This entry usually highlights major historic events and current issues and may include a statement about one or two key future trends.
Ahmad Shah DURRANI unified the Pashtun tribes and founded Afghanistan in 1747. The country served as a buffer between the British and Russian Empires until it won independence from notional British control in 1919. A brief experiment in increased democracy ended in a 1973 coup and a 1978 communist countercoup. The Soviet Union invaded in 1979 to support the tottering Afghan communist regime, touching off a long and destructive war. The USSR withdrew in 1989 under relentless pressure by internationally supported anti-communist mujahidin rebels. A series of subsequent civil wars saw Kabul finally fall in 1996 to the Taliban, a hardline Pakistani-sponsored movement that emerged in 1994 to end the country's civil war and anarchy. Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, a US, Allied, and anti-Taliban Northern Alliance military action toppled the Taliban for sheltering Usama BIN LADIN.
A UN-sponsored Bonn Conference in 2001 established a process for political reconstruction that included the adoption of a new constitution, a presidential election in 2004, and National Assembly elections in 2005. In December 2004, Hamid KARZAI became the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan and was reelected in August 2009. In February 2020, the US and the Taliban signed the “US-Taliban Agreement,” which contained commitments by the US related to the withdrawal from Afghanistan of military forces of the US, its allies, and Coalition partners, as well as commitments by the Taliban related to counterterrorism, among other topics. Following a US drawdown of virtually all of its troops, a summer 2021 Taliban offensive quickly overran the country and the Taliban took over Kabul in August of 2021.
By terms of the 1960 Treaty of Establishment that created the independent Republic of Cyprus, the UK retained full sovereignty and jurisdiction over two areas of almost 254 square kilometers - Akrotiri and Dhekelia. The southernmost and smaller of the two is the Akrotiri Sovereign Base Area, which is also referred to as the Western Sovereign Base Area.
Albania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, but was conquered by Italy in 1939 and occupied by Germany in 1943. Communist partisans took over the country in 1944. Albania allied itself first with the USSR (until 1960), and then with China (to 1978). In the early 1990s, Albania ended 46 years of isolated communist rule and established a multiparty democracy. The transition has proven challenging as successive governments have tried to deal with high unemployment, widespread corruption, dilapidated infrastructure, powerful organized crime networks, and combative political opponents.
Albania has made progress in its democratic development since it first held multiparty elections in 1991, but deficiencies remain. Most of Albania's post-communist elections were marred by claims of electoral fraud; however, international observers judged elections to be largely free and fair since the restoration of political stability following the collapse of pyramid schemes in 1997. Albania joined NATO in April 2009 and in June 2014 became an EU candidate. Albania in April 2017 received a European Commission recommendation to open EU accession negotiations following the passage of historic EU-mandated justice reforms in 2016. Although Albania's economy continues to grow, it has slowed, and the country is still one of the poorest in Europe. A large informal economy and a weak energy and transportation infrastructure remain obstacles.
Algeria has known many empires and dynasties starting with the ancient Numidians (3rd century B.C.), Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, over a dozen different Arab and Berber dynasties, Spaniards, and Ottoman Turks. It was under the latter that the Barbary pirates operated from North Africa and preyed on shipping beginning in roughly 1500, peaking in the early to mid-17th century, until finally subdued by the French capture of Algiers in 1830. The French southward conquest of the entirety of Algeria proceeded throughout the 19th century and was marked by many atrocities. The country was heavily colonized by the French in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A bloody eight-year struggle culminated in Algerian independence in 1962.
Algeria's primary political party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), was established in 1954 as part of the struggle for independence and has since largely dominated politics, though it is falling out of favor with the youth. The Government of Algeria in 1988 instituted a multi-party system in response to public unrest, but the surprising first round success of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in the December 1991 legislative elections led the Algerian army to intervene and postpone the second round of elections to prevent what the secular elite feared would be an extremist-led government from assuming power. The army began a crackdown on the FIS that spurred FIS supporters to begin attacking government targets. Fighting escalated into an insurgency, which saw intense violence from 1992-98, resulting in over 100,000 deaths – many attributed to indiscriminate massacres of villagers by extremists. The government gained the upper hand by the late-1990s, and FIS’s armed wing, the Islamic Salvation Army, disbanded in January 2000. FIS membership is illegal.
Former president Abdelaziz BOUTEFLIKA, with the backing of the military, won the presidency in 1999 in an election that was boycotted by several candidates protesting alleged fraud, and won subsequent elections in 2004, 2009, and 2014. Protests broke out across the country in late February 2019 against President BOUTEFLIKA’s decision to seek a fifth term. BOUTEFLIKA resigned in April 2019, and in December 2019, Algerians elected former Prime Minister Abdelmadjid TEBBOUNE as the country's new president. A longtime FLN member, TEBBOUNE ran for president as an independent. In 2020, Algeria held a constitutional referendum, which President TEBBOUNE enacted in January 2021. Subsequent reforms to the national electoral law introduced open list voting to curb corruption. The new law also eliminated gender quotas in Parliament, and the June 2021 legislative elections saw female representation plummet. Local elections took place in November 2021. The referendum, parliamentary elections, and local elections saw record low voter turnout. Since 2014, Algeria’s reliance on hydrocarbon revenues to fund the government and finance the large subsidies for the population has fallen under stress because of declining oil prices.
Tutuila was settled by 1000 B.C. and the island served as a refuge for exiled chiefs and defeated warriors from the other Samoan islands. The Manu’a Islands developed its own traditional chiefdom that maintained its autonomy by controlling oceanic trade. In 1722, Dutch explorer Jacob ROGGEVEEN was the first European to sail through the Manu’a Islands, and he was followed by French explorer Louis Antoine DE BOUGAINVILLE in 1768. Whalers and missionaries arrived in American Samoa in the 1830s, but American and European traders tended to favor the port in Apia - now in independent Samoa - over the smaller and less-developed Pago Pago on Tutuila. In the mid-1800s, a dispute arose in Samoa over control of the Samoan archipelago, with different chiefs gaining support from Germany, the UK, and the US. In 1872, the high chief of Tutuila offered the US exclusive rights to Pago Pago in return for US protection, but the US rejected this offer. As fighting resumed, the US agreed to the chief’s request in 1878 and set up a coaling station at Pago Pago. In 1899, with continued disputes over succession, Germany and the US agreed to divide the Samoan islands, while the UK withdrew its claims in exchange for parts of the Solomon Islands. Local chiefs on Tutuila formally ceded their land to the US in 1900, followed by the chief of Manu’a in 1904. The territory was officially named “American Samoa” in 1911.
The US administered the territory through the Department of the Navy, and in 1918, the naval governor instituted strict quarantine rules to prevent the spread of the Spanish flu, allowing American Samoa to avoid the deadly infection that ravaged the then-New Zealand administered territory of Samoa. In 1949, there was an attempt to organize the territory, granting it formal self-government, but local chiefs helped defeat the measure in the US Congress. Administration was transferred to the Department of the Interior in 1951, and in 1967, American Samoa adopted a constitution that provides significant protections for traditional Samoan land tenure rules, language, and culture. In 1977, after four attempts, voters approved a measure to directly elect their governor. Nevertheless, American Samoa officially remains an unorganized territory and people born in American Samoa are US nationals instead of US citizens, a status many American Samoans prefer.
The Moorish invasion of Spain in the 8th century and subsequent incursions into France were finally stemmed at the Pyrenees by Frankish King Charlemagne, who in 795 created the Hispanic March, a series of buffer states to keep the Muslim Moors from advancing into Christian France. The landlocked Principality of Andorra, one of the smallest states in Europe and nestled high in the Pyrenees between the French and Spanish borders, is the last independent survivor of these March states. For 715 years, from 1278 to 1993, Andorrans lived under a unique coprincipality, ruled by French and Spanish leaders (from 1607 onward, the French chief of state and the Bishop of Urgell). In 1993, this feudal system was modified with the introduction of a modern constitution; the co-princes remained as titular heads of state, but the government transformed into a parliamentary democracy.
Andorra has become a popular tourist destination visited by approximately 8 million people each year drawn by the winter sports, summer climate, and duty-free shopping. Andorra has also become a wealthy international commercial center because of its mature banking sector and low taxes. As part of its effort to modernize its economy, Andorra has opened to foreign investment, and engaged in other reforms, such as advancing tax initiatives aimed at supporting a broader infrastructure. Although not a member of the EU, Andorra enjoys a special relationship with the bloc that is governed by various customs and cooperation agreements and uses the euro as its national currency.
From the late 14th to the mid 19th century a Kingdom of Kongo stretched across central Africa from present-day northern Angola into the current Congo republics. It traded heavily with the Portuguese who, beginning in the 16th century, established coastal colonies and trading posts and introduced Christianity. By the 19th century, Portuguese settlement had spread to the interior; in 1914, Portugal abolished the last vestiges of the Kongo Kingdom and Angola became a Portuguese colony.
Angola scores low on human development indexes despite using its large oil reserves to rebuild since the end of a 27-year civil war in 2002. Fighting between the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), led by Jose Eduardo DOS SANTOS, and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), led by Jonas SAVIMBI, followed independence from Portugal in 1975. Peace seemed imminent in 1992 when Angola held national elections, but fighting picked up again in 1993. Up to 1.5 million lives may have been lost - and 4 million people displaced - during the more than a quarter century of fighting. SAVIMBI's death in 2002 ended UNITA's insurgency and cemented the MPLA's hold on power. DOS SANTOS stepped down from the presidency in 2017, having led the country since 1979. He pushed through a new constitution in 2010. Joao LOURENCO was elected president in August 2017 and became president of the MPLA in September 2018.
Colonized by English settlers from Saint Kitts in 1650, Anguilla was administered by Great Britain until the early 19th century, when the island - against the wishes of the inhabitants - was incorporated into a single British dependency along with Saint Kitts and Nevis. Several attempts at separation failed. In 1971, two years after a revolt, Anguilla was finally allowed to secede; this arrangement was formally recognized in 1980, with Anguilla becoming a separate British dependency. On 7 September 2017, the island suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Irma, particularly to communications and residential and business infrastructure.
Speculation over the existence of a "southern land" was not confirmed until the early 1820s when British and American commercial operators and British and Russian national expeditions began exploring the Antarctic Peninsula region and other areas south of the Antarctic Circle. Not until 1840 was it established that Antarctica was indeed a continent and not merely a group of islands or an area of ocean. Several exploration "firsts" were achieved in the early 20th century, but generally the area saw little human activity. Following World War II, however, the continent experienced an upsurge in scientific research. A number of countries have set up a range of year-round and seasonal stations, camps, and refuges to support scientific research in Antarctica. Seven have made territorial claims and two maintain the basis for a claim, but most countries do not recognize these claims. In order to form a legal framework for the activities of nations on the continent, an Antarctic Treaty was negotiated that neither denies nor gives recognition to existing territorial claims; signed in 1959, it entered into force in 1961. Also relevant to Antarctic governance are the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty and the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.
The Siboney were the first people to inhabit the islands of Antigua and Barbuda in 2400 B.C., but Arawak Indians populated the islands when Christopher COLUMBUS landed on his second voyage in 1493. Early Spanish and French settlements were succeeded by an English colony in 1667. Slavery, to provide labor on the sugar plantations on Antigua, was abolished in 1834. The islands became an independent state within the British Commonwealth of Nations in 1981. On 6 September 2017, Hurricane Irma passed over the island of Barbuda devastating the island and forcing the evacuation of the population to Antigua. Almost all of the structures on Barbuda were destroyed and the vegetation stripped, but Antigua was spared the worst.
The Arctic Ocean is the smallest of the world's five oceans (after the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, and the Southern Ocean). The Northwest Passage (US and Canada) and Northern Sea Route (Norway and Russia) are two important seasonal waterways. In recent years the polar ice pack has receded in the summer allowing for increased navigation and raising the possibility of future sovereignty and shipping disputes among the six countries bordering the Arctic Ocean (Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Iceland, Norway, Russia, US).
In 1816, the United Provinces of the Rio Plata declared their independence from Spain. After Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay went their separate ways, the area that remained became Argentina. The country's population and culture were heavily shaped by immigrants from throughout Europe, with Italy and Spain providing the largest percentage of newcomers from 1860 to 1930. Up until about the mid-20th century, much of Argentina's history was dominated by periods of internal political unrest and conflict between civilian and military factions.
After World War II, an era of populism under former President Juan Domingo PERON - the founder of the Peronist political movement - and direct and indirect military interference in subsequent governments was followed by a military junta that took power in 1976. Democracy returned in 1983 after a failed bid to seize the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) by force, and has persisted despite numerous challenges, the most formidable of which was a severe economic crisis in 2001-02 that led to violent public protests and the successive resignations of several presidents. The years 2003-15 saw Peronist rule by Nestor KIRCHNER (2003-07) and his spouse Cristina FERNANDEZ DE KIRCHNER (2007-15), who oversaw several years of strong economic growth (2003-11) followed by a gradual deterioration in the government’s fiscal situation and eventual economic stagnation and isolation. Argentina underwent a brief period of economic reform and international reintegration under Mauricio MACRI (2015-19), but a recession in 2018-19 and frustration with MACRI’s economic policies ushered in a new Peronist government in 2019 led by President Alberto FERNANDEZ and Vice President FERNANDEZ DE KIRCHNER. Presidential elections will take place next in 2023.
Armenia prides itself on being the first nation to formally adopt Christianity (early 4th century). Despite periods of autonomy, over the centuries Armenia came under the sway of various empires including the Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Persian, and Ottoman. During World War I in the western portion of Armenia, the Ottoman Empire instituted a policy of forced resettlement coupled with other harsh practices that resulted in at least 1 million Armenian deaths - actions widely recognized as constituting genocide. The eastern area of Armenia was ceded by the Ottomans to Russia in 1828; this portion declared its independence in 1918, but was conquered by the Soviet Red Army in 1920.
Armenia remains involved in the protracted struggle with Azerbaijan over control of Nagorno-Karabakh, a primarily ethnic Armenian region that Moscow recognized in 1923 as an autonomous oblast within Soviet Azerbaijan. In the late Soviet period, a separatist movement developed that sought to end Azerbaijani control over the region. Fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh began in 1988 and escalated after Armenia and Azerbaijan attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. By the time a cease-fire took effect in May 1994, separatists, with Armenian support, controlled Nagorno‑Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories. Following the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in September-November 2020, Armenia lost control over much of the territory it had captured a quarter century earlier. Under the terms of a cease-fire agreement signed in November 2020, Armenia returned to Azerbaijan the remaining territories it occupied and some parts of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, including the key city that Armenians call Shushi and Azerbaijanis call Shusha.
Turkey closed the common border with Armenia in 1993 in support of Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia over control of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas, further hampering Armenian economic growth. In 2009, Armenia and Turkey signed Protocols normalizing relations between the two countries, but neither country ratified the Protocols, and Armenia officially withdrew from the Protocols in March 2018. In 2015, Armenia joined the Eurasian Economic Union alongside Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. In November 2017, Armenia signed a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with the EU.
In spring 2018, former President of Armenia (2008-18) Serzh SARGSIAN of the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) tried to extend his time in power by becoming prime minister, prompting popular protests that became known as the “Velvet Revolution” after SARGSIAN was forced to resign. The leader of the protests, Civil Contract party chief Nikol PASHINYAN, was elected by the National Assembly as the new prime minister on 8 May 2018. PASHINYAN’s party prevailed in an early legislative election in December 2018, and he was reelected as prime minister.
Discovered and claimed for Spain in 1499, Aruba was acquired by the Dutch in 1636. The island's economy has been dominated by three main industries. A 19th century gold rush was followed by prosperity brought on by the opening in 1924 of an oil refinery. The last decades of the 20th century saw a boom in the tourism industry. Aruba seceded from the Netherlands Antilles in 1986 and became a separate, semi-autonomous member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Movement toward full independence was halted at Aruba's request in 1990.
