52814476 guinea bissau Guinea Bissau profile

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.

wpid 73969574 guinea bissaur cashews g3 Guinea Bissau profile 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.

wpid 59646048 guinea bissau parly afpg3 Guinea Bissau profile Guinea-Bissau's parliament in the capital Bissau

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 54291785 chad  Chad profile

A largely semi-desert country, Chad is rich in gold and uranium and stands to benefit from its recently-acquired status as an oil-exporting state.

However, Africa's fifth-largest nation suffers from inadequate infrastructure and internal conflict. Poverty is rife, and health and social conditions compare unfavourably with those elsewhere in the region.

Chad's post-independence history has been marked by instability and violence stemming mostly from tension between the mainly Arab-Muslim north and the predominantly Christian and animist south.

In 1969 Muslim dissatisfaction with the first president, Ngarta Tombalbaye – a Christian southerner – developed into a guerrilla war. This, combined with a severe drought, undermined his rule and in 1975 President Tombalbaye was killed in a coup led by another southerner, Felix Malloum.

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At a glance

wpid 61579157 chad refugees g1 Chad profile

Politics: Crises on several fronts: President Deby, in power since 1990, faces an armed rebellion by several groups and incursions from neighbouring Sudan. He survived a coup attempt in 2006

Humanitarian issues: 140,000 people are internal refugees; 200,000 refugees are from Sudan and tens of thousands from CAR

Economy: Chad is enjoying an oil boom. Changes to rules governing how revenues can be spent have been controversial. Chad ranks as the world's most corrupt state

International: Chad cut ties with Sudan in 2006, accusing it of supporting rebels, but since 2009 efforts have been made to resolve the countries' differences. Chad hosts large numbers of refugees from Central African Republic and Sudan's Darfur

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

Mr Malloum, too, failed to end the war, and in 1979 he was replaced by a Libyan-backed northerner, Goukouki Oueddei. But the fighting continued, this time with a former defence minister, Hissen Habre, on the opposite side.

In 1982, with French help, Mr Habre captured the capital, N'Djamena, and Mr Oueddei escaped to the north, where he formed a rival government. The standoff ended in 1990, when Mr Habre was toppled by the Libyan-backed Idriss Deby.

By the mid-1990s the situation had stabilised and in 1996 Mr Deby was confirmed president in Chad's first election.

In 1998 an armed insurgency began in the north, led by President Deby's former defence chief, Youssouf Togoimi. A Libyan-brokered peace deal in 2002 failed to put an end to the fighting.

From 2003 unrest in neighbouring Sudan's Darfur region spilled across the border, along with hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees. They have been joined by thousands of Chadians who are fleeing rebel fighting as well as violence between ethnic Arab and ethnic African Chadians.

Chad and Sudan accuse each other of backing and harbouring rebels, and the dispute led to severing of relations in 2006. However, since then, progress has been made towards normalising ties, with the two countries' presidents meeting for the first time in six years in 2010.

Since late 2013 Chad has also played host to tens of thousands of refugees who have fled the fighting in the neighboring Central African Republic.

Chad became an oil-producing nation in 2003 with the completion of a $4bn pipeline linking its oilfields to terminals on the Atlantic coast. The government has moved to relax a law controlling the use of oil money, which the World Bank had made a condition of its $39m loan.

wpid 61531706 chad lake g1 Chad profile Lake Chad is an important source of water for millions of people in the four countries surrounding it

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 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 g4 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

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 g4 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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wpid 79357485 ismailahmed2 The man changing remittances

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Entrepreneurship

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The business of divorce celebration

In the years following the attacks of 11 September 2001, it is not surprising that Western security forces and authorities clamped down hard on the money transfer industry.

Fearful that some remittances being sent to countries in eastern Africa, the Middle East and South Asia could be being used to fund terrorist activities, a number of smaller money transfer companies were shut down.

While completely understandable from a security point of view, the knock-on effect was that many innocent people in places such as Somalia suddenly found that it was much more difficult to receive vital funds from expat relatives living in the West.

This was money they needed to put food on the table, or clothe their children, or keep a roof above their heads.

One man who was increasingly aware of the problem was Ismail Ahmed. He was born and raised in Somaliland, the autonomous northern part of Somalia, before being educated in the UK after winning a World Bank scholarship.

In his early 30s at the time, Mr Ahmed was an expert in remittances and the money transfer industry, having focused on the subjects while doing a PhD in development economics at Imperial College in London.

Turning his expertise into a business opportunity, and wishing to help, he started to advise a number of smaller money transfer firms, both in the UK and overseas, on how they could best meet the more stringent security rules.

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“Start Quote

Being digital enables us to be as security stringent as possible”

End Quote Ismail Ahmed

Such was his success in doing so that in 2004 the United Nations Development Programme – the UN agency which aims to improve conditions in the developing world – asked him to join their team which was trying to tackle the same problem.

