibar became an independent sultanate.

wpid 61660856 zanzibar palm w g17 Zanzibar profile Zanzibar used to be a centre for the spice and slave trades

The slave trade was abolished in 1873 and in 1890 the British declared Zanzibar a protectorate. In 1963 the islands regained independence, but upheaval was around the corner.

Revolution

In January 1964 members of the African majority overthrew the established minority Arab ruling elite. The leftist revolution was swift but bloody; as many as 17,000 people were killed.

A republic was established and in April the presidents of Zanzibar and Tanganyika, on the mainland, signed an act of union, forming the United Republic of Tanzania while giving semi-autonomy to Zanzibar.

Under international pressure, Zanzibar held multi-party elections in 1995, which were won by the ruling, pro-union Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party. The opposition Civic United Front (CUF) rejected the outcome and alleged vote rigging. Political violence ensued.

The CCM won troubled polls in 2000 and 2005, both characterised by violence and fraud accusations. In 2000 many CUF supporters fled to Kenya after deadly clashes with police. Both parties signed a reconciliation agreement in 2001, but political tension persisted.

In protest against the 2005 election result, the CUF boycotted the island's parliament for four years, rejoining in 2009 in order, it said, to prevent violence in the run-up to the upcoming fresh elections.

Voters in a July 2010 referendum accepted proposals for rival political parties to share power. The reform followed a gradual rapprochement between the CCM and CUF.

The CCM wants Zanzibar to remain part of Tanzania. But the CUF, which has strong support among the descendants of the deposed Arabs, has called for greater autonomy. Some CUF members want independence.

Tourism is Zanzibar's newest and biggest industry. But most Zanzibaris have yet to benefit from it; the average wage is less than $1 per day.

wpid 61660854 zanzibar dhow g17 Zanzibar profile Zanzibar is influenced by African, Arabic, European and Indian cultures

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 54138060 gambia The Gambia profile

The Gambia is one of Africa's smallest countries and unlike many of its West African neighbours it has enjoyed long spells of stability since independence.

President Yahya Jammeh seized power in a bloodless coup in 1994 and has ruled with an iron fist ever since.

Stability has not translated into prosperity. Despite the presence of the Gambia river, which runs through the middle of the country, only one-sixth of the land is arable and poor soil quality has led to the predominance of one crop – peanuts.

This has made The Gambia heavily dependent on peanut exports – and a hostage to fluctuations in the production and world prices of the crop.

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At a glance

wpid 52685075 gambia voters afp6 The Gambia profile

Politics: The Gambia has been relatively stable under the iron-fisted rule of Yahya Jammeh, who came to power in a bloodless coup in 1994

Economy: One of Africa's smallest countries has few natural resources and is highly dependent on peanut exports

International: The Gambia is seen as an important transit point for drug smugglers

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

Consequently, the country relies on foreign aid to fill gaps in its balance of payments.

President Jammeh wants to turn The Gambia into an oil-producing state. He says this could usher in a “new future”. However, the country has yet to strike crude oil.

Tourism is an important source of foreign exchange, as is the money sent home by Gambians living abroad. Most visitors are drawn to the resorts that occupy a stretch of the Atlantic coast.

In 1994 The Gambia's elected government was toppled in a military coup. The country returned to constitutional rule two years later when its military leader ran as a civilian and won a presidential election.

But the credibility of the poll was questioned by a group of Commonwealth ministers.

In 2013, President Jammeh announced The Gambia's departure from the Commonwealth, dismissing it as a “neo-colonial” institution. Critics said the move was motivated by anger at foreign criticism of the country's human rights record.

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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 g16 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 g16 Reunion profile The waters around Reunion are home to a variety of creatures, including sea turtles

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 53625271 mali Mali country profile

The landlocked West African country of Mali – one of the poorest in the world – experienced rapid economic growth after the 1990s, coupled with a flourishing democracy and relative social stability.

This all hung in the balance in early 2012, when the steady collapse of state control over the north of the country was followed by an inconclusive military coup and French military intervention against Islamist fighters who threatened to advance south.

Although civilian rule was re-established in the summer of 2013, a fragile truce with Tuareg separatists broke down amid resumed fighting a year later.

For several decades after independence from France in 1960, Mali suffered droughts, rebellions, a coup and 23 years of military dictatorship until democratic elections in 1992.

wpid 70211936 mali bamako g3 Mali country profile Bamako is said to be one of the continent's fastest growing cities

The core of ancient empires going back to the fourth century, Mali was conquered by the French in the middle of the 19th century.