Indonesian fishermen have long fished in the area around Ashmore Reef and Cartier Island. British explorers were the first Europeans to see Cartier Island and Ashmore Reef in 1800 and 1811, respectively. American whalers frequently sailed by the islands in the 1850s and later settled to mine the phosphate deposits on Ashmore Reef, which were exhausted by 1891. The UK disputed US access to Ashmore Reef and formally annexed it in 1878. Cartier Island was annexed in 1909. In 1931, the UK transferred the islands to Australia, which accepted them in 1934 as part of Western Australia. In 1938, Australia transferred governance to the Northern Territory. During World War II, the islands saw several Allied ship visits and post-war, Cartier Island became a bombing range. In 1978, governance of Ashmore and Cartier Islands was moved to the federal government. Ashmore Reef and Cartier Island became marine reserves in 1983 and 2000 respectively.
In 1974, Australia and Indonesia signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to allow Indonesian fishermen to continue fishing around the islands. The MOU also allows Indonesian fishermen to visit the graves of past fishermen, replenish their fresh water, and shelter in the West Island Lagoon of Ashmore Reef. In the 1990s, Indonesia challenged Australia’s claims to the islands, which was settled in a maritime boundary treaty in 1997. The islands were a popular first point of contact for migrants and refugees seeking to enter Australia, so in 2001, Australia declared the islands outside the Australian migration zone.
The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest of the world's five oceans (after the Pacific Ocean, but larger than the Indian Ocean, Southern Ocean, and Arctic Ocean). The Kiel Canal (Germany), Oresund (Denmark-Sweden), Bosporus (Turkey), Strait of Gibraltar (Morocco-Spain), and the Saint Lawrence Seaway (Canada-US) are important strategic access waterways.The decision by the International Hydrographic Organization in the spring of 2000 to delimit a fifth world ocean, the Southern Ocean, removed the portion of the Atlantic Ocean south of 60 degrees south latitude.
Aboriginal Australians arrived on the continent at least 60,000 years ago and developed complex hunter-gatherer societies and oral histories. Dutch navigators led by Abel TASMAN were the first Europeans to land in Australia in 1606, and they mapped the western and northern coasts. They named the continent New Holland but made no attempts to permanently settle it. In 1770, English captain James COOK sailed to the east coast of Australia, named it New South Wales, and claimed it for Great Britain. In 1788 and 1825, Great Britain established New South Wales and then Tasmania as penal colonies respectively. Great Britain and Ireland sent more than 150,000 convicts to Australia before ending the practice in 1868. As Europeans began settling areas away from the coasts, they came into more direct contact with Aboriginal Australians. Europeans also cleared land for agriculture, impacting Aboriginal Australians’ ways of life. These issues, along with disease and a policy in the 1900s that forcefully removed Aboriginal children from their parents, reduced the Aboriginal Australian population from more than 700,000 pre-European contact to a low of 74,000 in 1933.
Four additional colonies were established in Australia in the mid-1800s: Western Australia (1829), South Australia (1836), Victoria (1851), and Queensland (1859). Gold rushes beginning in the 1850s brought thousands of new immigrants to New South Wales and Victoria, helping to reorient Australia away from its penal colony roots. In the second half of the 1800s, the colonies were all gradually granted self-government, and in 1901, they federated and became the Commonwealth of Australia. Australia contributed more than 400,000 troops to Allied efforts during World War I, and Australian troops played a large role in the defeat of Japanese troops in the Pacific in World War II. Australia severed most constitutional links with the UK in 1942, and in 1951 signed the Australia, New Zealand, and US (ANZUS) Treaty, cementing its military alliance with the United States. In 2021, Australia, the UK, and the US announced the AUKUS enhanced trilateral security partnership to maintain and expand the three countries’ edge in military capabilities and critical technologies. Australia’s post-war economy boomed and by the 1970s, racial policies that prevented most non-Whites from immigrating to Australia were removed, greatly increasing Asian immigration to the country. In recent decades, Australia has become an internationally competitive, advanced market economy due in large part to economic reforms adopted in the 1980s and its proximity to East and Southeast Asia.
In the early 2000s, Australian politics became unstable with frequent attempts to oust party leaders, including five changes of prime minister between 2010 and 2018. As a result, both major parties instituted rules to make it harder to remove a party leader.
Once the center of power for the large Austro-Hungarian Empire, Austria was reduced to a small republic after its defeat in World War I. Following annexation by Nazi Germany in 1938 and subsequent occupation by the victorious Allies in 1945, Austria's status remained unclear for a decade. A State Treaty signed in 1955 ended the occupation, recognized Austria's independence, and forbade unification with Germany. A constitutional law that same year declared the country's "perpetual neutrality" as a condition for Soviet military withdrawal. The Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 and Austria's entry into the EU in 1995 have altered the meaning of this neutrality. A prosperous, democratic country, Austria entered the EU Economic and Monetary Union in 1999.
Azerbaijan - a secular nation with a majority-Turkic and majority-Shia Muslim population - was briefly independent (from 1918 to 1920) following the collapse of the Russian Empire; it was subsequently incorporated into the Soviet Union for seven decades. Azerbaijan remains involved in the protracted Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Armenia. Nagorno-Karabakh was a primarily ethnic Armenian region that Moscow recognized in 1923 as an autonomous oblast within Soviet Azerbaijan. In the late Soviet period, a separatist movement developed which sought to end Azerbaijani control over the region. Fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh began in 1988 and escalated after Armenia and Azerbaijan attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. By the time a ceasefire took effect in May 1994, separatists, with Armenian support, controlled Nagorno‑Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories.
Under the terms of a cease-fire agreement following Azerbaijan’s victory in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War that took place from September-November 2020, Armenia returned to Azerbaijan the remaining territories it had occupied and also the southern part of Nagorno-Karabakh, including the culturally and historically important city that Azerbaijanis call Shusha and Armenians call Shushi. Despite Azerbaijan’s territorial gains, peace in the region remains elusive because of unsettled issues concerning the delimitation of borders, the opening of regional transportation and communication links, the status of ethnic enclaves near border regions, and the final status of the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Russian peacekeepers deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh to supervise the cease-fire for a minimum five-year term did not prevent the outbreak of sporadic, low-level military clashes along the Azerbaijan-Armenia border in 2021.
In the three decades following its independence in 1991, Azerbaijan has succeeded in significantly reducing the poverty rate and has directed revenues from its oil and gas production to develop the country’s infrastructure. However, corruption remains a burden on the economy, and Western observers and members of the country’s political opposition have accused the government of authoritarianism, pointing to elections that are neither free nor fair, state control of the media, and the systematic abuse of human rights targeting individuals and groups who are perceived as threats to the administration. The country’s leadership has remained in the ALIYEV family since Heydar ALIYEV, formerly the most highly ranked Azerbaijani member of the Communist Party during the Soviet period, became president in the midst of the first Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1993. Heydar ALIYEV groomed his son to succeed him, and Ilham ALIYEV subsequently became president in 2003. As a result of two national referendums that eliminated presidential term limits and extended the presidential term from 5 to 7 years, President ALIYEV secured a fourth term in April 2018 in an election that international observers noted had serious shortcomings. Reforms are underway to diversify the country’s economy away from its dependence on oil and gas; additional reforms are needed to address weaknesses in government institutions, particularly in the education and health sectors, and the court system.
Lucayan Indians inhabited the islands when Christopher COLUMBUS first set foot in the New World on San Salvador in 1492. British settlement of the islands began in 1647; the islands became a colony in 1783. Piracy thrived in the 17th and 18th centuries because of The Bahamas close proximity to shipping lanes. Since attaining independence from the UK in 1973, The Bahamas has prospered through tourism, international banking, and investment management, which comprise up to 85% of GDP. Because of its proximity to the US - the nearest Bahamian landmass being only 80 km (50 mi) from Florida - the country is a major transshipment point for illicit trafficking, particularly to the US mainland, as well as Europe. US law enforcement agencies cooperate closely with The Bahamas, and the US Coast Guard assists Bahamian authorities in maritime security and law enforcement through Operation Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, or OPBAT.
In 1783, the Sunni Al-KHALIFA family took power in Bahrain. In order to secure these holdings, it entered into a series of treaties with the UK during the 19th century that made Bahrain a British protectorate. The archipelago attained its independence in 1971. A steady decline in oil production and reserves since 1970 prompted Bahrain to take steps to diversify its economy, in the process developing petroleum processing and refining, aluminum production, and hospitality and retail sectors. It has also endeavored to become a leading regional banking center, especially with respect to Islamic finance. Bahrain's small size, central location among Gulf countries, economic dependence on Saudi Arabia, and proximity to Iran require it to play a delicate balancing act in foreign affairs among its larger neighbors. Its foreign policy activities usually fall in line with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The Sunni royal family has long struggled to manage relations with its large Shia-majority population. In early 2011, amid Arab uprisings elsewhere in the region, the Bahraini Government confronted similar pro-democracy and reform protests at home with police and military action, including deploying Gulf Cooperation Council security forces to Bahrain. Failed political talks prompted opposition political societies to boycott 2014 legislative and municipal council elections. In 2018, a law preventing members of political societies dissolved by the courts from participating in elections effectively sidelined the majority of opposition figures from taking part in national elections. As a result, most members of parliament are independents. Ongoing dissatisfaction with the political status quo continues to factor into sporadic clashes between demonstrators and security forces. On 15 September 2020, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates signed peace agreements (the Abraham Accords) with Israel – brokered by the US – in Washington DC. Bahrain and the UAE thus became the third and fourth Middle Eastern countries, along with Egypt and Jordan, to recognize Israel.
The huge delta region formed at the confluence of the Ganges and Brahmaputra River systems - now referred to as Bangladesh - was a loosely incorporated outpost of various empires centered on the Gangetic plain for much of the first millennium A.D. Muslim conversions and settlement in the region began in the 10th century, primarily from Arab and Persian traders and preachers. Europeans established trading posts in the area in the 16th century. Eventually the area known as Bengal, primarily Hindu in the western section and mostly Muslim in the eastern half, became part of British India. Partition in 1947 resulted in an eastern wing of Pakistan in the Muslim-majority area, which became East Pakistan. Calls for greater autonomy and animosity between the eastern and western wings of Pakistan led to a Bengali independence movement. That movement, led by the Awami League (AL) and supported by India, won the independence war for Bangladesh in 1971.
The post-independence AL government faced daunting challenges and in 1975 it was overthrown by the military, triggering a series of military coups that resulted in a military-backed government and subsequent creation of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in 1978. That government also ended in a coup in 1981, followed by military-backed rule until democratic elections occurred in 1991. The BNP and AL have alternated in power since 1991, with the exception of a military-backed, emergency caretaker regime that suspended parliamentary elections planned for January 2007 in an effort to reform the political system and root out corruption. That government returned the country to fully democratic rule in December 2008 with the election of the AL and Prime Minister Sheikh HASINA. In January 2014, the incumbent AL won the national election by an overwhelming majority after the BNP boycotted the election, which extended HASINA's term as prime minister. In December 2018, HASINA secured a third consecutive term (fourth overall) with the AL coalition securing 96% of available seats, amid widespread claims of election irregularities. With the help of international development assistance, Bangladesh has reduced the poverty rate from over half of the population to less than a third, achieved Millennium Development Goals for maternal and child health, and made great progress in food security since independence. The economy has grown at an annual average of about 6% for the last two decades. In 2021 the UN approved a resolution to allow Bangladesh to officially graduate from least-developed-country (LDC) status in 2026, based on World Bank criteria.
The island was uninhabited when first settled by the British in 1627. African slaves worked the sugar plantations established on the island, which initially dominated the Caribbean sugar industry. By 1720, Barbados was no longer a dominant force within the sugar industry, having been surpassed by the Leeward Islands and Jamaica. Slavery was abolished in 1834. The Barbadian economy remained heavily dependent on sugar, rum, and molasses production through most of the 20th century. The gradual introduction of social and political reforms in the 1940s and 1950s led to complete independence from the UK in 1966. In the 1990s, tourism and manufacturing surpassed the sugar industry in economic importance. Barbados became a republic on 30 November 2021, with the former Governor-General Sandra MASON elected as the first president. Barbados plans to create a new constitution in 2022.
After seven decades as a constituent republic of the USSR, Belarus attained its independence in 1991. It has retained closer political and economic ties to Russia than have any of the other former Soviet republics. Belarus and Russia signed a treaty on a two-state union on 8 December 1999 envisioning greater political and economic integration. Although Belarus agreed to a framework to carry out the accord, serious implementation has yet to take place and current negotiations on further integration have been contentious. Since his election in July 1994 as the country's first and only directly elected president, Alyaksandr LUKASHENKA has steadily consolidated his power through authoritarian means and a centralized economic system. Government restrictions on political and civil freedoms, freedom of speech and the press, peaceful assembly, and religion have remained in place. Restrictions on political freedoms have grown increasingly strained following the disputed presidential election in August 2020. The election results sparked largescale protests as members of the opposition and civil society criticized the election’s validity. Alyaksandr LUKASHENKA has remained in power as the disputed winner of the presidential election after quelling protests in late 2020.
Belgium became independent from the Netherlands in 1830; it was occupied by Germany during World Wars I and II. The country prospered in the past half century as a modern, technologically advanced European state and member of NATO and the EU. In recent years, political divisions between the Dutch-speaking Flemish of the north and the French-speaking Walloons of the south have led to constitutional amendments granting these regions formal recognition and autonomy. The capital city of Brussels is home to numerous international organizations, including the EU and NATO.
Belize was the site of several Mayan city states until their decline at the end of the first millennium A.D. The British and Spanish disputed the region in the 17th and 18th centuries; it formally became the colony of British Honduras in 1862. Territorial disputes between the UK and Guatemala delayed the independence of Belize until 1981. Guatemala refused to recognize the new nation until 1992 and the two countries are involved in an ongoing border dispute. Both nations have voted to send the dispute for final resolution to the International Court of Justice. Tourism has become the mainstay of the economy. Current concerns include the country's heavy foreign debt burden, high crime rates, high unemployment combined with a majority youth population, growing involvement in the Mexican and South American drug trade, and one of the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in Central America.
Present day Benin is comprised of about 42 ethnic groups, including the Yoruba in the southeast, who migrated from what is now Nigeria in the 12th century; the Dendi in the north-central area, who came from Mali in the 16th century; the Bariba and the Fula in the northeast; the Ottamari in the Atakora mountains; the Fon in the area around Abomey in the south-central area; and the Mina, Xueda, and Aja, who came from Togo, on the coast. The Kingdom of Dahomey emerged on the Abomey plateau in the 17th century and was a regional power for much of the 18th and 19th centuries. Dahomey had an organized domestic economy, international trade with Europeans, and a highly organized military. The growth of Dahomey coincided with the growth of the Atlantic slave trade, and it became known as a major source of enslaved people. France began to control the coastal areas of Dahomey in the second half of the 19th century; the entire kingdom was conquered by 1894. French Dahomey achieved independence in 1960; it changed its name to the Republic of Benin in 1975.
A succession of military governments ended in 1972 with the rise to power of Mathieu KEREKOU and the establishment of a government based on Marxist-Leninist principles. A move to representative government began in 1989. Two years later, free elections ushered in former Prime Minister Nicephore SOGLO as president, marking the first successful transfer of power in Africa from a dictatorship to a democracy. KEREKOU was returned to power by elections held in 1996 and 2001, though some irregularities were alleged. KEREKOU stepped down at the end of his second term in 2006 and was succeeded by Thomas YAYI Boni, a political outsider and independent, who won a second five-year term in March 2011. Patrice TALON, a wealthy businessman, took office in 2016; the space for pluralism, dissent, and free expression has narrowed under his administration. TALON won a second term in April 2021.
Bermuda was first settled in 1609 by shipwrecked English colonists heading for Virginia. Self-governing since 1620, Bermuda is the oldest and most populous of the British overseas territories. Vacationing to the island to escape North American winters first developed in Victorian times. Tourism continues to be important to the island's economy, although international business has overtaken it in recent years. Bermuda has also developed into a highly successful offshore financial center. A referendum on independence from the UK was soundly defeated in 1995.