Yet after an unhappy time at the UN, which saw him quit after becoming a whistleblower to fraud and corruption, Mr Ahmed determined to launch his own money transfer business.

He recognised that if he created such a firm that was as digitally-based as possible, he could both be as security conscious as possible, and keep costs down enough to enable him to offer substantially lower transaction fees than the industry leaders.

So the idea for his new company, WorldRemit, was born.

No agents

To understand how WorldRemit works, it is necessary to look at the long-established business model for sending remittances by money transfer firms.

wpid 79367381 mogadishu12 The man changing remittances Many people in Africa rely on remittances from relatives in the West

Typically this involves person A in a rich country paying cash to an agent of the transfer firm, be it a bank branch or accredited corner shop.

The money is then transferred to a nation in the developing world, where person B goes to another agent of the transfer firm, again typically a bank or shop, or bureau de change, and then withdraws the money in cash. If the money is sent to a bank, it doesn't go directly into a person's account.

This is the model that global leaders Western Union and MoneyGram, and their hundreds of smaller rivals, have followed for decades.

Continue reading the main story

“Start Quote

I’m proud to be making a difference to people’s lives”

End Quote Ismail Ahmed

The security concern in this post 9/11 world is whether this system of money transfer is at risk of abuse, such as people using false identification, or trying to launder money.

It is a concern which has cost the big players rather a lot of money in fines. In 2010 Western Union was fined $94m (£60m) by the state of Arizona for not doing enough to prevent money laundering by Mexican drugs gangs, while in 2012 MoneyGram had to pay a $100m penalty.

Then last year, UK bank Barclays announced that it was closing the accounts of all but 19 of its 165 clients in the remittance transfer business.

wpid 79367379 web2 The man changing remittances Users can send money via WorldRemit's website or mobile phone app

To mitigate such security concerns, on the sending side of remittance transfer WorldRemit only accepts funds electronically via its website or mobile phone app – it doesn't have any agents to whom you can turn up with a big bag of banknotes.

Mr Ahmed explains: “Being digital enables us to be as security stringent as possible.

“We screen all our transactions against sanction lists, and we can pick out suspicious or unusual behaviour almost immediately. For example, when someone tries a number of cards to get one of them to work – no legitimate customer would do that.

“And we aren't reliant upon a busy shopkeeper to do the security work for us.”

Mr Ahmed adds that such a digital only approach also enables WorldRemit to charge fees that are less than half those of the big players, a statement which is confirmed when you check its prices against those of the likes of Western Union.

Less cash pick-ups

WorldRemit also says it is at the forefront of digitalising the receiving end of remittance exchanges, with cash pick-ups only accounting for one third of its transactions, compared with 95% for the market as a whole.

The other two thirds of WorldRemit transactions see people get paid the money directly to their bank account, or increasingly, to their mobile phone.

wpid 79367383 1668944472 The man changing remittances A growing number of Africans are using their mobile phones as cash cards

The latter has been made possible after WorldRemit signed agreements with mobile phone networks and payment systems such as Ecocash in Zimbabwe, which enable people to use their mobile phones as if they were cash cards.

And while the big players in the industry are now also increasingly offering digital transfers and pick-ups, Mr Ahmed says that none yet come close to WorldRemit's global reach.

For example, while Moneygram will only allow online transfers to bank accounts in nine countries, at WorldRemit it is more than 50.

Mr Ahmed says: “In many countries and cities you have to remember that people don't want to have to be walking around with cash for security reasons.

“Also it is often a very long walk to the nearest bank, which could be closed.”

Growing fast

Mr Ahmed launched WorldRemit in 2010 after first doing a master of business administration (MBA) course at London Business School (LBS), as he said he needed to increase his skills at running a business.

While at LBS he successfully pitched his idea to some wealthy investors who bought a stake in the business.

wpid 79357489 office42 The man changing remittances WorldRemit's workforce has grown fast in the past year

An investment fund has subsequently also come on board.

WorldRemit has its headquarters in west London, and this year has seen its workforce triple to 110 people.

It currently helps people around the world make 200,000 transfers a month. This is a drop in the ocean compared with Western Union or MoneyGram, but Mr Ahmed says he has the ambition to grow strongly.

“I'm proud to be making a difference to people's lives,” says Mr Ahmed.

Follow Will Smale on Twitter @WillSmale1

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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 afp 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. Since 2013 Al-Shabab has launched an increasingly deadly series of reprisal attacks in Kenya itself.

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

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 53956258 rwanda Rwanda country profile   Overview

Rwanda is a small landlocked country in east-central Africa which is in the process of recovering from major ethnic strife there in the mid-1990s.

The country has been beset by ethnic tension associated with the traditionally unequal relationship between the dominant Tutsi minority and the majority Hutus.