After a brief experiment in federation with Senegal, Mali became independent in 1960.

Although swathes of Mali are barren, the country is self-sufficient in food thanks to the fertile Niger river basin in the south and east.

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At a glance

Politics: Mali was regarded as a model of African democracy until military seized power in March 2012 and the north fell under al-Qaeda control. Presidential polls in August 2013 were part of a designated return to civilian rule

Economy: Mali is among the 25 poorest countries. It is highly dependant on gold mining and agricultural exports such as cotton

International: France responds to a Malian request and swiftly recaptures key cities in the north

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

It is one of Africa's major cotton producers, and has lobbied against subsidies to cotton farmers in richer countries, particularly the US.

A chronic foreign trade deficit makes it nonetheless heavily dependent on foreign aid and remittances from Malians working abroad.

War in the north

In the early 1990s the nomadic Tuareg of the north began an insurgency over land and cultural rights that persists to this day, despite central government attempts at military and negotiated solutions.

The insurgency gathered pace in 2007, and was exacerbated by an influx of arms from the 2011 Libyan civil war.

The Saharan branch of al-Qaeda was quick to move into this increasingly lawless area, and seized control of the Tuareg north after the March 2012 military coup, effectively seceding from the rest of Mali and establishing a harsh form of Islamic law.

The West African regional grouping Ecowas agreed to launch a coordinated military expedition to recapture the north at a meeting in Nigeria in November, with UN backing.

But with preparations expected to take several months, the Islamists took the initiative and began to advance towards the government heartland in the south-west.

Alarmed at the capture of the town of Konna, the government in Bamako asked France to intervene militarily. French troops rapidly overran Islamist strongholds in the north, bringing the insurgency to an end. The north remains tense, however, with both Tuareg separatists and Islamists sporadically active.

Music stars

Despite its political travails, Mali is renowned worldwide for having produced some of the stars of African music, most notably Salif Keita. The annual Festival in the Desert has traditionally celebrated this talent.

wpid 59233592 mali djenne bbc3 Mali country profile The Great Mosque of Djenne is the largest mud brick building in the world and is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site

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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 201014 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 g14 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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 54199068 angola Angola profile

One of Africa's major oil producers, Angola is nonetheless one of the world's poorest countries.

It is striving to tackle the physical, social and political legacy of a 27-year civil war that ravaged the country after independence.

The governing Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the rebel group Unita were bitter rivals even before the country gained independence from Portugal in 1975.

The Soviet Union and Cuba supported the then-Marxist MPLA, while the US and white-ruled South Africa backed Unita as a bulwark against Soviet influence in Africa.

wpid 62579265 angola cabinda woman g4 Angola profile Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975

After 16 years of fighting that killed up to 300,000 people, a peace deal led to elections. But Unita rejected the outcome and resumed the war, in which hundreds of thousands more were killed. Another peace accord was signed in 1994 and the UN sent in peacekeepers.

But the fighting steadily worsened again and in 1999 the peacekeepers withdrew, leaving behind a country rich in natural resources but littered with landmines and the ruins of war.

The connection between the civil war and the unregulated diamond trade – or “blood diamonds” – was a source of international concern. The UN froze bank accounts used in the gem trade.

Peace

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At a glance

Politics: President has been in power for 30 years. Oil-rich enclave of Cabinda has been embroiled in a long-running independence struggle.

Economy: One of Africa's leading oil producers, but most people still live on less than US $1 a day. Experiencing a post-war reconstruction boom

International: China has promised substantial assistance to Angola, one of its main oil suppliers

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

The death of Unita leader Jonas Savimbi in a gunfight with government forces in February 2002 raised the prospect of peace and the army and rebels signed a ceasefire in April to end the conflict. The government has overseen a transition to democracy, although Unita continues to complain that the opposition faces intimidation and lack of transparency at elections.

Angola is gradually rebuilding its infrastructure, retrieving weapons from its heavily-armed civilian population and resettling tens of thousands of refugees who fled the fighting. Landmines and impassable roads have cut off large parts of the country. Many Angolans rely on food aid.

But oil exports and foreign loans have spurred economic growth and have fuelled a reconstruction boom. There have been allegations – denied by the government – that oil revenues have been squandered through corruption and mismanagement.

Much of Angola's oil wealth lies in Cabinda province, where a decades-long separatist conflict simmers. The government has sent thousands of troops to subdue the rebellion in the enclave, which has no border with the rest of Angola. Human rights groups have alleged abuses against civilians.

wpid 61651531 angola luanda constr g4 Angola profile The capital Luanda has seen a construction boom since the end of the civil war

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