Following Britain’s victory in the 1865 Duar War, Britain and Bhutan signed the Treaty of Sinchulu, under which Bhutan would receive an annual subsidy in exchange for ceding land to British India. Ugyen WANGCHUCK - who had served as the de facto ruler of an increasingly unified Bhutan and had improved relations with the British toward the end of the 19th century - was named king in 1907. Three years later, a treaty was signed whereby the British agreed not to interfere in Bhutanese internal affairs, and Bhutan allowed Britain to direct its foreign affairs. Bhutan negotiated a similar arrangement with independent India in 1949. The Indo-Bhutanese Treaty of Friendship returned to Bhutan a small piece of the territory annexed by the British, formalized the annual subsidies the country received, and defined India's responsibilities in defense and foreign relations. Under a succession of modernizing monarchs beginning in the 1950s, Bhutan joined the UN in 1971 and slowly continued its engagement beyond its borders.
In 2005, King Jigme Singye WANGCHUCK unveiled the draft of Bhutan's first constitution - which introduced major democratic reforms - and held a national referendum for its approval. The King abdicated the throne in 2006 in favor of his son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel WANGCHUCK. In 2007, India and Bhutan renegotiated their treaty, eliminating the clause that stated that Bhutan would be "guided by" India in conducting its foreign policy, although Thimphu continues to coordinate closely with New Delhi. In 2008, Bhutan held its first parliamentary election in accordance with the constitution. Bhutan experienced a peaceful turnover of power following a parliamentary election in 2013, which resulted in the defeat of the incumbent party. In 2018, the incumbent party again lost the parliamentary election. Of the more than 100,000 ethnic Nepali - predominantly Lhotshampa - refugees who fled or were forced out of Bhutan in the 1990s, about 6,500 remain displaced in Nepal.
Bolivia, named after independence fighter Simon BOLIVAR, broke away from Spanish rule in 1825. Much of its subsequent history has consisted of a series of coups and countercoups, with the last coup occurring in 1978. Democratic civilian rule was established in 1982, but leaders have faced problems of deep-seated poverty, social unrest, and illegal drug production.
In December 2005, Bolivians elected Movement Toward Socialism leader Evo MORALES president - by the widest margin of any leader since the restoration of civilian rule in 1982 - after he ran on a promise to change the country's traditional political class and empower the nation's poor and indigenous majority. In December 2009 and October 2014, President MORALES easily won reelection. His party maintained control of the legislative branch of the government, which has allowed him to continue his "process of change." In February 2016, MORALES narrowly lost a referendum to approve a constitutional amendment that would have allowed him to compete in the 2019 presidential election. However, a 2017 Supreme Court ruling stating that term limits violate human rights provided the justification for MORALES to be chosen by his party to run again in 2019. MORALES attempted to claim victory in the October 2019 election, but widespread allegations of electoral fraud, rising violence, and pressure from the military ultimately forced him to flee the country. An interim government, led by President Jeanine ANEZ Chavez, prepared new elections that took place in October 2020; President Luis Alberto ARCE Catacora took office the following month.
Bosnia and Herzegovina declared sovereignty in October 1991 and independence from the former Yugoslavia on 3 March 1992 after a referendum boycotted by ethnic Serbs. The Bosnian Serbs - supported by neighboring Serbia and Montenegro - responded with armed resistance aimed at partitioning the republic along ethnic lines and joining Serb-held areas to form a "Greater Serbia." In March 1994, Bosniaks and Croats reduced the number of warring factions from three to two by signing an agreement creating a joint Bosniak-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. On 21 November 1995, in Dayton, Ohio, the warring parties initialed a peace agreement that ended three years of interethnic civil strife (the final agreement was signed in Paris on 14 December 1995).
The Dayton Peace Accords retained Bosnia and Herzegovina's international boundaries and created a multiethnic and democratic government charged with conducting foreign, diplomatic, and fiscal policy. Also recognized was a second tier of government composed of two entities roughly equal in size: the predominantly Bosniak-Bosnian Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the predominantly Bosnian Serb-led Republika Srpska (RS). The Federation and RS governments are responsible for overseeing most government functions. Additionally, the Dayton Accords established the Office of the High Representative to oversee the implementation of the civilian aspects of the agreement. The Peace Implementation Council at its conference in Bonn in 1997 also gave the High Representative the authority to impose legislation and remove officials, the so-called "Bonn Powers." An original NATO-led international peacekeeping force (IFOR) of 60,000 troops assembled in 1995 was succeeded over time by a smaller, NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR). In 2004, European Union peacekeeping troops (EUFOR) replaced SFOR. Currently, EUFOR deploys around 600 troops in theater in a security assistance and training capacity.
Seeking to stop the incorporation of their land into Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) or the Union of South Africa, in 1885, three tribal chiefs traveled to Great Britain and successfully lobbied the British Government to put "Bechuanaland" under UK protection. Upon independence in 1966, the British protectorate of Bechuanaland adopted the new name of Botswana. More than five decades of uninterrupted civilian leadership, progressive social policies, and significant capital investment have created one of the most stable economies in Africa. The ruling Botswana Democratic Party has won every national election since independence; President Mokgweetsi Eric MASISI assumed the presidency in April 2018 following the retirement of former President Ian KHAMA due to constitutional term limits. MASISI won his first election as president in October 2019, and he is Botswana’s fifth president since independence. Mineral extraction, principally diamond mining, dominates economic activity, though tourism is a growing sector due to the country's conservation practices and extensive nature preserves. Botswana has one of the world's highest rates of HIV/AIDS infection but also one of Africa's most progressive and comprehensive programs for dealing with the disease.
This uninhabited, volcanic, Antarctic island is almost entirely covered by glaciers making it difficult to approach; it is recognized as the most remote island on Earth. (It is furthest in distance from any other point of land, 1,639 km from Antarctica.) Bouvet Island was discovered in 1739 by a French naval officer after whom it is named. No claim was made until 1825, when the British flag was raised. A few expeditions visited the island in the late 19th century. In 1929, the UK waived its claim in favor of Norway, which had occupied the island two years previously. In 1971, Norway designated Bouvet Island and the adjacent territorial waters a nature reserve. Since 1977, Norway has run an automated meteorological station and studied foraging strategies and distribution of fur seals and penguins on the island. In February 2006, an earthquake weakened the station's foundation causing it to be blown out to sea in a winter storm. Norway erected a new research station in 2014 that can hold six people for periods of two to four months.
Following more than three centuries under Portuguese rule, Brazil gained its independence in 1822, maintaining a monarchical system of government until the abolition of slavery in 1888 and the subsequent proclamation of a republic by the military in 1889. Brazilian coffee exporters politically dominated the country until populist leader Getulio VARGAS rose to power in 1930. VARGAS governed over various versions of democratic and authoritarian regimes from 1930 to 1945. Democratic rule returned (including a democratically elected VARGAS administration from 1951 to 1955) and lasted until 1964, when the military overthrew President Joao GOULART. The military regime censored journalists and repressed and tortured dissidents in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The dictatorship lasted until 1985, when the military regime peacefully ceded power to civilian rulers, and the Brazilian Congress passed its current constitution in 1989.
By far the largest and most populous country in South America, Brazil continues to pursue industrial and agricultural growth and development of its interior. Having successfully weathered a period of global financial difficulty in the late 20th century, under President Luiz Inacio LULA da Silva (2003-2010) Brazil was seen as one of the world's strongest emerging markets and a contributor to global growth. The awarding of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympic Games, the first ever to be held in South America, was symbolic of the country's rise. However, from about 2013 to 2016, Brazil was plagued by a sagging economy, high unemployment, and high inflation, only emerging from recession in 2017. Former President Dilma ROUSSEFF (2011-2016) was removed from office in 2016 by Congress for having committed impeachable acts against Brazil's budgetary laws, and her vice president, Michel TEMER, served the remainder of her second term. A money-laundering investigation, Operation Lava Jato, uncovered a vast corruption scheme and prosecutors charged several high-profile Brazilian politicians with crimes. Former-President LULA was convicted of accepting bribes and served jail time (2018-19), although his conviction was overturned in early 2021. LULA's revival became complete in October 2022 when he narrowly defeated incumbent Jair BOLSONARO (2019-2022) in the presidential election. LULA will assume the office on 1 January 2023.
Formerly administered as part of the British Crown Colony of Mauritius, the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) was established as an overseas territory of the UK in 1965. A number of the islands of the territory were later transferred to the Seychelles when it attained independence in 1976. Subsequently, BIOT has consisted only of the six main island groups comprising the Chagos Archipelago. Only Diego Garcia, the largest and most southerly of the islands, is inhabited. It contains a joint UK-US naval support facility and hosts one of four dedicated ground antennas that assist in the operation of the Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation system (the others are on Kwajalein (Marshall Islands), at Cape Canaveral, Florida (US), and on Ascension Island (Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha)). The US Air Force also operates a telescope array on Diego Garcia as part of the Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance System (GEODSS) for tracking orbital debris, which can be a hazard to spacecraft and astronauts.
Between 1967 and 1973, former agricultural workers, earlier residents in the islands, were relocated primarily to Mauritius, but also to the Seychelles. Negotiations between 1971 and 1982 resulted in the establishment of a trust fund by the British Government as compensation for the displaced islanders, known as Chagossians. Beginning in 1998, the islanders pursued a series of lawsuits against the British Government seeking further compensation and the right to return to the territory. In 2006 and 2007, British court rulings invalidated the immigration policies contained in the 2004 BIOT Constitution Order that had excluded the islanders from the archipelago, but upheld the special military status of Diego Garcia. In 2008, the House of Lords, as the final court of appeal in the UK, ruled in favor of the British Government by overturning the lower court rulings and finding no right of return for the Chagossians. In March 2015, the Permanent Court of Arbitration unanimously held that the marine protected area that the UK declared around the Chagos Archipelago in April 2010 was in violation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
In February 2019, the International Court of Justice ruled in an advisory opinion that Britain’s decolonization of Mauritius was not completed lawfully because of continued Chagossian claims. A non-binding May 2019 UN General Assembly vote demanded that Britain end its “colonial administration” of the Chagos Archipelago and that it be returned to Mauritius. UK officials defend Britain's sovereignty over the islands and argue that the issue is a bilateral dispute between Mauritius and the UK that does not warrant international intervention.
First inhabited by Arawak and later by Carib Indians, the Virgin Islands were settled by the Dutch in 1648 and then annexed by the English in 1672. The islands were part of the British colony of the Leeward Islands (1872-1960); they were granted autonomy in 1967. The economy is closely tied to the larger and more populous US Virgin Islands to the west; the US dollar is the legal currency. On 6 September 2017, Hurricane Irma devastated the island of Tortola. An estimated 80% of residential and business structures were destroyed or damaged, communications disrupted, and local roads rendered impassable.
The Sultanate of Brunei's influence peaked between the 15th and 17th centuries when its control extended over coastal areas of northwest Borneo and the southern Philippines. Brunei subsequently entered a period of decline brought on by internal strife over royal succession, colonial expansion of European powers, and piracy. In 1888, Brunei became a British protectorate; independence was achieved in 1984. The same family has ruled Brunei for over six centuries. Brunei benefits from extensive petroleum and natural gas fields, the source of one of the highest per capita GDPs in the world. In 2017, Brunei celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Sultan Hassanal BOLKIAH’s accession to the throne.
The Bulgars, a Central Asian Turkic tribe, merged with the local Slavic inhabitants in the late 7th century to form the first Bulgarian state. In succeeding centuries, Bulgaria struggled with the Byzantine Empire to assert its place in the Balkans, but by the end of the 14th century the country was overrun by the Ottoman Turks. Northern Bulgaria attained autonomy in 1878 and all of Bulgaria became independent from the Ottoman Empire in 1908. Having fought on the losing side in both World Wars, Bulgaria fell within the Soviet sphere of influence and became a People's Republic in 1946. Communist domination ended in 1990, when Bulgaria held its first multiparty election since World War II and began the contentious process of moving toward political democracy and a market economy while combating inflation, unemployment, corruption, and crime. The country joined NATO in 2004 and the EU in 2007.
Many of Burkina Faso’s ethnic groups arrived in the region between the 12th and 15th centuries. The Gurma and Mossi peoples established several of the largest kingdoms in the area and used horse-mounted warriors in military campaigns. Of the various Mossi kingdoms, the most powerful were Ouagadougou and Yatenga. In the late 19th century, European states competed for control of the region. France eventually conquered the area and established it as a French protectorate.The area achieved independence from France in 1960 and changed its name to Burkina Faso in 1984. Repeated military coups were common in the country’s first few decades. The last successful coup occurred in 1987 when Blaise COMPAORE deposed the former president, established a government, and ruled for 27 years. In October 2014, COMPAORE resigned following protests against his repeated efforts to amend the constitution's two-term presidential limit. An interim administration led a year-long transition period organizing presidential and legislative elections. In November 2015, Roch Marc Christian KABORE was elected president; he was reelected in November 2020.
Terrorist groups - including groups affiliated with Al-Qa’ida and the Islamic State - began attacks in the country in 2016 and conducted attacks in the capital in 2016, 2017, and 2018. By late 2021, insecurity in Burkina Faso had displaced 1.4 million people and led to significant jumps in humanitarian needs and food insecurity. In addition to terrorism, the country faces a myriad of problems including high population growth, recurring drought, pervasive and perennial food insecurity, and limited natural resources. It is one of the world’s poorest countries.
Burma, colonized by Britain in the 19th century and granted independence post-World War II, contains ethnic Burman and scores of other ethnic and religious minority groups that have all resisted external efforts to consolidate control of the country throughout its history, extending to the several minority groups today that possess independent fighting forces and control pockets of territory. Burman and armed ethnic minorities fought off-and-on until military Gen. NE WIN seized power in 1962. He ruled Burma until 1988 when a military junta took control. In 1990, the junta permitted an election but then rejected the results when the main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) and its leader AUNG SAN SUU KYI (ASSK) won in a landslide. The junta placed ASSK under house arrest for much of the next 20 years, until November 2010. In 2007, rising fuel prices in Burma led pro-democracy activists and Buddhist monks to launch a "Saffron Revolution" consisting of large protests against the ruling junta, which violently suppressed the movement by killing an unknown number of participants and arresting thousands. The regime prevented new elections until it had drafted a constitution designed to preserve its control; it passed the new constitution in its 2008 referendum, days after Cyclone Nargis killed at least 138,000. The junta conducted an election in 2010, but the NLD boycotted the vote, and the military’s Union Solidarity and Development Party easily won; international observers denounced the election as flawed.
With former or current military officers installed in its most senior positions, Burma began a halting process of political and economic reforms. Officials freed prisoners, brokered ceasefires with ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), amended courts, expanded civil liberties, brought ASSK into government in 2012, and permitted the NLD in 2015 to take power after a sweeping electoral win. However, Burma’s first credibly elected civilian government, with ASSK as the de facto head of state, faced strong headwinds after five decades of military dictatorship. The NLD government drew international criticism for blocking investigations of Burma’s military for operations, which the US Department of State determined constituted genocide, on its Rohingya population that killed thousands and forced more than 770,000 Rohingya to flee into neighboring Bangladesh. The military did not support an NLD pledge in 2019 to examine reforming the military’s 2008 constitution. When the 2020 elections resulted in further NLD gains, the military denounced them as fraudulent. This challenge led Commander-in-Chief Sr. General MIN AUNG HLAING (MAH) to launch a coup in February 2021 that has left Burma reeling with the return to authoritarian rule, the detention of ASSK and thousands of pro-democracy actors, and renewed brutal repression against protestors, widespread violence, and economic decline.
Since the coup and subsequent crackdown, lawmakers elected in the November 2020 election and members of parliament ousted by the military have formed a shadow National Unity Government (NUG). Members of the NUG include representatives from the NLD, ethnic minority groups, civil society, and other minor parties. In May 2021, the NUG announced the formation of an an armed wing called the People's Defense Force, and in September announced the start of an insurgency against the military junta that has continued into 2022.