Although after 1959 the ethnic relationship was reversed, when civil war prompted around 200,000 Tutsis to flee to Burundi, lingering resentment led to periodic massacres of Tutsis.

The most notorious of these began in April 1994. The shooting down of the plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart near Kigali triggered what appeared to be a coordinated attempt by some Hutu leaders to eliminate the Tutsi population.

wpid 63816345 1170260522 Rwanda country profile   Overview Traditional dancers and musicians

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At a glance

Politics: Rwanda is trying to shake off its image associated with the 1994 state-sponsored genocide; the government argues the country is now stable

Economy: Growth averaged 8% a year between 2001 and 2012, driven by coffee and tea exports and expanding tourism; poverty is widespread and Rwanda is highly dependent on aid

Justice: The UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has convicted 27 people for their involvement the 1994 genocide

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

In response, the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) launched a military campaign to control the country. It achieved this by July, by which time at least 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus had been brutally massacred.

Some two million Hutus fled to Zaire, now the DR Congo. They included some of those responsible for the massacres, and some joined Zairean forces to attack local Tutsis. Rwanda responded by invading refugee camps dominated by Hutu militiamen.

Meanwhile, Laurent Kabila, who seized control of Zaire and renamed it the DR Congo, failed to banish the Hutu extremists, prompting Rwanda to support the rebels trying to overthrow him.

Rwanda withdrew its forces from DR Congo in late 2002 after signing a peace deal with Kinshasa. But tensions simmer, with Rwanda accusing the Congolese army of aiding Hutu rebels in eastern DR Congo. In 2012 the UN accused Rwanda of training rebel troops in eastern DR Congo, which Rwanda angrily denied. The US, Britain and the Netherlands withheld aid from Rwanda over the accusations.

Until 2012, Rwanda used traditional “gacaca” community courts to try those suspected of taking part in the 1994 genocide. But key individuals – particularly those accused of orchestrating the slaughter – appear before an International Criminal Tribunal in northern Tanzania.

The country is striving to rebuild its economy, with coffee and tea production being among its main sources of foreign exchange. Nearly two thirds of the population live below the poverty line.

wpid 63817191 515081452 Rwanda country profile   Overview Rwanda's mountain rainforests are one of the few remaining refuges of the endangered mountain gorilla

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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 g2 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 24072 Liberia profile Liberia has a spectacular coastline, as adventurous surfers are beginning to discover

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 73772468 egypt Egypt profile

Long known for its pyramids and ancient civilisation, Egypt is the largest Arab country and has played a central role in Middle Eastern politics in modern times.

In the 1950s President Gamal Abdul Nasser pioneered Arab nationalism and the non-aligned movement, while his successor Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel and turned back to the West.

The protests that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 raised the hopes of those seeking democratic reform and an end to decades of repressive rule.

But it was the Islamists who initially benefited, before they were themselves swept away by the military and secularist protesters, prompting speculation about a return to authoritarianism.

Regional importance

Egypt's ancient past and the fact that it was one of the first Middle Eastern countries to open up to the West following Napoleon's invasion have given it a claim to be the intellectual and cultural leader in the region. The head of Cairo's Al-Azhar Mosque is one of the highest authorities in Sunni Islam.

wpid 64330571 egypt tahrir g1 Egypt profile A popular uprising in early 2011 forced President Mubarak from power, ushering in a long period of instability.

But the historic step by President Anwar Sadat to make peace with Israel in the 1979 Camp David agreement led to Egypt being expelled from the Arab League until 1989, and in 1981 Mr Sadat was assassinated by Islamic extremists angry at his moves to clamp down on their activities.

President Hosni Mubarak took a more conciliatory approach, but Islamic groups continued their campaigns sporadically. They have been responsible for deadly attacks that often targeted tourists and resort areas, and began to harass Egypt's Coptic Christian community.

While providing stability and a measure of economic progress, Mr Mubarak's rule was repressive. An emergency law in force nearly continuously since 1967 muzzled political dissent, and the security forces became renowned for brutality. Corruption was widespread.

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At a glance

wpid 55193876 egy sphinx3 afp1 Egypt profile

Politics: President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February 2011 amid an uprising, handing power to the military. The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood won elections but was ousted by the army a year later amid mass protests

Economy: The Egyptian economy is the second largest in the Arab world after Saudi Arabia, but struggles to support the growing population

International: Egypt has been a key ally of the West; it has played a major role in the Israeli-Arab conflict

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

Encouraged by the protests that overthrew the long-term leader of Tunisia, mounting popular anger burst to the surface in huge anti-government demonstrations in January 2011 that eventually ended President Mubarak's long rule.

The protesters' hoped-for transition democracy proved elusive, however, as post-revolutionary politics became polarised between the newly ascendant Islamists on the one hand and the military as well as liberal and secular forces on the other. A growing Islamist militant insurgency has also shaken Egypt's stability.

