52533267 ivory coast Ivory Coast profile

Once hailed as a model of stability, during the first decade of the twenty-first century Ivory Coast slipped into the kind of internal strife that has plagued so many African countries.

An armed rebellion in 2002 split the nation in two. Since then, peace deals have alternated with renewed violence as the country has slowly edged its way towards a political resolution of the conflict.

For more than three decades after independence under the leadership of its first president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Ivory Coast was conspicuous for its religious and ethnic harmony and its well-developed economy.

wpid 65030073 ivory cocoa g3 Ivory Coast profile Ivory Coast is the world's leading producer of cocoa, a key ingredient of chocolate

All this ended when the late Robert Guei led a coup which toppled Felix Houphouet-Boigny's successor, Henri Bedie, in 1999.

Mr Bedie fled, but not before planting the seeds of ethnic discord by trying to stir up xenophobia against Muslim northerners, including his main rival, Alassane Ouattara.

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At a glance

Politics: Civil war in 2002 split country between rebel-held north and government-controlled south; 2007 power-sharing deal held out prospect of peace; 2010 presidential poll led to further violence

Economy: Ivory Coast is world's leading cocoa producer; UN sanctions imposed in 2004 include an arms embargo and a ban on diamond exports

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

This theme was also adopted by Mr Guei, who had Alassane Ouattara banned from the presidential election in 2000 because of his foreign parentage, and by the only serious contender allowed to run against Mr Guei, Laurent Gbagbo.

When Mr Gbagbo replaced Robert Guei after he was deposed in a popular uprising in 2000, violence replaced xenophobia. Scores of Mr Ouattara's supporters were killed after their leader called for new elections.

In September 2002 a troop mutiny escalated into a full-scale rebellion, voicing the ongoing discontent of northern Muslims who felt they were being discriminated against in Ivorian politics. Thousands were killed in the conflict.

Although most of the fighting ended in 2004, Ivory Coast remained tense and divided. French and UN peacekeepers patrolled the buffer zone which separated the north, held by rebels known as the New Forces, and the government-controlled south.

After repeated delays, elections aimed at ending the conflict were finally held in October 2010. But the vote ushered in more unrest when the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to concede victory to the internationally recognised winner, Alassane Ouattara.

The ensuing four-month stand-off was only ended when Mr Ouattara's forces overran the south of the country, finally capturing Mr Gbagbo and declaring him deposed. In November 2011, Mr Gbagbo was transferred to The Hague to stand trial at the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity.

Officials have blamed several security incidents since then on disgruntled supporters of Mr Gbagbo.

wpid 65030075 ivory boat g3 Ivory Coast profile The coastal area has several lagoons, including Ebrie Lagoon where the economic capital Abidjan is to be found

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 54199599 morocco Morocco country profile   Overview

The Kingdom of Morocco is the most westerly of the North African countries known as the Maghreb – the “Arab West”. It has Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines, a rugged mountain interior and a history of independence not shared by its neighbours.

Its rich culture is a blend of Arab, Berber, European and African influences.

Morocco was a French protectorate from 1912 to 1956, when Sultan Mohammed became king. He was succeeded in 1961 by his son, Hassan II, who ruled for 38 years and played a prominent role in the search for peace in the Middle East.

He also ruthlessly suppressed domestic opposition. A truth commission set up to investigate human rights violations during his reign confirmed nearly 10,000 cases, ranging from death in detention to forced exile.

wpid 54218321 marrakeshtiles afp3 Morocco country profile   Overview A former capital, Marrakesh is famed for its architecture

Hassan's son and successor in 1999, Mohammed VI, is a cautious moderniser who has introduced some economic and social liberalisation. In 2011 he revised the constitution in response to “Arab Spring” protests, and appointed a new government in January 2012. Powerful trade unions waited until May to launch mass protests against the authorities' failure to meet democratic and economic expectations.

The status of Western Sahara remains unresolved. Morocco annexed the territory in 1975 and a guerrilla war with Algerian-backed pro-independence forces ended in 1991. UN efforts have failed to break the political deadlock.

To the north, a dispute with Spain in 2002 over the tiny island of Perejil revived the issue of the sovereignty of Melilla and Ceuta. These small enclaves on the Mediterranean coast are surrounded by Morocco and have been administered by Spain for centuries.