Established in the 1600s, the Burundi Kingdom has had borders similar to those of modern Burundi since the 1800s. Burundi’s two major ethnic groups, the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi, share a common language and culture and largely lived in peaceful cohabitation under Tutsi monarchs in pre-colonial Burundi. Regional, class, and clan distinctions contributed to social status in the Burundi Kingdom, yielding a complex class structure. German colonial rule in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and Belgian rule after World War I preserved Burundi’s monarchy. Seeking to simplify administration, Belgian colonial officials reduced the number of chiefdoms and eliminated most Hutu chiefs from positions of power. In 1961, the Burundian Tutsi king’s oldest son, Louis RWAGASORE was murdered by a competing political faction shortly before he was set to become prime minister, triggering increased political competition that contributed to later instability. Burundi gained its independence from Belgium in 1962 as the Kingdom of Burundi.
Revolution in neighboring Rwanda stoked ethnic polarization as the Tutsi increasingly feared violence and loss of political power. A failed Hutu-led coup in 1965 triggered a purge of Hutu officials and set the stage for Tutsi officers to overthrow the monarchy in 1966 and establish a Tutsi-dominated republic. A Hutu rebellion in 1972 that resulted in the death of several thousand Tutsi civilians sparked a brutal crackdown on Hutu civilians by the Tutsi-led military, which ultimately killed 100,000-200,000 people. International pressure led to a new constitution in 1992 and democratic elections in June 1993. Burundi's first democratically elected president, Hutu Melchior NDADAYE, was assassinated in October 1993 after only 100 days in office by Tutsi military officers fearing Hutu domination, sparking a civil war. His successor, Cyprien NTARYAMIRA, died when the Rwandan president’s plane he was traveling on was shot down in April 1994, which triggered the Rwandan genocide and further entrenched ethnic conflict in Burundi. The internationally brokered Arusha Agreement, signed in 2000, and subsequent cease-fire agreements with armed movements ended the 1993-2005 civil war. Burundi’s second democratic elections were held in 2005, resulting in the election of Pierre NKURUNZIZA as president. He was reelected in 2010 and again in 2015 after a controversial court decision allowed him to circumvent a term limit. President Evariste NDAYISHIMIYE - from NKURUNZIZA’s ruling party - was elected in 2020.
The uninhabited islands were discovered and colonized by the Portuguese in the 15th century; Cabo Verde subsequently became a trading center for African slaves and later an important coaling and resupply stop for whaling and transatlantic shipping. The fusing of European and various African cultural traditions is reflected in Cabo Verde’s Krioulo language, music, and pano textiles. Following independence in 1975, and a tentative interest in unification with Guinea-Bissau, a one-party system was established and maintained until multi-party elections were held in 1990. Cabo Verde continues to sustain one of Africa's most stable democratic governments and one of its most stable economies, maintaining a currency formerly pegged to the Portuguese escudo and then the euro since 1998. Repeated droughts during the second half of the 20th century caused significant hardship and prompted heavy emigration. As a result, Cabo Verde's expatriate population - concentrated in Boston and Western Europe - is greater than its domestic one.
Most Cabo Verdeans have both African and Portuguese antecedents. Cabo Verde’s population descends from its first permanent inhabitants in the late 15th-century – a preponderance of West African slaves, a small share of Portuguese colonists, and even fewer Italians and Spaniards. Among the nine inhabited islands, population distribution is variable. Islands in the east are very dry and are home to the country's growing tourism industry. The more western islands receive more precipitation and support larger populations, but agriculture and livestock grazing have damaged their soil fertility and vegetation. For centuries, the country’s overall population size has fluctuated significantly, as recurring periods of famine and epidemics have caused high death tolls and emigration. In November 2021, Jose Maria NEVES was sworn in as Cabo Verde's latest president.
Most Cambodians consider themselves to be Khmers, descendants of the Angkor Empire that extended over much of Southeast Asia and reached its zenith between the 10th and 13th centuries. Attacks by the Thai and Cham (from present-day Vietnam) weakened the empire, ushering in a long period of decline. The king placed the country under French protection in 1863, and it became part of French Indochina in 1887. Following Japanese occupation in World War II, Cambodia gained full independence from France in 1953. In April 1975, after a seven-year struggle, communist Khmer Rouge forces captured Phnom Penh and evacuated all cities and towns. At least 1.5 million Cambodians died from execution, forced hardships, or starvation during the Khmer Rouge regime under POL POT. A December 1978 Vietnamese invasion drove the Khmer Rouge into the countryside, began a 10-year Vietnamese occupation, and touched off 20 years of civil war.The 1991 Paris Peace Accords mandated democratic elections and a cease-fire, which was not fully respected by the Khmer Rouge. UN-sponsored elections in 1993 helped restore some semblance of normalcy under a coalition government. Factional fighting in 1997 ended the first coalition government, but a second round of national elections in 1998 led to the formation of another coalition government and renewed political stability. The remaining elements of the Khmer Rouge surrendered in early 1999. Some of the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders were tried for crimes against humanity by a hybrid UN-Cambodian tribunal supported by international assistance. In 2018, the tribunal heard its final cases, but it remains in operation to hear appeals. Elections in July 2003 were relatively peaceful, but it took one year of negotiations between contending political parties before a coalition government was formed. In October 2004, King Norodom SIHANOUK abdicated the throne and his son, Prince Norodom SIHAMONI, was selected to succeed him. Local (Commune Council) elections were held in Cambodia in 2012, with little of the violence that preceded prior elections. National elections in July 2013 were disputed, with the opposition - the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) - boycotting the National Assembly. The political impasse was ended nearly a year later, with the CNRP agreeing to enter parliament in exchange for commitments by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to undertake electoral and legislative reforms. The CNRP made further gains in local commune elections in June 2017, accelerating sitting Prime Minister HUN SEN’s efforts to marginalize the CNRP before national elections in 2018. HUN SEN arrested CNRP President KEM SOKHA in September 2017. The Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in November 2017 and banned its leaders from participating in politics for at least five years. The CNRP’s seats in the National Assembly were redistributed to smaller, less influential opposition parties, while all of the CNRP’s 5,007 seats in the commune councils throughout the country were reallocated to the CPP. With the CNRP banned, the CPP swept the 2018 national elections, winning all 125 National Assembly seats and effectively turning the country into a one-party state.
Cambodia has strong and growing economic and political ties with its large neighbor to the north, China. More than 53% of foreign investment in the country in 2021 came from China, and Beijing has provided over $15 billion in financial assistance since the 1990s. China accounted for 443 percent of Cambodia’s foreign debt in 2021. The CPP also partly sees Chinese support as a counterbalance to Thailand and Vietnam and to international criticism of the CPP’s human rights and antidemocratic record.
Much of the area of present-day Cameroon was ruled by powerful chiefdoms before becoming a German colony in 1884 known as Kamerun. After World War I, the territory was divided between France and the UK as League of Nations mandates. French Cameroon became independent in 1960 as the Republic of Cameroon. The following year the southern portion of neighboring British Cameroon voted to merge with the new country to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon. In 1972, a new constitution replaced the federation with a unitary state, the United Republic of Cameroon. The country has generally enjoyed stability, which has enabled the development of agriculture, roads, and railways, as well as a petroleum industry. Despite slow movement toward democratic reform, political power remains firmly in the hands of President Paul BIYA.
A land of vast distances and rich natural resources, Canada became a self-governing dominion in 1867, while retaining ties to the British crown. Canada gained legislative independence from Britain in 1931 and formalized its constitutional independence from the UK when it passed the Canada Act in 1982. Economically and technologically, the nation has developed in parallel with the US, its neighbor to the south across the world's longest international border. Canada faces the political challenges of meeting public demands for quality improvements in health care, education, social services, and economic competitiveness, as well as responding to the particular concerns of predominantly francophone Quebec. Canada also aims to develop its diverse energy resources while maintaining its commitment to the environment.
The Cayman Islands were colonized from Jamaica by the British during the 18th and 19th centuries and were administered by Jamaica after 1863. In 1959, the islands became a territory within the Federation of the West Indies. When the Federation dissolved in 1962, the Cayman Islands chose to remain a British dependency. The territory has transformed itself into a significant offshore financial center.
The Central African Republic (CAR) is a perennially weak state that sits at the crossroads of ethnic and linguistic groups in the center of the African continent. Among the last areas of Sub-Saharan Africa to be drawn into the world economy, its introduction into trade networks around the early 1700s fostered significant competition among its population. The local population sought to benefit from the lucrative Atlantic, trans-Saharan, and Indian Ocean trade in enslaved people and ivory. Slave raids aided by the local populations fostered animosity between ethnic groups that remains today. The territory was established as a French colony named Ubangui-Shari in 1903, and France modeled its administration of the colony after the Belgian Congo, subcontracting control of the territory to private companies that collected rubber and ivory. Although France banned the domestic slave trade in CAR in the 1910s, the private companies continued to exploit the population through forced labor. The colony of Ubangi-Shari gained independence from France as the Central African Republic in August 1960, but the death of independence leader Barthelemy BOGANDA six months prior led to an immediate struggle for power.
CAR’s political history has since been marred by a series of coups, the first of which brought Jean-Bedel BOKASSA to power in 1966. BOKASSA’s regime was characterized by widespread corruption and an intolerance of opposition, which manifested in the disappearances of many who challenged BOKASSA’s rule. In an effort to prolong his mandate, he named himself emperor in 1976 and changed the country’s name to the Central African Empire. His regime’s economic mismanagement culminated in widespread student protests in early 1979 that were violently suppressed by security forces. BOKASSA, rumored to have participated in the killing of some young students after the protests, fell out of favor with the international community and was overthrown in a French-backed coup in 1979. After BOKASSA’s departure, the country’s name once again became the Central African Republic.
CAR’s fifth coup in March 2013 unseated President Francois BOZIZE after a mainly Muslim rebel coalition named the Seleka seized the capital and forced BOZIZE, who himself had taken power in a coup in 2003, to flee the country. Widespread abuses by the Seleka spurred the formation of mainly Christian self-defense groups that called themselves the anti-Balaka, which have also committed human rights abuses against Muslim populations in retaliation. Since the rise of the self-defense groups, conflict in CAR has become increasingly ethnoreligious-based, although focused on identity as opposed to religious ideology. Elections organized by a transitional government in early 2016 installed independent candidate Faustin-Archange TOUADERA as president; he was reelected in December 2020. A peace agreement signed in February 2019 between the government and the main armed factions has had little effect, and armed groups remain in control of large swaths of the country's territory.
Chad emerged from a collection of powerful states that controlled the Sahelian belt starting around the 9th century. These states focused on controlling trans-Saharan trade routes and profited mostly from the slave trade. The Kanem-Bornu Empire, centered around the Lake Chad Basin, existed between the 9th and 19th centuries, and during its peak, the empire controlled territory stretching from southern Chad to southern Libya and included portions of modern-day Algeria, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger, and Sudan. The Sudanese warlord Rabih AZ-ZUBAYR used an army comprised largely of slaves to conquer the Kanem-Bornu Empire in the late 19th century. In southeastern Chad, the Bagirmi and Ouaddai (Wadai) kingdoms emerged in the 15th and 16th centuries and lasted until the arrival of the French in the 19th and 20th centuries. France began moving into the region in the late 1880s and defeated the Bagirmi kingdom in 1897, Rabih AZ-ZUBAYR in 1900, and the Ouddai kingdom in 1909. In the arid regions of northern Chad and southern Libya, an Islamic order called the Sanusiyya (Sanusi) relied heavily on the trans-Saharan slave trade and had upwards of 3 million followers by the 1880s. The French arrived in the region in the early 1900s and defeated the Sanusiyya in 1910 after years of intermittent war. By 1910, France had incorporated the northern arid region, the Lake Chad Basin, and southeastern Chad into French Equatorial Africa.
Chad achieved its independence in 1960 and saw three decades of instability, oppressive rule, civil war, and a Libyan invasion. With the help of the French military and several African countries, Chadian leaders expelled Libyan forces during the 1987 "Toyota War," so named for the use of Toyota pickup trucks as fighting vehicles. In 1990, Chadian general Idriss DEBY led a rebellion against President Hissene HABRE. Under DEBY, Chad drafted and approved a constitution and held elections in 1996. DEBY led the country until April 2021 when he was killed during a rebel incursion. Shortly after his death, a group of military officials - led by former President DEBY’s son, Mahamat Idriss DEBY - took control of the government. The military officials dismissed the National Assembly, suspended the Constitution, and formed a Transitional Military Council while pledging to hold democratic elections in October 2022.
Chad faces widespread poverty, an economy severely weakened by low international oil prices, and rebel and terrorist-led insurgencies in the Lake Chad Basin. Additionally, northern Chad has seen several waves of rebellions since 1998. In late 2015, the government imposed a state of emergency in the Lake Chad Basin following multiple attacks by the terrorist group Boko Haram, now known as ISIS-West Africa. In mid-2015, Boko Haram conducted bombings in N'Djamena. In late 2019, the Chadian government also declared a state of emergency in the Sila and Ouaddai regions bordering Sudan and in the Tibesti region bordering Niger where rival ethnic groups are still fighting. The army has suffered heavy losses to Islamic terror groups in the Lake Chad Basin. In March 2020, Islamic militants attacked a Chadian military camp in the Lake Chad Basin and killed nearly 100 soldiers; it was the deadliest attack in the history of the Chadian military.
Indigenous groups inhabited central and southern Chile for several thousands of years, living in mixed pastoralist and settled communities, ending with the Inca ruling the north of the country for nearly a century prior to the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. The Captaincy General of Chile was founded by the Spanish in 1541, lasting until Chile declared its independence in 1810. The subsequent struggle became tied to other South American independence conflicts, with a decisive victory over the Spanish not being achieved until 1818. In the War of the Pacific (1879-83), Chile defeated Peru and Bolivia to win its current northernmost regions. By the 1880s, the Chilean central government cemented its control over the central and southern regions inhabited by Mapuche Indigenous peoples. Between 1891 and 1973, a series of elected governments succeeded each other until the three-year-old Marxist government of Salvador ALLENDE was overthrown in 1973 by a military coup led by General Augusto PINOCHET, who ruled until a democratically elected president was inaugurated in 1990. Economic reforms, maintained consistently since the 1980s, contributed to steady growth, reduced poverty rates by over half, and helped secure the country's commitment to democratic and representative government. Chile has increasingly assumed regional and international leadership roles befitting its status as a stable, democratic nation.
China's historical civilization dates to at least 13th century B.C., first under the Shang (to 1046 B.C.) and then the Zhou (1046-221 B.C) dynasties. The imperial era of China began in 221 B.C. under the Qin Dynasty and lasted until the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. During this period, China alternated between periods of unity and disunity under a succession of imperial dynasties. In the 19th century, the Qing Dynasty suffered heavily from overextension by territorial conquest, insolvency, civil war, imperialism, military defeats, and foreign expropriation of ports and infrastructure. It collapsed following the Revolution of 1911, and China became a republic under SUN Yat-sen of the Kuomintang (KMT or Nationalist) Party. However, the republic was beset by division, warlordism, and continued foreign intervention. In the late 1920s, a civil war erupted between the ruling KMT-controlled government led by CHIANG Kai-shek, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Japan occupied much of northeastern China in the early 1930s, and then launched a full-scale invasion of the country in 1937. The resulting eight years of warfare devastated the country and cost up to 20 million Chinese lives by the time of Japan’s defeat in 1945. The Nationalist-Communist civil war continued with renewed intensity following the end of World War II and culminated with a CCP victory in 1949, under the leadership of MAO Zedong.