Following a year of interim military rule, the first presidential elections in half a century were won by Islamist Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi in 2012.

But a year on, growing dismay at the government's actions among many Egyptians – primarily secularists, liberals and Coptic Christians – boiled over in another wave of protests. Siding with the demonstrators, the military ousted Mr Morsi and violently suppressed the protest sit-ins held by the Brotherhood in response.

The new authorities outlawed the Brotherhood, started drafting a new constitution and curbed media freedom. The army chief, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, won the presidency in the May 2014 elections. His rise has left some fearing an effective return to military rule, while others are more apprehensive of a campaign of violence by the jihadist Ansar Beit al-Maqdis in Sinai.

Geography and economy

Egypt's teeming cities – and almost all agricultural activity – are concentrated along the banks of the Nile, and on the river's delta. Deserts occupy most of the country.

The economy depends heavily on agriculture, tourism and cash remittances from Egyptians working abroad, mainly in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries.

However, rapid population growth and the limited amount of arable land are straining the country's resources and economy, and continuing political turmoil has paralysed government efforts to address the problems.

wpid 61898162 egypt aswan g1 Egypt profile Most of Egypt's population is concentrated along the River Nile

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wpid 55473954 libya ntc1 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 g1 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”.

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At a glance

wpid 62076679 libya celebration g1 Libya country profile

Politics: Country has struggled to stabilize since ousting of long-term leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Elections in 2014 produced two rival governments as Islamist and secular militias fight for control of the country

Economy: Libya has large reserves of oil and gas

International: The UN is struggling to bring Islamist and nationalist factions together amid fears that extreme Islamist groups are using Libya as a base

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 between nationalists and Islamists have stymied attempts to produce a stable government, and in 2014 the country was riven by fighting between rival militias. Central government collapsed, and the United Nations has struggled to bring political factions together.

wpid 62076681 libya ramadan g1 Libya country profile Islam is the dominant religion in Libya, where locals are pictured breaking their fast

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wpid 72577953 africadebate3 Does Nigeria have an image problem?

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+

Is Nigeria ready to lead Africa?

But over five decades later, Nigerians remain in captivity: Foreigners control our self-image.

What the West thinks of us often takes manic precedence over who we really are, what we know and feel about ourselves.

The Europeans who first landed in Africa were unconcerned when the people they regarded as monkeys equally assumed that the white interlopers were ghosts.

The Germans can shrug it off when they are stereotyped as humourless; the Russians can dismiss it when they are described as cold.

But the Nigerian just has to kick up a tornado whenever he is perceived unpalatably.

He is touchy because he has no alternative image on which to base his confidence.

Like many Africans in the diaspora, a number of Nigerians abroad have erected careers out of defending their people's image.

With indignant frowns and stern tones, they strut from one global stage to the other like superintendents, dismantling stereotypes and whitewashing sepulchres.

wpid 75825534 482045005 13 Does Nigeria have an image problem? Lagos is home to a burgeoning middle class….

wpid 75825536 130783183 13 Does Nigeria have an image problem? It also has many poor suburbs to accommodate the rapidly expanding population of the city

This passion probably sprouts from a desire to blend into their host communities, to not be perceived as savages from some nihilistic jungle.

Unknowingly, they reinforce the subconscious message that has been passed down to generations of Nigerians and other Africans: That the West's opinion of us is paramount; that enlightening and convincing foreigners matters more than discerning who we are and who we want to be.

Fret and panic

And so, when the West claps for us, we get excited.

When they tell us off, we get upset.

When they applaud one of us, we automatically join in applauding the person.

We frantically monitor foreign opinions and we panic at the slightest hint of a negative perception of us.

wpid 75825538 112508525 13 Does Nigeria have an image problem? Nigerians are anxious about how they are portrayed in the international media

We fret about the many uncomplimentary stories from our land making the rounds on international media circuits, more than about the actual negative circumstances that birth those narratives.

From politicians to intellectuals to entertainers to terrorists, Nigerians have been socialised to rate themselves in the light of Western perceptions.

And as some of us have discovered first hand, the most effective way to draw the attention of our own people to any issue, is to speak to them through a Western medium.

It is unhealthy for a people's self-image to be hinged almost entirely on outside forces.

Nigeria expends too much valuable energy on sweeping dirt under carpets and stuffing skeletons inside closets.

Consequently, we deny ourselves the opportunity of frank dialogue, cultural criticism and self-examination—processes that are vital for a society to advance, by which the imperious West itself has developed thus far.

Nigeria can lead the rest of Africa in freeing our people from this image bondage.

wpid 75306515 line9763 Does Nigeria have an image problem?

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani is a writer and the author of I Do Not Come to You by Chance.

wpid 75306515 line9763 Does Nigeria have an image problem?

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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