Morocco has been given the status of non-Nato ally by Washington, which has praised its support for the US-led war on terror. After deadly suicide bombings in Casablanca in 2003, Morocco launched a crackdown on suspected Islamic militants.

wpid 61946449 morocco rabat g3 Morocco country profile   Overview The Kasbah of Oudayas in Rabat is listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site

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 54292134 kenya  Kenya country profile

Situated on the equator on Africa's east coast, Kenya has been described as “the cradle of humanity”.

In the Great Rift Valley palaeontologists have discovered some of the earliest evidence of man's ancestors.

In the present day, Kenya's ethnic diversity has produced a vibrant culture but is also a source of conflict.

After independence from Britain in 1963, politics was dominated by the charismatic Jomo Kenyatta. He was succeeded in 1978 by Daniel arap Moi, who remained in power for 24 years. The ruling Kenya African National Union, Kanu, was the only legal political party for much of the 1980s.

wpid 63489693 ken masai2 afp8 Kenya country profile Kenya is ethnically and culturally diverse

Violent unrest – and international pressure – led to the restoration of multi-party politics in the early 1990s. But it was to be another decade before opposition candidate Mwai Kibaki ended nearly 40 years of Kanu rule with his landslide victory in 2002's general election.

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At a glance

Politics: Presidential elections in 2007 led to widespread unrest, which resulted in the formation of a power-sharing government. Polls in 2013 were largely peaceful

Economy: The economy has been recovering over recent years

International: Kenya's military entered Somalia at the end of 2011 to fight al-Shabab Islamist militants, who have carried out major reprisal attacks inside Kenya

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

Special Report: Kenya Direct

Despite President Kibaki's pledge to tackle corruption, some donors estimated that up to $1bn had been lost to graft between 2002 and 2005.

Other pressing challenges include high unemployment, crime and poverty. Droughts frequently put millions of people at risk.

With its scenic beauty and abundant wildlife, Kenya is one of Africa's major safari destinations.

Kenya was shaken by inter-ethnic violence which followed disputed elections in 2007. Several prominent Kenyans stand accused of crimes against humanity for allegedly inciting the violence, and the authorities are increasingly sensitive to any attempts to stir up communal tension.

The next elections, in 2013, passed off without violence and resulted in victory for Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of independence leader Jomo Kenyatta.

Kenya's military entered Somalia in October 2011 to curb the threat of the Islamist militant al-Shabab movement, which it accused of the kidnap and killing of tourists and aid workers. Kenyan troops are now largely integrated into the overall African Union forces in Somalia. There have been some reprisal attacks in Kenya itself.

wpid 75554572 kenya nairobi b8 Kenya country profile The Kenyan capital Nairobi has grown into East Africa's biggest city

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wpid 72577953 africadebate7 Is Nigeria ready to lead Africa?

Tune in to the BBC World Service at 1200 GMT on Friday 27 June to listen to The Africa Debate: Is Nigeria ready to lead Africa? It will also be rebroadcast that day in Africa at 1900 GMT.

To take part on Twitter – use the hashtag #BBCAfricaDebate – Facebook or Google+

South Africa's pre-eminence in continental affairs, and its membership of institutions such as the G20 and Brics, as well as a potential permanent seat on the UN Security Council, rests on its claim to be Africa's largest economy.

That title now belongs to Nigeria, which is also Africa's most populous country. So, who should be represented on these bodies?

South Africa's concerns are compounded by fears, expressed privately by government officials and diplomats, that chaotic, corruption-prone Nigeria is unfit to assume the mantle of continental leadership.

Most South Africans would tend to agree: The perception persists of Nigerians as drug dealers and 419 scammers, making it hard for Nigeria to be taken seriously here.

The migrants doing business in SA townships

South Africa facts and figures

Simon Allison is Africa correspondent of South Africa's Daily Maverick newspaper

wpid 74982321 line9764 Is Nigeria ready to lead Africa?

Nicole Amarteifio, Ghanaian

As soon as you expect one country to lead the entire continent, it is as if the other countries, numbering more than 50, are absolved of all responsibility.

Whether a country has a population of 150 million people or three million people, each African country is responsible for the leadership of the continent – whether it is endowed with resources or not.

It is like a relay race, where the team is only as strong as its weakest runner.

wpid 75638431 relay4 Is Nigeria ready to lead Africa?

In the same way, the African continent is only as strong as its weakest country.