MAO and the CCP established an autocratic socialist system that, while ensuring the PRC's sovereignty, imposed strict controls over everyday life and launched agricultural, economic, political, and social policies - such as the Great Leap Forward (1958-1962) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) - that cost the lives of millions of people. MAO died in 1976. Beginning in 1978, subsequent leaders DENG Xiaoping, JIANG Zemin, and HU Jintao focused on market-oriented economic development and opening up the country to foreign trade, while maintaining the rule of the CCP. Since the change, China has been among the world’s fastest growing economies, with real gross domestic product averaging over 9% growth annually through 2021, lifting an estimated 800 million people out of poverty, and dramatically improving overall living standards. By 2011, the PRC’s economy was the second largest in the world. The growth, however, has created considerable social displacement, adversely affected the country’s environment, and reduced the country’s natural resources. Current leader XI Jinping has continued these policies, but also has maintained tight political controls. Over the past decade, China has also increased its global outreach, including military deployments, participation in international organizations, and initiating a global connectivity initiative in 2013 called the "Belt and Road Initiative" (BRI). While many nations have signed on to BRI agreements to attract PRC investment, others have balked at the opaque lending behavior; weak environment, social, and governance (ESG) standards; and other practices that undermine local governance and foster corruption associated with some BRI-linked projects. XI Jinping assumed the positions of General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission in 2012 and President in 2013. In March 2018, the PRC’s National People’s Congress passed an amendment abolishing presidential term limits, opening the door for XI to seek a third five-year term in 2023.
Although Europeans sighted the island as early as 1615, it was only named in 1643 by English Captain William MYNORS for the day of its rediscovery. Another English ship sailed by the island in 1688 and found it uninhabited. Attempts to explore the island over the next two centuries were hampered by steep cliffs and dense jungle. Phosphate discovery on the island in 1887, lead to the UK annexing it the following year. In 1898, the Christmas Island Phosphate Company brought in 200 Chinese indentured servants to work the mines, along with Malays, Sikhs, and a small number of Europeans. The UK administered Christmas Island from Singapore.
Japan invaded the island in 1942, but islanders sabotaged Japanese mining operations, making the mines relatively unproductive. After World War II, Australia and New Zealand bought the Christmas Island Phosphate Company, and in 1958, the UK transferred sovereignty from Singapore to Australia in exchange for $20 million for the loss of future phosphate income. In 1980, Australia set up the Christmas Island National Park and expanded its boundaries throughout the 1980s until it covered more than 60% of the island’s territory. The phosphate mine was closed in 1987 because of environmental concerns and Australia has rejected several efforts to reopen it.
In the 1980s, boats of asylum seekers started landing on Christmas Island and the migrants claimed refugee status since they were on Australian territory. In 2001, Australia declared Christmas Island outside the Australian migration zone and built an immigration detention center on the island. Completed in 2008, the controversial detention center was officially closed in 2018, but then reopened in early 2019. In 2020, the center served as a coronavirus quarantine facility for Australian citizens evacuated from China.
This isolated atoll was named for John CLIPPERTON, an English pirate who was rumored to have made it his hideout early in the 18th century. Annexed by France in 1855 and claimed by the US, it was seized by Mexico in 1897. Arbitration eventually awarded the island to France in 1931, which took possession in 1935.
British captain William KEELING discovered Cocos (Keeling) Islands in 1609, and they were named the Cocos Islands in 1622 for their coconut trees. Some maps began referring to them as the Keeling Islands in 1703. In 1825, Scottish trader John CLUNIES-ROSS was trying to get to Christmas Island but was blown off-course and landed on Cocos (Keeling) Islands. The next year, a British trader hired John’s brother to bring slaves and a harem of Malay women to create the first permanent settlement on the island. By the 1830s, the Clunies-Ross family had firmly established themselves as the leaders of the islands and they ruled Cocos (Keeling) Islands in a feudal style until 1978.
The UK annexed the islands in 1857 and administered them from Ceylon after 1878 and from Singapore after 1886. Cocos (Keeling) Islands hosted a cable relaying station and was attacked by the Germans in World War I. The Japanese similarly attacked the islands in World War II. The UK transferred the islands to Australia in 1955, which officially named the islands the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and in 1978, Australia bought all the land held by the Clunies-Ross family, ending their control of the islands’ governance. In a referendum in 1984, most islanders voted to integrate with Australia, and Western Australian laws have applied on the islands since 1992.
Colombia was one of the three countries that emerged after the dissolution of Gran Colombia in 1830 (the others are Ecuador and Venezuela). A decades-long conflict between government forces, paramilitaries, and antigovernment insurgent groups heavily funded by the drug trade, principally the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), escalated during the 1990s. More than 31,000 former United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitaries demobilized by the end of 2006, and the AUC as a formal organization ceased to operate. In the wake of the paramilitary demobilization, illegal armed groups arose, whose members include some former paramilitaries. After four years of formal peace negotiations, the Colombian Government signed a final peace accord with the FARC in November 2016, which was subsequently ratified by the Colombian Congress. The accord calls for members of the FARC to demobilize, disarm, and reincorporate into society and politics. The accord also committed the Colombian Government to create three new institutions to form a 'comprehensive system for truth, justice, reparation, and non-repetition,' to include a truth commission, a special unit to coordinate the search for those who disappeared during the conflict, and a 'Special Jurisdiction for Peace' to administer justice for conflict-related crimes. Despite decades of internal conflict and drug-related security challenges, Colombia maintains relatively strong and independent democratic institutions characterized by peaceful, transparent elections and the protection of civil liberties.
The archipelago of the Comoros in the Indian Ocean, composed of the islands of Anjouan, Mayotte, Moheli, and Grande Comore, declared independence from France on 6 July 1975. Residents of Mayotte, however, voted to remain in France, and the French Government now has classified it as a department of France. Since independence, Comoros has endured political instability through realized and attempted coups. In 1997, the islands of Anjouan and Moheli declared independence from Comoros. In 1999, military chief Col. AZALI Assoumani seized power of the entire government in a bloodless coup; he initiated the 2000 Fomboni Accords, a power-sharing agreement in which the federal presidency rotates among the three islands, and each island maintains its local government. AZALI won the 2002 federal presidential election as president of the Union of the Comoros from Grande Comore Island, which held the first four-year term. AZALI stepped down in 2006 and President Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed SAMBI was elected as president from Anjouan. In 2007, Mohamed BACAR effected Anjouan's de-facto secession from the Union of the Comoros, refusing to step down when Comoros' other islands held legitimate elections in July. The African Union (AU) initially attempted to resolve the political crisis by applying sanctions and a naval blockade to Anjouan, but in March 2008 the AU and Comoran soldiers seized the island. The island's inhabitants generally welcomed the move. In 2009, the Comorian population approved a constitutional referendum extending the term of the president from four years to five years. In May 2011, Ikililou DHOININE won the presidency in peaceful elections widely deemed to be free and fair. In closely contested elections in 2016, former President AZALI Assoumani won a second term, when the rotating presidency returned to Grande Comore. A referendum held in July 2018 - boycotted by the opposition parties - overwhelmingly approved a new constitution removing presidential term limits and the requirement for the presidency to rotate between the three main islands. In August 2018, President AZALI formed a new government and subsequently ran and was elected president in March 2019.
The Kingdom of Kongo ruled the area around the mouth of the Congo River from the 14th to 19th centuries. To the center and east, the Kingdoms of Luba and Lunda ruled from the 16th and 17th centuries to the 19th century. In the 1870s, European exploration of the Congo Basin, sponsored by King LEOPOLD II of Belgium, eventually allowed the ruler to acquire rights to the Congo territory and to make it his private property under the name of the Congo Free State. During the Free State, the king's colonial military forced the local population to produce rubber. From 1885 to 1908, millions of Congolese people died as a result of disease and exploitation. International condemnation finally forced LEOPOLD to cede the land to Belgium, creating the Belgian Congo.
The Republic of the Congo gained its independence from Belgium in 1960, but its early years were marred by political and social instability. Col. Joseph MOBUTU seized power and declared himself president in a November 1965 coup. He subsequently changed his name - to MOBUTU Sese Seko - as well as that of the country - to Zaire. MOBUTU retained his position for 32 years through several sham elections, as well as through brutal force. Ethnic strife and civil war, touched off by a massive inflow of refugees in 1994 from conflict in Rwanda and Burundi, led in May 1997 to the toppling of the MOBUTU regime by a rebellion backed by Rwanda and Uganda and fronted by Laurent KABILA. KABILA renamed the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), but in August 1998 his regime was itself challenged by a second insurrection again backed by Rwanda and Uganda. Troops from Angola, Chad, Namibia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe intervened to support KABILA's regime. In January 2001, KABILA was assassinated and his son, Joseph KABILA, was named head of state. In October 2002, the new president was successful in negotiating the withdrawal of Rwandan forces occupying the eastern DRC; two months later, the Pretoria Accord was signed by all remaining warring parties to end the fighting and establish a government of national unity. Presidential, National Assembly, and provincial elections took place in 2006, with Joseph KABILA elected to office.
National elections were held in November 2011 and disputed results allowed Joseph KABILA to be reelected to the presidency. While the DRC constitution barred President KABILA from running for a third term, the DRC Government delayed national elections originally slated for November 2016, to 30 December 2018. This failure to hold elections as scheduled fueled significant civil and political unrest, with sporadic street protests by KABILA’s opponents and exacerbation of tensions in the tumultuous eastern DRC regions. Presidential, legislative, and provincial elections were held in late December 2018 and early 2019 across most of the country. The DRC Government canceled presidential elections in the cities of Beni and Butembo (citing concerns over an ongoing Ebola outbreak in the region) as well as Yumbi (which had recently experienced heavy violence).
Opposition candidate Felix TSHISEKEDI was announced the election winner on 10 January 2019 and inaugurated two weeks later. This was the first transfer of power to an opposition candidate without significant violence or a coup since the DRC's independence.
The DRC, particularly in the East, continues to experience violence perpetrated by more than 100 armed groups active in the region, including the Allied Democratic Forces, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, and assorted Mai Mai militias. The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) has operated in the region since 1999 and is the largest and most expensive UN peacekeeping mission in the world.
Upon independence in 1960, the former French region of Middle Congo became the Republic of the Congo. A quarter century of experimentation with Marxism was abandoned in 1990 and a democratically elected government took office in 1992. A two-year civil war that ended in 1999 restored former Marxist President Denis SASSOU-Nguesso, who had ruled from 1979 to 1992, and sparked a short period of ethnic and political unrest that was resolved by a peace agreement in late 1999. A new constitution adopted three years later provided for a multi-party system and a seven-year presidential term, and elections arranged shortly thereafter retained SASSOU-Nguesso. Following a year of renewed fighting, President SASSOU-Nguesso and southern-based rebel groups agreed to a final peace accord in March 2003. SASSOU-Nguesso was reeelected in 2009 and, after passing a referendum allowing him to run for a third term, was reelected again in 2016. The Republic of Congo is one of Africa's largest petroleum producers, but with declining production it will need new offshore oil finds to sustain its oil earnings over the long term.
Polynesians from Tahiti were probably the first people to settle Rarotonga around A.D. 900. Over time, Samoans and Tongans also settled in Rarotonga, and Rarotongans voyaged to the northern Cook Islands, settling Manihiki and Rakahanga. Pukapuka and Penrhyn in the northern Cook Islands were settled directly from Samoa. Prior to European contact, there was considerable travel and trade between inhabitants of the different islands and atolls but they were not united in a single political entity. Spanish navigators were the first Europeans to spot the northern Cook Islands in 1595 followed by the first landing in 1606. The Cook Islands remained free of further European contact until the 1760s, and in 1773, British explorer James COOK saw Manuae in the southern Cook Islands. The islands were named after COOK in the 1820s by Russian mapmakers. English missionary activity during the 1820s and 1830s banned singing and dancing and converted most of the population.
Fearing France would militarily occupy the islands like it did in Tahiti, Rarotongans asked the UK for protectorate status in the 1840s and 1860s, which the UK ignored. In 1888, Queen MAKEA TAKAU of Rarotonga formally petitioned for protectorate status, which the UK reluctantly agreed to. In 1901, the UK placed Rarotonga and the rest of the islands in the New Zealand Colony and in 1915, the Cook Islands Act organized the Cook Islands into one political entity. It remained a protectorate until 1965, when New Zealand granted the Cook Islands self-government status. The Cook Islands has a great deal of local autonomy and is an independent member of international organizations, but it is in free association with New Zealand, which is responsible for defense and foreign affairs. Economic opportunities in the Cook Islands are sparse, and more Cook Islanders live in New Zealand than in the Cook Islands.
In a referendum in 1994, voters chose to keep the name Cook Islands rather than changing to a Maori name for the islands. The issue was revived in 2019, but after being poorly received by the diaspora in New Zealand, the government decided to retain the name Cook Islands but to provide a Maori name alongside it. The Maori name has not yet been determined.
The widely scattered islands were first charted in 1803, but they were too small to host any permanent human habitation. The 1870s and 1880s, saw attempts at guano mining, but these were soon abandoned. The islands became an Australian territory in 1969 and its boundaries were extended in 1997. A small meteorological staff has operated on the Willis Islets since 1921, and several other islands host unmanned weather stations, beacons, and lighthouses. Much of the territory lies within marine national nature reserves.
Although explored by the Spanish early in the 16th century, initial attempts at colonizing Costa Rica proved unsuccessful due to a combination of factors, including disease from mosquito-infested swamps, brutal heat, resistance by indigenous populations, and pirate raids. It was not until 1563 that a permanent settlement of Cartago was established in the cooler, fertile central highlands. The area remained a colony for some two and a half centuries. In 1821, Costa Rica became one of several Central American provinces that jointly declared their independence from Spain. Two years later it joined the United Provinces of Central America, but this federation disintegrated in 1838, at which time Costa Rica proclaimed its sovereignty and independence. Since the late 19th century, only two brief periods of violence have marred the country's democratic development. On 1 December 1948, Costa Rica dissolved its armed forces. Although it still maintains a large agricultural sector, Costa Rica has expanded its economy to include strong technology and tourism industries. The standard of living is relatively high. Land ownership is widespread.
Various small kingdoms ruled the area of Cote d'Ivoire between the 15th and 19th centuries, when European explorers arrived and then began to expand their presence. In 1844, France established a protectorate. During this period, many of these kingdoms and tribes fought to maintain their cultural identities - some well into the 20th century. For example, the Sanwi kingdom - originally founded in the 17th century - tried to break away from Cote d’Ivoire and establish an independent state in 1969.
Cote d’Ivoire achieved independence from France in 1960 but has maintained close ties with France. The export and production of cocoa and foreign investment drove economic growth that led Cote d’Ivoire to become one of the most prosperous states in West Africa. In December 1999, a military coup overthrew the government. In late 2000, junta leader Robert GUEI held rigged elections and declared himself the winner. Popular protests forced him to step aside, and Laurent GBAGBO was elected. In September 2002, Ivoirian dissidents and members of the military launched a failed coup that developed into a civil war. In 2003, a cease-fire resulted in rebels holding the north, the government holding the south, and peacekeeping forces occupying a buffer zone in the middle. In March 2007, President GBAGBO and former rebel leader Guillaume SORO signed an agreement in which SORO joined GBAGBO's government as prime minister. The two agreed to reunite the country by dismantling the buffer zone, integrating rebel forces into the national armed forces, and holding elections. In November 2010, Alassane Dramane OUATTARA won the presidential election, but GBAGBO refused to hand over power, resulting in five months of violent conflict. In April 2011, after widespread fighting, GBAGBO was formally forced from office by armed OUATTARA supporters and UN and French forces. In 2015, OUATTARA won a second term. In October 2020, OUATTARA won a controversial third presidential term, despite a two-term limit in the Ivoirian constitution, in an election boycotted by the opposition. Through political compromise with OUATTARA, the opposition did participate peacefully in March 2021 legislative elections and won a substantial minority of seats. Also in March 2021, the International Criminal Court in The Hague ruled on a final acquittal for GBAGBO, who was on trial for crimes against humanity, paving the way for GBAGBO’s June 2021 return to Abidjan. GBAGBO has publicly met with President OUATTARA since his return in June 2021 as a demonstration of political reconciliation. The next presidential election is scheduled for 2025.
The lands that today comprise Croatia were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the close of World War I. In 1918, the Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes formed a kingdom known after 1929 as Yugoslavia. Following World War II, Yugoslavia became a federal independent communist state consisting of six socialist republics under the strong hand of Marshal Josip Broz, aka TITO. Although Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, it took four years of sporadic, but often bitter, fighting before occupying Yugoslav forces, dominated by Serb officers, were mostly cleared from Croatian lands, along with a majority of Croatia's ethnic Serb population. Under UN supervision, the last Serb-held enclave in eastern Slavonia was returned to Croatia in 1998. The country joined NATO in April 2009 and the EU in July 2013.
The native Amerindian population of Cuba began to decline after the arrival of Christopher COLUMBUS in 1492 and following its development as a Spanish colony during the next several centuries. Large numbers of African slaves were imported to work the coffee and sugar plantations, and Havana became the launching point for the annual treasure fleets bound for Spain from Mexico and Peru. Spanish rule eventually provoked an independence movement and occasional rebellions were harshly suppressed. US intervention during the Spanish-American War in 1898 assisted the Cubans in overthrowing Spanish rule. The Treaty of Paris established Cuban independence from Spain in 1898 and, following three-and-a-half years of subsequent US military rule, Cuba became an independent republic in 1902 after which the island experienced a string of governments mostly dominated by the military and corrupt politicians. Fidel CASTRO led a rebel army to victory in 1959; his authoritarian rule held the subsequent regime together for nearly five decades. He handed off the presidency in February 2008 to his younger brother Raul CASTRO. Cuba's communist revolution, with Soviet support, was exported throughout Latin America and Africa during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Miguel DIAZ-CANEL Bermudez, hand-picked by Raul CASTRO to succeed him, was approved as president by the National Assembly and took office on 19 April 2018. DIAZ-CANEL was appointed First Secretary of the Communist Party on 19 April 2021 following the retirement of Raul CASTRO, and continues to serve as both president and first secretary.
Cuba traditionally and consistently portrays the US embargo, in place since 1961, as the source of its difficulties. As a result of efforts begun in December 2014 to reestablish diplomatic relations with the Cuban Government, which were severed in January 1961, the US and Cuba reopened embassies in their respective countries in July 2015. The embargo remains in place, and the relationship between the US and Cuba remains tense.
Illicit migration of Cuban nationals to the US via maritime and overland routes has been a longstanding challenge. On 12 January 2017, the US and Cuba signed a Joint Statement ending the so-called "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy – by which Cuban nationals who reached US soil were permitted to stay. Irregular Cuban maritime migration has dropped significantly since FY 2016, when migrant interdictions at sea topped 5,000, but land border crossings continue. In FY 2021, the US Coast Guard interdicted 838 Cuban nationals at sea. Also in FY 2021, 39,303 Cuban nationals presented themselves at various land border ports of entry throughout the US.
The original Arawak Indian settlers who arrived on the island from South America in about A.D. 1000, were largely enslaved by the Spanish early in the 16th century and forcibly relocated to other colonies where labor was needed. Curacao was seized by the Dutch from the Spanish in 1634. Once the center of the Caribbean slave trade, Curacao was hard hit economically by the Dutch abolition of slavery in 1863. Its prosperity (and that of neighboring Aruba) was restored in the early 20th century with the construction of the Isla Refineria to service the newly discovered Venezuelan oilfields. In 1954, Curacao and several other Dutch Caribbean colonies were reorganized as the Netherlands Antilles, part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In referenda in 2005 and 2009, the citizens of Curacao voted to become a self-governing country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The change in status became effective in October 2010 with the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles.
A former British colony, Cyprus became independent in 1960 following years of resistance to British rule. Tensions between the Greek Cypriot majority and Turkish Cypriot minority communities came to a head in December 1963, when violence broke out in the capital of Nicosia. Despite the deployment of UN peacekeepers in 1964, sporadic intercommunal violence continued, forcing most Turkish Cypriots into enclaves throughout the island. In 1974, a Greek Government-sponsored attempt to overthrow the elected president of Cyprus was met by military intervention from Turkey, which soon controlled more than a third of the island. In 1983, the Turkish Cypriot administered area declared itself the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" ("TRNC"), but it is recognized only by Turkey. An UN-mediated agreement, the Annan Plan, failed to win approval by both communities in 2004. In February 2014, after a hiatus of nearly two years, the leaders of the two communities resumed formal discussions under UN auspices aimed at reuniting the divided island. The most recent round of negotiations to reunify the island were suspended in July 2017 after failure to achieve a breakthrough. The entire island entered the EU on 1 May 2004, although the EU acquis - the body of common rights and obligations - applies only to the areas under the internationally recognized government, and is suspended in the "TRNC." However, individual Turkish Cypriots able to document their eligibility for Republic of Cyprus citizenship legally enjoy the same rights accorded to other citizens of EU states.
At the close of World War I, the Czechs and Slovaks of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire merged to form Czechoslovakia, a parliamentarian democracy. During the interwar years, having rejected a federal system, the new country's predominantly Czech leaders were frequently preoccupied with meeting the increasingly strident demands of other ethnic minorities within the republic, most notably the Slovaks, the Sudeten Germans, and the Ruthenians (Ukrainians). On the eve of World War II, Nazi Germany occupied the territory that today comprises Czechia, and Slovakia became an independent state allied with Germany. After the war, a reunited but truncated Czechoslovakia (less Ruthenia) fell within the Soviet sphere of influence when the pro-Soviet Communist party staged a coup in February 1948. In 1968, an invasion by fellow Warsaw Pact troops ended the efforts of the country's leaders to liberalize communist rule and create "socialism with a human face," ushering in a period of repression known as "normalization." The peaceful "Velvet Revolution" swept the Communist Party from power at the end of 1989 and inaugurated a return to democratic rule and a market economy. On 1 January 1993, the country underwent a nonviolent "velvet divorce" into its two national components, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004. The country formally added the short-form name Czechia in 2016, while also continuing to use the full form name, the Czech Republic.
Once the seat of Viking raiders and later a major north European power, Denmark has evolved into a modern, prosperous nation that is participating in the general political and economic integration of Europe. It joined NATO in 1949 and the EEC (now the EU) in 1973. However, the country has opted out of certain elements of the EU's Maastricht Treaty, including the European Economic and Monetary Union, European defense cooperation, and justice and home affairs issues.
By terms of the 1960 Treaty of Establishment that created the independent Republic of Cyprus, the UK retained full sovereignty and jurisdiction over two areas of almost 254 square kilometers - Akrotiri and Dhekelia. The larger of these is the Dhekelia Sovereign Base Area, which is also referred to as the Eastern Sovereign Base Area.
The region of present-day Djibouti was the site of the medieval Ifat and Adal Sultanates. In the late 19th century, treaties signed by the Afar sultans with the French allowed the latter to establish the colony of French Somaliland in 1862. The French signed additional treaties with the ethnic Somali in 1885.Tension between the ethnic Afar and Somali populations increased over time, as the ethnic Somalis perceived that the French unfairly favored the Afar and gave them disproportionate influence in local governance. In 1958, the French held a referendum that provided residents of French Somaliland the option to either continue their association with France or to join neighboring Somalia as it established its independence. The ethnic Somali protested the vote, because French colonial leaders did not recognize many Somali as residents, which gave the Afar outsized influence in the decision to uphold ties with France. After a second referendum in 1967, the French changed the territory’s name to the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas, in part to underscore their relationship with the ethnic Afar and downplay the significance of the ethnic Somalis. A final referendum in 1977 established Djibouti as an independent nation and granted ethnic Somalis Djiboutian nationality, formally resetting the balance of power between the majority ethnic Somalis and minority ethnic Afar residents. Upon independence, the country was named after its capital city of Djibouti. Hassan Gouled APTIDON, an ethnic Somali leader, installed an authoritarian one-party state and proceeded to serve as president until 1999. Unrest between the Afar minority and Somali majority culminated in a civil war during the 1990s that ended in 2001 with a peace accord between Afar rebels and the Somali Issa-dominated government. In 1999, Djibouti's first multiparty presidential election resulted in the election of Ismail Omar GUELLEH as president; he was reelected to a second term in 2005 and extended his tenure in office via a constitutional amendment, which allowed him to serve his third and fourth terms, and to begin a fifth term in 2021.
Djibouti occupies a strategic geographic location at the intersection of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Its ports handle 95% of Ethiopia’s trade. Djibouti’s ports also service transshipments between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. The government holds longstanding ties to France, which maintains a military presence in the country, as does the US, Japan, Italy, Germany, Spain, and China.
Dominica was the last of the Caribbean islands to be colonized by Europeans due chiefly to the fierce resistance of the native Caribs. France ceded possession to Great Britain in 1763, which colonized the island in 1805. Slavery ended in 1833 and in 1835 the first three men of African descent were elected to the legislative assembly of Dominica. In 1871, Dominica became part first of the British Leeward Islands and then the British Windward Islands until 1958. In 1967, Dominica became an associated state of the UK, and formally took responsibility for its internal affairs. In 1980, two years after independence, Dominica's fortunes improved when a corrupt and tyrannical administration was replaced by that of Mary Eugenia CHARLES, the first female prime minister in the Caribbean, who remained in office for 15 years. On 18 September 2017, Hurricane Maria passed over the island, causing extensive damage to structures, roads, communications, and the power supply, and largely destroying critical agricultural areas.
The Taino - indigenous inhabitants of Hispaniola prior to the arrival of Europeans - divided the island into five chiefdoms and territories. Christopher COLUMBUS explored and claimed the island on his first voyage in 1492; it became a springboard for Spanish conquest of the Caribbean and the American mainland. In 1697, Spain recognized French dominion over the western third of the island, which in 1804 became Haiti. The remainder of the island, by then known as Santo Domingo, sought to gain its own independence in 1821 but was conquered and ruled by the Haitians for 22 years; it finally attained independence as the Dominican Republic in 1844. In 1861, the Dominicans voluntarily returned to the Spanish Empire, but two years later they launched a war that restored independence in 1865. A legacy of unsettled, mostly non-representative rule followed, capped by the dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas TRUJILLO from 1930 to 1961. Juan BOSCH was elected president in 1962 but was deposed in a military coup in 1963. In 1965, the US led an intervention in the midst of a civil war sparked by an uprising to restore BOSCH. In 1966, Joaquin BALAGUER defeated BOSCH in the presidential election. BALAGUER maintained a tight grip on power for most of the next 30 years when international reaction to flawed elections forced him to curtail his term in 1996. Since then, regular competitive elections have been held in which opposition candidates have won the presidency. Former President Leonel FERNANDEZ Reyna (first term 1996-2000) won election to a new term in 2004 following a constitutional amendment allowing presidents to serve more than one term, and was later reelected to a second consecutive term. Following the two-term presidency of Danilo MEDINA Sanchez (2012-2020), Luis Rodolfo ABINADER Corona was elected president in July 2020.
What is now Ecuador formed part of the northern Inca Empire until the Spanish conquest in 1533. Quito became a seat of Spanish colonial government in 1563 and part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada in 1717. The territories of the Viceroyalty - New Granada (Colombia), Venezuela, and Quito - gained their independence between 1819 and 1822 and formed a federation known as Gran Colombia. When Quito withdrew in 1830, the traditional name was changed in favor of the "Republic of the Equator." Between 1904 and 1942, Ecuador lost territories in a series of conflicts with its neighbors. A border war with Peru that flared in 1995 was resolved in 1999. Although Ecuador marked 30 years of civilian governance in 2004, the period was marred by political instability. Protests in Quito contributed to the mid-term ouster of three of Ecuador's last four democratically elected presidents. In late 2008, voters approved a new constitution, Ecuador's 20th since gaining independence. Guillermo LASSO was elected president in April 2021 becoming the country's first center-right president in nearly two decades when he took office the following month.
The regularity and richness of the annual Nile River flood, coupled with semi-isolation provided by deserts to the east and west, allowed for the development of one of the world's great civilizations. A unified kingdom arose circa 3200 B.C., and a series of dynasties ruled in Egypt for the next three millennia. The last native dynasty fell to the Persians in 341 B.C., who in turn were replaced by the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines. It was the Arabs who introduced Islam and the Arabic language in the 7th century and who ruled for the next six centuries. A local military caste, the Mamluks took control about 1250 and continued to govern after the conquest of Egypt by the Ottoman Turks in 1517. Completion of the Suez Canal in 1869 elevated Egypt as an important world transportation hub. Ostensibly to protect its investments, Britain seized control of Egypt's government in 1882, but nominal allegiance to the Ottoman Empire continued until 1914. Partially independent from the UK in 1922, Egypt acquired full sovereignty from Britain in 1952. The completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1971 and the resultant Lake Nasser have reaffirmed the time-honored place of the Nile River in the agriculture and ecology of Egypt. A rapidly growing population (the largest in the Arab world), limited arable land, and dependence on the Nile all continue to overtax resources and stress society. The government has struggled to meet the demands of Egypt's fast-growing population as it implements large-scale infrastructure projects, energy cooperation, and foreign direct investment appeals.
Inspired by the 2010 Tunisian revolution, Egyptian opposition groups led demonstrations and labor strikes countrywide, culminating in President Hosni MUBARAK's ouster in 2011. Egypt's military assumed national leadership until a new legislature was in place in early 2012; later that same year, Muhammad MURSI won the presidential election. Following protests throughout the spring of 2013 against MURSI's government and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian Armed Forces intervened and removed MURSI from power in July 2013 and replaced him with interim president Adly MANSOUR. Simultaneously, the government began enacting laws to limit freedoms of assembly and expression. In January 2014, voters approved a new constitution by referendum and in May 2014 elected former defense minister Abdelfattah ELSISI president. Egypt elected a new legislature in December 2015, its first House of Representatives since 2012. ELSISI was reelected to a second four-year term in March 2018. In April 2019, Egypt approved via national referendum a set of constitutional amendments extending ELSISI’s term in office through 2024 and possibly through 2030 if reelected for a third term. The amendments would also allow future presidents up to two consecutive six-year terms in office, reestablish an upper legislative house, allow for one or more vice presidents, establish a 25% quota for female legislators, reaffirm the military’s role as guardian of Egypt, and expand presidential authority to appoint the heads of judicial councils. Successful legislative elections were held in October-November 2020, having been delayed for six months.
El Salvador achieved independence from Spain in 1821 and from the Central American Federation in 1839. A 12-year civil war, which cost about 75,000 lives, was brought to a close in 1992 when the government and leftist rebels signed a treaty that provided for military and political reforms. El Salvador is beset by one of the world's highest homicide rates and pervasive criminal gangs.
Equatorial Guinea gained independence in 1968 after 190 years of Spanish rule; it is one of the smallest countries in Africa consisting of a mainland territory and five inhabited islands. The capital of Malabo is located on the island of Bioko, approximately 25 km from the Cameroonian coastline in the Gulf of Guinea. Between 1968 and 1979, autocratic President Francisco MACIAS NGUEMA virtually destroyed all of the country's political, economic, and social institutions before being deposed by his nephew Teodoro OBIANG NGUEMA MBASOGO in a violent coup. President OBIANG has ruled since October 1979 and has been elected several times, most recently in 2016. Although nominally a constitutional democracy since 1991, presidential and legislative elections since 1996 have been considered flawed. The president exerts almost total control over the political system and has placed legal and bureaucratic barriers that hinder political opposition. Equatorial Guinea experienced rapid economic growth in the early years of the 21st century due to the discovery of large offshore oil reserves in 1996. Production peaked in late 2004 and has slowly declined since, although aggressive searches for new oilfields continue. Despite the country's economic windfall from oil production, resulting in massive increases in government revenue in past years, generally lower global oil prices since 2014 and depreciating oil fields have placed significant strain on the state budget. While oil revenues have mainly been used for the development of infrastructure, corruption has hindered socio-economic development and there have been limited improvements in the population's living standards. Equatorial Guinea continues to seek to diversify its economy and to increase foreign investment. The country hosts major regional and international conferences and continues to seek a greater role in international affairs, and leadership in the sub-region.