So, we should all find the weakest country in Africa, turn to it and ask: Are you ready to lead?

Nicole Amarteifio is creator of the web series, An African City

wpid 74982321 line9764 Is Nigeria ready to lead Africa?

Antony Ragui, Kenyan

When I launched the I Paid A Bribe website to document corruption in Kenya, my next country of focus was Nigeria.

But bureaucracy and lack of goodwill was a barrier. Nigeria is infamous for weak governance, regulatory failure, weak leadership and an unstructured economy. This creates a gap for corruption to thrive.

wpid 75638430 corrupt4 Is Nigeria ready to lead Africa?

Nigeria is known for many things, some of them positive, like football, music and Nollywood movies.

It also has a strong banking presence in Africa and boasts Africa's richest man, Aliko Dangote, a continent-wide investor.

But it is also known for corruption and crime. Many Kenyans partly blame Nigerians for stricter immigration rules, particularly for travelling to the UK and South Africa.

I recall being stopped by customs officers at Heathrow, the main airport in London. The reason? I was seen talking to a Nigerian who had just been arrested for ferrying drugs.

All of this is detrimental to Nigeria's image as a leader of the continent. To take a leadership position, Nigeria must fix its foundations.

Is Nigeria serious about tackling corruption?

Africa viewpoint: Nollywood and religion

Antony Ragui set up the I Paid a Bribe website in Nairobi

wpid 74982321 line9764 Is Nigeria ready to lead Africa?

Elnathan John, Nigerian

wpid 75638429 473262e0 06ce 48c3 8cac f0fca8ce4bd74 Is Nigeria ready to lead Africa?

Two overriding questions arise: Is Africa going anywhere? Is Nigeria ready to lead itself out of its own chaos? I would like to hope that the answer to both questions is yes. But hope, unlike faith, is premised on reason and justification.

In spite of robust claims of a rising continent, countries still work at cross purposes, travel within the continent is prohibitively expensive, major powers antagonise each other, competing instead of cooperating, and poverty and conflict is on the increase.

While there is undeniable proof of economic growth which has resulted in Nigeria becoming the largest economy in Africa, much of this growth has had nothing to do with government planning, policy or promotion, save for new billionaires whose rapidly acquired wealth flows from government contracts, monopolies and unfair business practices.

This is possible only in a country where regulation is weak or openly controlled by cabals. When private business flourishes, it does so in spite of Nigeria's infrastructure – and political and social systems – being dysfunctional.

wpid 75638428 ne4 Is Nigeria ready to lead Africa? Most Nigerian still struggle to earn a basic living

Worse still, Nigeria is either callous or in denial about the crises which threaten its relative stability leading up to the 2015 elections – from the Boko Haram insurgency to clashes between farming communities and pastoralists.

It seems all that a rational mind can have is faith.

Boko Haram crisis in deadliest phase

Who are Nigeria's Boko Haram Islamists?

Elnathan John is a lawyer and writer based in Abuja

wpid 74982321 line9764 Is Nigeria ready to lead Africa?

Chibundu Onuzo, Nigerian

Much has been made of Nigeria's inclusion into business guru Jim Neill's magic acronyms. Hurrah! Nigeria made it into the Mint club – Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey – which Mr Neill identifies as the emerging powerhouses, rivalling Brics – Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa.

Greatness is just round the bend. Already, we have started dressing the part.

 72063017 rise of mints 624 Is Nigeria ready to lead Africa?

Last month, we hosted the World Economic Forum (WEF). This year, we rebased our GDP to show recent growth.

But to ensure that ours is not a case of style of over substance, we must address the basics – education, health, security, electricity and roads.

wpid 75638427 756278374 Is Nigeria ready to lead Africa?

I have a relative who almost died from fake drugs. He swallowed pill after pill for a condition that steadily deteriorated until luckily he discovered his medicine was made of chalk.

That was before Dora Akunyili became the head of the Nigerian Agency for Food and Drug Control in 2008. Under her leadership, the counterfeit products that flooded the Nigerian market were flushed out in a matter of years.

Mrs Akunyili, who recently died, demonstrated how quickly transformation could take place in a sector when a leader is willing to step up to the plate.

Nigeria has more soft power than any other country on the continent. Our culture is exported via film and music.

wpid 75638426 femi4 Is Nigeria ready to lead Africa?