After independence from Italian colonial control in 1941 and 10 years of British administrative control, the UN established Eritrea as an autonomous region within the Ethiopian federation in 1952. Ethiopia's full annexation of Eritrea as a province 10 years later sparked a violent 30-year struggle for independence that ended in 1991 with Eritrean rebels defeating government forces. Eritreans overwhelmingly approved independence in a 1993 referendum. ISAIAS Afwerki has been Eritrea's only president since independence; his rule, particularly since 2001, has been highly autocratic and repressive. His government has created a highly militarized society by pursuing an unpopular program of mandatory conscription into national service – divided between military and civilian service – of indefinite length. A two-and-a-half-year border war with Ethiopia that erupted in 1998 ended under UN auspices in December 2000. A subsequent 2007 Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) demarcation was rejected by Ethiopia. More than a decade of a tense “no peace, no war” stalemate ended in 2018 after the newly elected Ethiopian prime minister accepted the EEBC’s 2007 ruling, and the two countries signed declarations of peace and friendship. Following the July 2018 peace agreement with Ethiopia, Eritrean leaders engaged in intensive diplomacy around the Horn of Africa, bolstering regional peace, security, and cooperation, as well as brokering rapprochements between governments and opposition groups. In November 2018, the UN Security Council lifted an arms embargo that had been imposed on Eritrea since 2009, after the UN Somalia-Eritrea Monitoring Group reported they had not found evidence of Eritrean support in recent years for Al-Shabaab. The country’s rapprochement with Ethiopia has led to a steady resumption of economic ties, with increased air transport, trade, tourism, and port activities, but the economy remains agriculture-dependent, and Eritrea is still one of Africa’s poorest nations. Despite the country's improved relations with its neighbors, ISAIAS has not let up on repression and conscription and militarization continue.
After centuries of Danish, Swedish, German, and Russian rule, Estonia attained independence in 1918. Forcibly incorporated into the USSR in 1940 - an action never recognized by the US and many other countries - it regained its freedom in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since the last Russian troops left in 1994, Estonia has been free to promote economic and political ties with the West. It joined both NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004, formally joined the OECD in late 2010, and adopted the euro as its official currency on 1 January 2011.
Autonomy for Eswatini was guaranteed by the British in the late 19th century; independence was granted in 1968. A new constitution came into effect in 2006, which included provisions for a more independent parliament and judiciary, but the legal status of political parties remains unclear. King MSWATI III renamed the country from Swaziland to Eswatini in April 2018. Despite its classification as a lower-middle income country, Eswatini suffers from severe poverty and high unemployment. Eswatini has the world's highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, although recent years have shown marked declines in new infections.
Unique among African countries, the ancient Ethiopian monarchy maintained its freedom from colonial rule with the exception of a short-lived Italian occupation from 1936 to 1941. In 1974, a military junta, the Derg, deposed Emperor Haile SELASSIE (who had ruled since 1930) and established a socialist state. Torn by bloody coups, uprisings, wide-scale drought, and massive refugee problems, the regime was finally toppled in 1991 by a coalition of rebel forces, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). A constitution was adopted in 1994, and Ethiopia's first multiparty elections were held in 1995.A border war with Eritrea in the late 1990s ended with a peace treaty in December 2000. In November 2007, the Eritrea-Ethiopia Border Commission (EEBC) issued specific coordinates as virtually demarcating the border and pronounced its work finished. Alleging that the EEBC acted beyond its mandate in issuing the coordinates, Ethiopia did not accept them and maintained troops in previously contested areas pronounced by the EEBC as belonging to Eritrea. This intransigence resulted in years of heightened tension between the two countries. In August 2012, longtime leader Prime Minister MELES Zenawi died in office and was replaced by his Deputy Prime Minister HAILEMARIAM Desalegn, marking the first peaceful transition of power in decades. Following a wave of popular dissent and anti-government protest that began in 2015, HAILEMARIAM resigned in February 2018 and ABIY Ahmed Ali took office in April 2018 as Ethiopia's first ethnic Oromo prime minister. In June 2018, ABIY announced Ethiopia would accept the border ruling of 2000, prompting rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea that was marked with a peace agreement in July 2018 and a reopening of the border in September 2018. In November 2019, Ethiopia's nearly 30-year ethnic-based ruling coalition - the EPRDF - merged into a single unity party called the Prosperity Party, however, one of the four constituent parties (the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front or TPLF) refused to join.
In November 2020, a military conflict erupted between forces aligned with the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopia’s national military, the Ethiopian National Defense Force. The conflict, which has continued into 2022, has exacerbated ethnic violence and has largely centered in Tigray, Amhara, and Afar regional states.
Following the two devastating World Wars in the first half of the 20th century, a number of far-sighted European leaders in the late 1940s sought a response to the overwhelming desire for peace and reconciliation on the continent. In 1950, the French Foreign Minister Robert SCHUMAN proposed pooling the production of coal and steel in Western Europe and setting up an organization for that purpose that would bring France and the Federal Republic of Germany together and would be open to other countries as well. The following year, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was set up when six members - Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands - signed the Treaty of Paris.
The ECSC was so successful that within a few years the decision was made to integrate other elements of the member states' economies. In 1957, envisioning an "ever closer union," the Treaties of Rome were signed creating the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), and the six member states strove to eliminate trade barriers among themselves by forming a common market. In 1967, the institutions of all three communities were formally merged into the European Community (EC), creating a single Commission, a single Council of Ministers, and the body known today as the European Parliament. Members of the European Parliament were initially selected by national parliaments, but in 1979 the first direct elections were undertaken and have been held every five years since.
In 1973, the first enlargement of the EC took place with the addition of Denmark, Ireland, and the UK. The 1980s saw further membership expansion with Greece joining in 1981 and Spain and Portugal in 1986. The 1992 Treaty of Maastricht laid the basis for further forms of cooperation in foreign and defense policy, in judicial and internal affairs, and in the creation of an economic and monetary union - including a common currency. This further integration created the European Union (EU), at the time standing alongside the EC. In 1995, Austria, Finland, and Sweden joined the EU/EC, raising the total number of member states to 15.
A new currency, the euro, was launched in world money markets on 1 January 1999; it became the unit of exchange for all EU member states except Denmark, Sweden, and the UK. In 2002, citizens of those 12 countries began using euro banknotes and coins. Ten new countries joined the EU in 2004 - Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007 and Croatia in 2013, but the UK withdrew in 2020. Current membership stands at 27. (Seven of the new countries - Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia, and Slovenia - have now adopted the euro, bringing total euro-zone membership to 19.)
In an effort to ensure that the EU could function efficiently with an expanded membership, the Treaty of Nice (concluded in 2000; entered into force in 2003) set forth rules to streamline the size and procedures of EU institutions. An effort to establish a "Constitution for Europe," growing out of a Convention held in 2002-2003, foundered when it was rejected in referenda in France and the Netherlands in 2005. A subsequent effort in 2007 incorporated many of the features of the rejected draft Constitutional Treaty while also making a number of substantive and symbolic changes. The new treaty, referred to as the Treaty of Lisbon, sought to amend existing treaties rather than replace them. The treaty was approved at the EU intergovernmental conference of member states held in Lisbon in December 2007, after which the process of national ratifications began. In October 2009, an Irish referendum approved the Lisbon Treaty (overturning a previous rejection) and cleared the way for an ultimate unanimous endorsement. Poland and the Czech Republic ratified soon after. The Lisbon Treaty came into force on 1 December 2009 and the EU officially replaced and succeeded the EC. The Lisbon Treaty's provisions are part of the basic consolidated versions of the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union now governing what remains a very specific integration project.
UK citizens on 23 June 2016 narrowly voted to leave the EU; the formal exit took place on 31 January 2020. The EU and UK negotiated and ratified a Withdrawal Agreement that included a status quo transition period through December 2020, when the follow-on EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement was concluded.
Although first sighted by an English navigator in 1592, the first landing (English) did not occur until almost a century later in 1690, and the first settlement (French) was not established until 1764. The colony was turned over to Spain two years later and the islands have since been the subject of a territorial dispute, first between Britain and Spain, then between Britain and Argentina. The UK asserted its claim to the islands by establishing a naval garrison there in 1833. Argentina invaded the islands on 2 April 1982. The British responded with an expeditionary force that landed seven weeks later and after fierce fighting forced an Argentine surrender on 14 June 1982. With hostilities ended and Argentine forces withdrawn, UK administration resumed. In response to renewed calls from Argentina for Britain to relinquish control of the islands, a referendum was held in March 2013, which resulted in 99.8% of the population voting to remain a part of the UK.
The population of the Faroe Islands, a self-governing dependency of Denmark, is largely descended from Viking settlers who arrived in the 9th century. The islands have been connected politically to Denmark since the 14th century. The Home Rule Act of 1948 granted a high degree of self-government to the Faroese, who have autonomy over most internal affairs and external trade, while Denmark is responsible for justice, defense, and some foreign affairs. The Faroe Islands are not part of the European Union.
Austronesians settled Fiji around 1000 B.C., followed by successive waves of Melanesians starting around the first century A.D. Fijians traded with Polynesian groups in Samoa and Tonga, and by about 900, much of Fiji was in the Tu’i Tongan Empire’s sphere of influence. The Tongan influence declined significantly by 1200, while Melanesian seafarers continued to periodically arrive in Fiji, further mixing Melanesian and Polynesian cultural traditions. Dutch explorer Abel TASMAN was the first European to spot Fiji in 1643, followed by British explorer James COOK in 1774. Captain William BLIGH plotted the islands in 1789. In the 1800s, merchants, traders, and whalers frequented the islands and the first missionaries arrived in 1835. Rival kings and chiefs competed for power, at times aided by Europeans and their weapons, and in 1865, Seru Epenisa CAKOBAU united many groups into the Confederacy of Independent Kingdoms of Viti. The arrangement proved weak and in 1871 CAKOBAU formed the Kingdom of Fiji in an attempt to centralize power. Fearing a hostile takeover by a foreign power as the kingdom’s economy began to falter, CAKOBAU ceded Fiji to the UK in 1874.
The first British governor set up a plantation-style economy and brought in more than 60,000 Indians as indentured laborers, most of whom chose to stay in Fiji rather than return to India when their contracts expired. In the early 1900s, society was divided along ethnic lines, with iTaukei (indigenous Fijians), Europeans, and Indo-Fijians living in separate areas and maintaining their own languages and traditions. ITaukei fears of an Indo-Fijian takeover of government delayed independence through the 1960s; Fiji achieved independence in 1970 with agreements in place to allocate parliamentary seats by ethnic groups. Long-serving Prime Minister Kamisese MARA largely balanced these ethnic divisions, but concerns about growing Indo-Fijian political influence led to two coups in 1987. A new constitution in 1990 cemented iTaukei control of politics, leading thousands of Indo-Fijians to leave. A reformed constitution in 1997 was more equitable and led to the election of an Indo-Fijian prime minister in 1999, who was ousted in a coup the following year. In 2005, the new prime minister put forward a bill that would grant pardons to the coup perpetrators, leading Commodore Josaia BAINIMARAMA to launch a coup in 2006. BAINIMARAMA appointed himself prime minister in 2007 and continues to hold the position after elections in 2014 and 2018 that international observers deemed credible.
With well-developed infrastructure, Fiji has become a hub for the Pacific, hosting the secretariat for the Pacific Islands Forum and the main campus of the University of the South Pacific. In addition, Fiji is a center for Pacific tourism, and Nadi International Airport is by far the busiest airport in a Pacific island country.
Finland was a province and then a grand duchy under Sweden from the 12th to the 19th centuries, and an autonomous grand duchy of Russia after 1809. It gained complete independence in 1917. During World War II, Finland successfully defended its independence through cooperation with Germany and resisted subsequent invasions by the Soviet Union - albeit with some loss of territory. In the subsequent half century, Finland transformed from a farm/forest economy to a diversified modern industrial economy; per capita income is among the highest in Western Europe. A member of the EU since 1995, Finland was the only Nordic state to join the euro single currency at its initiation in January 1999. In the 21st century, the key features of Finland's modern welfare state are high quality education, promotion of equality, and a national social welfare system - currently challenged by an aging population and the fluctuations of an export-driven economy.
France today is one of the most modern countries in the world and is a leader among European nations. It plays an influential global role as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, NATO, the G-7, the G-20, the EU, and other multilateral organizations. France rejoined NATO's integrated military command structure in 2009, reversing DE GAULLE's 1966 decision to withdraw French forces from NATO. Since 1958, it has constructed a hybrid presidential-parliamentary governing system resistant to the instabilities experienced in earlier, more purely parliamentary administrations. In recent decades, its reconciliation and cooperation with Germany have proved central to the economic integration of Europe, including the introduction of a common currency, the euro, in January 1999. In the early 21st century, five French overseas entities - French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, and Reunion - became French regions and were made part of France proper.
French Polynesia consists of five archipelagos - the Austral Islands, the Gambier Islands, the Marquesas Islands, the Society Islands, and the Tuamotu Archipelago. The Marquesas were first settled around 200 B.C. and the Society Islands around A.D. 300. Raiatea in the Society Islands became a center for religion and culture. Exploration of the other islands emanated from Raiatea and by 1000, there were small permanent settlements in all the island groups. Ferdinand MAGELLAN was the first European to see the islands of French Polynesia in 1520, and successive European voyagers traveled through them over the next two centuries. In 1767, British explorer Samuel WALLIS was the first European to visit Tahiti, followed by French navigator Louis Antoine de BOUGAINVILLE in 1768, and British explorer James COOK in 1769. King POMARE I united Tahiti and surrounding islands into the Kingdom of Tahiti in 1788. Protestant missionaries arrived in 1797 and POMARE I’s successor converted in the 1810s, along with most Tahitians. In the 1830s, Queen POMARE IV refused to allow French Catholic missionaries to operate, leading France to declare a protectorate over Tahiti and fight the French-Tahitian War of the 1840s in an attempt to annex the islands. POMARE IV requested British assistance to fight France, and while the UK did not provide material support, it did diplomatically pressure France to simply maintain its protectorate status.
In 1880, King POMARE V ceded Tahiti and its possessions to France, changing its status into a colony. France then claimed the Gambier Islands and Tuamotu Archipelago and by 1901 had incorporated all five island groups into its establishments in Oceania. A Tahitian nationalist movement formed in 1940, leading France to grant French citizenship to the islanders in 1946 and change it to an overseas territory. In 1957, the islands’ name was changed to French Polynesia and the following year, 64% of voters chose to stay part of France when they approved a new constitution. Uninhabited Mururoa Atoll was established as a French nuclear test site in 1962 and tests were conducted between 1966 and 1992 (underground beginning in 1975). France also conducted tests at Fangataufa Atoll, including its last nuclear test in 1996.
France granted French Polynesia partial internal autonomy in 1977 and expanded autonomy in 1984. French Polynesia was converted into an overseas collectivity in 2003 and renamed an overseas country inside the Republic in 2004. Proindependence politicians won a surprise majority in local elections that same year but in subsequent elections have been relegated to a vocal minority. In 2013, French Polynesia was relisted on the UN List of Non-Self Governing Territories.
In February 2007, the Iles Eparses became an integral part of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands (TAAF). The Southern Lands are now divided into five administrative districts, two of which are archipelagos, Iles Crozet and Iles Kerguelen; the third is a district composed of two volcanic islands, Ile Saint-Paul and Ile Amsterdam; the fourth, Iles Eparses, consists of five scattered tropical islands around Madagascar. They contain no permanent inhabitants and are visited only by researchers studying the native fauna, scientists at the various scientific stations, fishermen, and military personnel. The fifth district is the Antarctic portion, which consists of "Adelie Land," a thin slice of the Antarctic continent discovered and claimed by the French in 1840.