I was in South Africa earlier this year and I met many Joburgers hooked on Nollywood films and there was no bar or cafe I stepped into whose playlist did not have Nigerian music. Thus in some areas, we already lead the continent.

Yet, on issues like healthcare and education, smaller countries like Rwanda and Mauritius continue to consistently outperform us.

Perhaps we overestimate size. Kwame Nkrumah, Thomas Sankara and Amilcar Cabral were all men from relatively small countries whose leadership improved the lives of their citizens and gave them standing in Africa and the world.

Leadership can transform a country, no matter how narrow its borders or how shallow its natural resource deposits. One can only imagine the wonders that would take place if Nigeria's abundant wealth was paired with visionary leadership.

Why are the Mint countries special?

Chibundu Onuzo is a Nigerian writer studying in the UK

wpid 74982321 line9764 Is Nigeria ready to lead Africa?

Ronak Gopaldas, South African

Investors are clamouring to get into Nigeria – and it's easy to see why. The country's compelling investment proposition, massive growth prospects, low public debt and a strong external balance sheet means that the country is well placed to become a regional leader and economic powerhouse.

That is over and above the associated benefits of higher oil prices. Overall prospects for the economy remain robust despite the state of Nigeria's politics – volatile, complex and often messy.

wpid 75638425 la4 Is Nigeria ready to lead Africa?

While high levels of poverty and unemployment will occasionally combine with the country's ethnic and religious cleavages to create a mixture that will spill over into outbreaks of violence, the country is unlikely to devolve into a failed state.

Nigeria's influence is derived from a large population of more than 150 million people, abundant natural resources, an engaged and entrepreneurial diaspora, on-going reforms in the power and banking sectors, and emerging opportunities in the agricultural, manufacturing and services sectors of a rapidly growing economy.

Despite the political logjams, and some expected and unexpected setbacks along the way, Nigeria will likely have more hits than misses in the long term.

How Nigeria became Africa's biggest economy

Ronak Gopaldas is a risk analyst based in Johannesburg

wpid 75306515 line9769 Is Nigeria ready to lead Africa?

Nigeria in a word

What comes to mind when you think about Nigeria? Let us know using the hashtag #onewordnigeria. BBC Africa is also hosting a Google Hangout about Nigeria's image on Tuesday 24 June 2014 between 11:00 GMT and 12:00 GMT.

wpid 75306515 line9769 Is Nigeria ready to lead Africa?

The Africa Debate – Is Nigeria ready to lead Africa?- will be broadcast on the BBC World Service at 12:00 GMT on Friday 27 June and again at 19:00 GMT in Africa – and will be available to listen to online or as a download.

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 53348556 lesotho Lesotho country profile

The Kingdom of Lesotho is made up mostly of highlands where many of the villages can be reached only on horseback, by foot or light aircraft.

During the winter shepherds wearing only boots and wrap-around blankets have to contend with snow.

While much of the tiny country, with spectacular canyons and thatched huts, remains untouched by modern machines, developers have laid down roads to reach its mineral and water resources.

wpid 73563340 lesotho horse g2 Lesotho country profile Lesotho is one of few African countries to see snow regularly

The Lesotho Highlands Water Project was completed in the 1990s to supply South Africa with fresh water.

Resources are scarce – a consequence of the harsh environment of the highland plateau and limited agricultural space in the lowlands. So, Lesotho has been heavily dependent on the country which completely surrounds it – South Africa.

Continue reading the main story

At a glance

Politics: A coalition government was formed following inconclusive elections in May 2012. Prime Minister Thabane fled in August 2014, accusing the military of staging a coup

Economy: Lesotho depends on South Africa as an employer, and as buyer of its main natural resource – water. Textile exports have been hurt by the erosion of trade concessions, but appear to be expanding again

International: Lesotho is surrounded by South Africa

Country profile compiled by BBC Monitoring

Over the decades thousands of workers have been forced by the lack of job opportunities to find work at South African mines. South Africa has on several occasions intervened in Lesotho's politics, including in 1998 when it sent its troops to help quell unrest.

The former British protectorate has had a turbulent, if not particularly bloody, period of independence with several parties, army factions and the royal family competing for power in coups and mutinies. The position of king has been reduced to a symbolic and unifying role.

Lesotho has one of the world's highest rates of HIV-Aids infection. A drive to encourage people to take HIV tests was spurred on by former Prime Minister Mosisili, who was tested in public in 2004.

Poverty is deep and widespread, with the UN describing 40% of the population as “ultra-poor”. Food output has been hit by the deaths from Aids of farmers.

Economic woes have been compounded by the scrapping of a global textile quota system which exposed producers to Asian competition. Thousands of jobs in the industry have been lost.

wpid 73563342 lesotho dam g2 Lesotho country profile The Lesotho Highlands Water Project provides water for South Africa's industrial heartland

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 54027459 swaziland Swaziland profile

The kingdom of Swaziland is one of the world's last remaining absolute monarchies.

The king rules by decree over his million subjects, most of whom live in the countryside and follow traditional ways of life.

The power of the throne, however, has not gone unchallenged.

King Mswati III, on the throne since 1986, is upholding the tradition of his father, King Sobhuza II, who reigned for almost 61 years and had scores of wives.

King Sobhuza scrapped the constitution in 1973 and banned political parties.

Continue reading the main story

At a glance

wpid 54293569 swazi boys afp8 Swaziland profile

Politics: King Mswati III – on the throne since 1986 – rules by decree and says the country is not yet ready for multi-party politics

Economy: Thousands have lost their jobs as garment and sugar export industries have lost trading concessions

International: Swaziland has diplomatic ties with Taiwan rather than China

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

King Mswati has shown no enthusiasm for sharing power, but banned opposition parties and trade unions have been vocal in their demands for greater democracy and limits on the king's power.

With peaceful change in neighbouring South Africa and Mozambique, Swaziland has been described as an island of dictatorship in a sea of democracy. Royalists have argued that democracy creates division, and that a monarch is a strong unifying force.

A long-awaited constitution, signed by the king in 2005 and introduced in 2006, cemented his rule.

Swaziland is virtually homogenous, most of the population being of the same tribe. Economically, it relies on South Africa, which receives almost half of Swazi exports and supplies most of its imports.

Many Swazis live in chronic poverty and food shortages are widespread.

Aids is taking a heavy toll. With an adult HIV prevalence of 26 percent in 2007, Swaziland has the most severe level of infection in the world. The virus has killed many workers and farmers and has created thousands of orphans. Life expectancy has plummeted.

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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 g3 Liberia profile

Continue reading the main story

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

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 executed.

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 24073 Liberia profile Liberia has a spectacular coastline, as adventurous surfers are beginning to discover

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 54272262 somaliaii Somalia profile

Continue reading the main story

Somalia: Failed State

Poet jihadist

‘Mosquito militants’

Al-Shabab profile

Who are al-Shabab? Watch

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.

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.

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.

Continue reading the main story

At a glance

wpid 54524290 som drought afp6 Somalia profile

Scene of Africa's worst humanitarian crisis: the famine of 2010-12

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 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.

Islamist insurgency

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.

Continue reading the main story

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.

Piracy

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.

wpid 65517949 somali beach g6 Somalia profile Mogadishu residents could enjoy the beach again in late 2012 after the withdrawal of extremists who banned such social gatherings of men and women

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wpid 55473954 libya ntc4 Libya country profile

Libya, a mostly desert and oil-rich country on the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea with an ancient history, has more recently been renowned for the 42-year rule of the mercurial Col Muammar Gaddafi.

In 2011, the colonel's autocratic government was brought to an end by a six-month uprising and ensuing civil war. In October of that year, the main opposition group, the National Transitional Council (NTC), declared the country to be officially “liberated” and pledged to turn Libya into a pluralist, democratic state.

In August 2012, the NTC handed over power to Libya's newly elected parliament, the General National Congress.

A former Roman colony originally inhabited by Berbers and settled by Phoenicians, Libya saw invasions by Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Turks and more recently Italians before gaining independence in 1951.

wpid 62076680 libya fighters g4 Libya country profile Libya underwent a major change when long-term leader Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in a popular uprising in 2011

Oil was discovered in 1959 and made the state – then a kingdom ruled by the head of the Senussi sufi order – wealthy.

Col Gaddafi came to power by overthrowing King Idris in a coup in 1969, ten years after independence, and Libya embarked on a radically new chapter in its history.

After initially seeking to emulate the Arab nationalism and socialism of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Col Gaddafi's rule became increasingly eccentric.

Ideas put forward in his Green Book aimed to set forth an alternative to both communism and capitalism. Col Gaddafi called the new system a jamahiriya, loosely translated as a “state of the masses”.

Continue reading the main story

At a glance

wpid 62076679 libya celebration g4 Libya country profile

Politics: Country has struggled to stabilize since ousting of long-term leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. A weak central government competes with numerous rebel groups

Economy: Libya has large reserves of oil and gas

International: The West provided military backing to the uprising that toppled Col Gaddafi; Russia and China condemned the intervention

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

In theory, power was held by people's committees in system of direct democracy, without political parties, but in practice, Col Gaddafi's power was absolute, exercised through “revolutionary committees” formed of regime loyalists.

After the 1988 bombing of a PanAm plane above the Scottish town of Lockerbie, which the US blamed on Libya, the Gaddafi regime was shunned by much of the international community.

But in 2003 it underwent a dramatic rehabilitation by taking formal responsibility for the bombing, paying compensation and handing over two Libyan suspects, one of whom, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, was convicted for the attack. The UN responded by lifting sanctions.

In 2011, the world once again turned against the Libyan government over its use of violence against the popular uprising against the colonel, inspired by the anti-authoritarian protests sweeping through the Arab world.

The UN Security Council passed a resolution authorising Nato air strikes to protect civilians. After months of near-stalemate, the rebels stormed into Tripoli August 2011, and several weeks later Col Gaddafi was killed when his last holdout was overrun.

A transitional government took charge and had the challenge of imposing order, disbanding the former rebel forces, rebuilding the economy, creating functioning institutions and managing the pledged transition to democracy and the rule of law.

Elections for a General National Congress were held in July 2012, the country's first free national election in six decades. The congress appointed a prime minister, Ali Zeidan, in October, who formed an interim government tasked with preparing the ground for a new constitution and fresh parliamentary elections.

However, tensions within the GNC between nationalists and Islamists have stymied attempts to produce a clear timetable for fresh elections.

One of the biggest challenges facing the new authorities is the plethora of armed groups – some originating in the anti-Gaddafi rebellion, others newly arisen – who have defied attempts to disarm them, and have caused concerns about the prospects for stabilisation.

wpid 62076681 libya ramadan g4 Libya country profile Islam is the dominant religion in Libya, where locals are pictured breaking their fast

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 53552338 madagasgar Madagascar country profile

Madagascar is the world's fourth biggest island after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo. Because of its isolation most of its mammals, half its birds, and most of its plants exist nowhere else on earth.

The island is heavily exposed to tropical cyclones which bring torrential rains and destructive floods, such as the ones in 2000 and 2004, which left thousands homeless.

The Malagasy are thought to be descendants of Africans and Indonesians who settled on the island more than 2,000 years ago. Malagasy pay a lot of attention to their dead and spend much effort on ancestral tombs, which are opened from time to time so the remains can be carried in procession, before being rewrapped in fresh shrouds.

wpid 70253077 madagascar baobab g5 Madagascar country profile Madagascar has many unusual plants and animals. Environmental degradation is a major worry for conservationists

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At a glance

Politics: The inauguration of a new president in January 2014 was seen as a major step towards ending the political and economic crisis brought about by a 2009 coup

Economy: Madagascar is the world's leading producer of vanilla. Many areas suffer food shortages

International: African Union suspended Madagascar and EU froze aid after the 2009 coup

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

After sometimes harsh French colonial rule, which included the bloody suppression of an uprising in 1947, Madagascar gained independence in 1960. The military seized power in the early 1970s with the aim of achieving a socialist paradise.

This did not materialise. The economy went into decline and by 1982 the authorities were forced to adopt a structural adjustment programme imposed by the International Monetary Fund.

The World Bank has estimated that 92% of Malagasy live on less than $2 per day. Poverty and the competition for agricultural land have put pressure on the island's dwindling forests, home to much of Madagascar's unique wildlife and key to its emerging tourist industry.

The island has strong ties with France as well as economic and cultural links with French-speaking West Africa.

However, Andry Rajoelina's seizure of power in 2009 left the country isolated by the international community and deprived of foreign aid.

An agreement to move back to constitutional rule in 2013 hung in the balance after Mr Rajoelina announced he would stand for the presidency after all. Both he and ex-president Ravalomanana had earlier agreed not to contest the election.

wpid 61018683 madagascar lemurs g5 Madagascar country profile Madagascar has hundreds of types of animals which exist nowhere else, such as ring-tailed lemurs

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