Ile Amsterdam: Discovered but not named in 1522 by the Spanish, the island subsequently received the appellation of Nieuw Amsterdam from a Dutchman; it was claimed by France in 1843. A short-lived attempt at cattle farming began in 1871. A French meteorological station established on the island in 1949 is still in use.
Ile Saint Paul: Claimed by France since 1893, the island was a fishing industry center from 1843 to 1914. In 1928, a spiny lobster cannery was established, but when the company went bankrupt in 1931, seven workers were abandoned. Only two survived until 1934 when rescue finally arrived.
Iles Crozet: A large archipelago formed from the Crozet Plateau, Iles Crozet is divided into two main groups: L'Occidental (the West), which includes Ile aux Cochons, Ilots des Apotres, Ile des Pingouins, and the reefs Brisants de l'Heroine; and L'Oriental (the East), which includes Ile d'Est and Ile de la Possession (the largest island of the Crozets). Discovered and claimed by France in 1772, the islands were used for seal hunting and as a base for whaling. Originally administered as a dependency of Madagascar, they became part of the TAAF in 1955.
Iles Kerguelen: This island group, discovered in 1772, consists of one large island (Ile Kerguelen) and about 300 smaller islands. A permanent group of 50 to 100 scientists resides at the main base at Port-aux-Francais.
Adelie Land: The only non-insular district of the TAAF is the Antarctic claim known as "Adelie Land." The US Government does not recognize it as a French dependency.
Bassas da India: A French possession since 1897, this atoll is a volcanic rock surrounded by reefs and is awash at high tide.
Europa Island: This heavily wooded island has been a French possession since 1897; it is the site of a small military garrison that staffs a weather station.
Glorioso Islands: A French possession since 1892, the Glorioso Islands are composed of two lushly vegetated coral islands (Ile Glorieuse and Ile du Lys) and three rock islets. A military garrison operates a weather and radio station on Ile Glorieuse.
Juan de Nova Island: Named after a famous 15th-century Spanish navigator and explorer, the island has been a French possession since 1897. It has been exploited for its guano and phosphate. Presently a small military garrison oversees a meteorological station.
Tromelin Island: First explored by the French in 1776, the island came under the jurisdiction of Reunion in 1814. At present, it serves as a sea turtle sanctuary and is the site of an important meteorological station.
Gabon, a sparsely populated country known for its dense rainforests and vast petroleum reserves, is one of the most prosperous and stable countries in central Africa. Approximately 40 ethnic groups are represented, the largest of which is the Fang, a group that covers the northern third of Gabon and expands north into Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon. From about the early 1300s, various kingdoms emerged in and surrounding present-day Gabon, including the Kingdoms of Loango and Orungu. Because most early Bantu languages spoken in these kingdoms did not have a written form, historical traditions were passed on orally, resulting in much of Gabon's early history being lost over time. Portuguese traders who arrived in the mid-1400s gave the area its name of Gabon. At that time, indigenous trade networks began to engage with European traders, exchanging goods such as ivory and wood. For a century beginning in the 1760s, trade came to focus mostly on enslaved people. While many groups in Gabon participated in the slave trade, the Fang were a notable exception. As the slave trade declined in the late 1800s, France colonized the country and directed a widespread extraction of Gabonese resources. Anti-colonial rhetoric by Gabon’s educated elites increased significantly in the early 1900s, but no widespread rebellion materialized. French decolonization following World War II led to the country’s independence in 1960.
Within a year of independence, the government changed from a parliamentary to a presidential system, and Leon M’BA won the first presidential election in 1961. El Hadj Omar BONGO Ondimba - one of the longest ruling heads of state in history - was M’BA’s vice president and assumed the presidency after M’BA’s death in 1967. BONGO went on to dominate the country's political scene for four decades (1967-2009). In 1968, he declared Gabon a single-party state and created the Parti Democratique Gabonais (PDG), which remains the predominant party in Gabonese politics today. In the early 1990s, he reintroduced a multiparty system under a new constitution after he was confronted with growing political opposition. He was reelected by wide margins in 1995, 1998, 2002, and 2005 against a divided opposition and amidst allegations of fraud. Following President BONGO's death in 2009, a new election brought his son, Ali BONGO Ondimba, to power. President Ali BONGO Ondimba was reelected in 2016 in a close election against a united opposition. Gabon’s Constitutional Court reviewed the contested election results and ruled in his favor.
In the 10th century, Muslim merchants established some of The Gambia’s earliest large settlements as trans-Saharan trade hubs. These settlements eventually grew into major export centers sending slaves, gold, and ivory across the Sahara. Between the 16th and 17th centuries, European colonial powers began establishing trade with The Gambia. In 1664, the United Kingdom established a colony in The Gambia focused on exporting enslaved people across the Atlantic. During the roughly 300 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the UK and other European powers may have exported as many as 3 million people from The Gambia.
The Gambia gained its independence from the UK in 1965. Geographically surrounded by Senegal, it formed the short-lived confederation of Senegambia between 1982 and 1989. In 1994, Yahya JAMMEH led a military coup overthrowing the president and banning political activity. He subsequently won every presidential election until 2016, when he lost to Adama BARROW, who headed an opposition coalition during free and fair elections. BARROW won reelection in December 2021. The Gambia is the only member of the Economic Community of West African States that does not have presidential term limits. Since the 2016 election, The Gambia and the US have enjoyed improved relations. US assistance to the country has supported military education and training programs, capacity building, and democracy-strengthening activities.
The Gaza Strip has been under the de facto governing authority of the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS) since 2007, and has faced years of conflict, poverty, and humanitarian crises. Inhabited since at least the 15th century B.C., the Gaza Strip area has been dominated by many different peoples and empires throughout its history; it was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in the early 16th century. The Gaza Strip fell to British forces during World War I, becoming a part of the British Mandate of Palestine. Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Egypt administered the newly formed Gaza Strip; Israel captured it in the Six-Day War in 1967. Under a series of agreements known as the Oslo accords signed between 1993 and 1999, Israel transferred to the newly-created Palestinian Authority (PA) security and civilian responsibility for many Palestinian-populated areas of the Gaza Strip as well as the West Bank.
In 2000, a violent intifada or uprising began, and in 2001 negotiations to determine the permanent status of the West bank and Gaza Strip stalled. Subsequent attempts to re-start negotiations have not resulted in progress toward determining final status of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel in late 2005 unilaterally withdrew all of its settlers and soldiers and dismantled its military facilities in the Gaza Strip, but it continues to control the Gaza Strip’s land and maritime borders and airspace. In early 2006, HAMAS won a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council election. Fatah, the dominant Palestinian political faction in the West Bank, and HAMAS failed to maintain a unity government, leading to violent clashes between their respective supporters and HAMAS’s violent seizure of all PA military and governmental institutions in the Gaza Strip in June 2007. Since HAMAS’s takeover, Israel and Egypt have enforced tight restrictions on movement and access of goods and individuals into and out of the territory. Fatah and HAMAS have since reached a series of agreements aimed at restoring political unity between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank but have struggled to enact them.
Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip and the Israel Defense Forces periodically exchange projectiles and air strikes, respectively, threatening broader conflict. In May 2021, HAMAS launched rockets at Israel, sparking an 11-day conflict that also involved other Gaza-based militant groups. Egypt, Qatar, and the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process have negotiated ceasefires to avert a broader conflict. Since 2018, HAMAS has also coordinated demonstrations along the Gaza-Israel security fence. Many of these protests have turned violent, resulting in several Israeli soldiers’ deaths and injuries as well as more than 200 Palestinian deaths and thousands of injuries, most of which occurred during weekly March of Return protests from 2018 to the end of 2019.
The region of present day Georgia contained the ancient kingdoms of Colchis and Kartli-Iberia. The area came under Roman influence in the first centuries A.D., and Christianity became the state religion in the 330s. Domination by Persians, Arabs, and Turks was followed by a Georgian golden age (11th-13th centuries) that was cut short by the Mongol invasion of 1236. Subsequently, the Ottoman and Persian empires competed for influence in the region. Georgia was absorbed into the Russian Empire in the 19th century. Independent for three years (1918-1921) following the Russian revolution, it was forcibly incorporated into the USSR in 1921 and regained its independence when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.
Mounting public discontent over rampant corruption and ineffective government services, followed by an attempt by the incumbent Georgian Government to manipulate parliamentary elections in November 2003, touched off widespread protests that led to the resignation of Eduard SHEVARDNADZE, president since 1995. In the aftermath of that popular movement, which became known as the "Rose Revolution," new elections in early 2004 swept Mikheil SAAKASHVILI into power along with his United National Movement (UNM) party. SAAKASHVILI made progress on market reforms and good governance during his time in power, but also faced accusations of abuse of office. Progress was also complicated by Russian assistance and support to the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that led to periodic flare-ups in tension and violence and that culminated in a five-day conflict in August 2008 between Russia and Georgia, including the invasion of large portions of Georgian territory. Russian troops pledged to pull back from most occupied Georgian territory, but in late August 2008 Russia unilaterally recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Russian military forces remain in those regions.
Billionaire Bidzina IVANISHVILI's unexpected entry into politics in October 2011 brought the divided opposition together under his Georgian Dream coalition, which won a majority of seats in the October 2012 parliamentary elections and removed UNM from power. Conceding defeat, SAAKASHVILI named IVANISHVILI as prime minister and allowed Georgian Dream to create a new government. Giorgi MARGVELASHVILI became president in November 2013, ending a tense year of power-sharing between SAAKASHVILI and IVANISHVILI and SAAKASHVILI then left the country. At the time, these changes in leadership represented unique examples of a former Soviet state that emerged to conduct democratic and peaceful government transitions of power. IVANISHVILI voluntarily resigned from office after the presidential succession, and in the following years, the prime minister position has seen frequent turnover. Most recently, Irakli GARIBASHVILI became prime minister in February 2021, replacing Giorgi GAKHARIA, who later in the year formed his own opposition party. In October 2021, SAAKASHVILI returned to Georgia, where he was immediately arrested to serve six years in prison on outstanding abuse of office convictions. Popular and government support for integration with the West is high in Georgia. Joining the EU and NATO are among the country's top foreign policy goals.
As Europe's largest economy and second most populous nation (after Russia), Germany is a key member of the continent's economic, political, and defense organizations. European power struggles immersed Germany in two devastating world wars in the first half of the 20th century and left the country occupied by the victorious Allied powers of the US, UK, France, and the Soviet Union in 1945. With the advent of the Cold War, two German states were formed in 1949: the western Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the eastern German Democratic Republic (GDR). The democratic FRG embedded itself in key western economic and security organizations, the EC (now the EU) and NATO, while the communist GDR was on the front line of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact. The decline of the USSR and the end of the Cold War allowed for German reunification in 1990. Since then, Germany has expended considerable funds to bring eastern productivity and wages up to western standards. In January 1999, Germany and 10 other EU countries introduced a common European exchange currency, the euro.
Ghana is a multiethnic country rich in natural resources and is one of the most stable and democratic countries in West Africa. Ghana has been inhabited for at least several thousand years, however, little is known about its early inhabitants. By the 12th century, the gold trade started to boom in Bono (Bonoman) state in what is today southern Ghana, and it became the genesis of Akan power and wealth in the region. Beginning in the 15th century, the Portuguese, followed by other European powers, arrived and contested for trading rights. Numerous kingdoms and empires emerged in the area, among the most powerful were the Kingdom of Dagbon in the north and the Asante (Ashanti) Empire in the south. By the mid-18th century, Asante was a highly organized state with immense wealth; it provided enslaved people for the Atlantic slave trade, and in return received firearms that facilitated its territorial expansion. The Asante resisted increasing British influence in the coastal areas, engaging in a series of wars during the 19th century before ultimately falling under British control. Formed from the merger of the British colony of the Gold Coast and the Togoland trust territory, Ghana in 1957 became the first Sub-Saharan country in colonial Africa to gain its independence, with Kwame NKRUMAH as its first leader.
Ghana endured a series of coups before Lt. Jerry RAWLINGS took power in 1981 and banned political parties. After approving a new constitution and restoring multiparty politics in 1992, RAWLINGS won presidential elections in 1992 and 1996 but was constitutionally prevented from running for a third term in 2000. John KUFUOR of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) succeeded him and was reelected in 2004. John Atta MILLS of the National Democratic Congress won the 2008 presidential election and took over as head of state. MILLS died in July 2012 and was constitutionally succeeded by his vice president, John Dramani MAHAMA, who subsequently won the December 2012 presidential election. In 2016, Nana Addo Dankwa AKUFO-ADDO of the NPP defeated MAHAMA, marking the third time that Ghana’s presidency had changed parties since the return to democracy. AKUFO-ADDO was reelected in 2020. In recent years, Ghana has taken an active role in promoting regional stability and is highly integrated in international affairs.
Strategically important, Gibraltar was reluctantly ceded to Great Britain by Spain in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht; the British garrison was formally declared a colony in 1830. In a referendum held in 1967, Gibraltarians voted overwhelmingly to remain a British dependency. The subsequent granting of autonomy in 1969 by the UK led Spain to close the border and sever all communication links. Between 1997 and 2002, the UK and Spain held a series of talks on establishing temporary joint sovereignty over Gibraltar. In response to these talks, the Gibraltar Government called a referendum in late 2002 in which the majority of citizens voted overwhelmingly against any sharing of sovereignty with Spain. Since late 2004, Spain, the UK, and Gibraltar have held tripartite talks with the aim of cooperatively resolving problems that affect the local population, and work continues on cooperation agreements in areas such as taxation and financial services; communications and maritime security; policy; legal and customs services; environmental protection; and education and visa services. A new noncolonial constitution came into force in 2007, and the European Court of First Instance recognized Gibraltar's right to regulate its own tax regime in December 2008. The UK retains responsibility for defense, foreign relations, internal security, and financial stability.
Spain and the UK continue to spar over the territory. Throughout 2009, a dispute over Gibraltar's claim to territorial waters extending out three miles gave rise to periodic non-violent maritime confrontations between Spanish and UK naval patrols, and in 2013, the British reported a record number of entries by Spanish vessels into waters claimed by Gibraltar following a dispute over Gibraltar's creation of an artificial reef in those waters. Spain renewed its demands for an eventual return of Gibraltar to Spanish control after the UK’s June 2016 vote to leave the EU, but London has dismissed any connection between the vote and its continued sovereignty over Gibraltar.
Greece achieved independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1830. During the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, it gradually added neighboring islands and territories, most with Greek-speaking populations. In World War II, Greece was first invaded by Italy (1940) and subsequently occupied by Germany (1941-44); fighting endured in a protracted civil war between supporters of the king and other anti-communist and communist rebels. Following the latter's defeat in 1949, Greece joined NATO in 1952. In 1967, a group of military officers seized power, establishing a military dictatorship that suspended many political liberties and forced the king to flee the country. In 1974 following the collapse of the dictatorship, democratic elections and a referendum created a parliamentary republic and abolished the monarchy. In 1981, Greece joined the EC (now the EU); it became the 12th member of the European Economic and Monetary Union in 2001. Greece has suffered a severe economic crisis since late 2009, due to nearly a decade of chronic overspending and structural rigidities. Beginning in 2010, Greece entered three bailout agreements - the first two with the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF; and the third in 2015 with the European Stability Mechanism - worth in total about $300 billion. The Greek Government formally exited the third bailout in August 2018.
Greenland, the world's largest island, is about 80% ice-capped. Vikings reached the island in the 10th century from Iceland; Danish colonization began in the 18th century, and Greenland became an integral part of the Danish Realm in 1953. It joined the European Community (now the EU) with Denmark in 1973 but withdrew in 1985 over a dispute centered on stringent fishing quotas. Greenland remains a member of the Overseas Countries and Territories Association of the EU. Greenland was granted self-government in 1979 by the Danish parliament; the law went into effect the following year. Greenland voted in favor of increased self-rule in November 2008 and acquired greater responsibility for internal affairs when the Act on Greenland Self-Government was signed into law in June 2009. Denmark, however, continues to exercise control over several policy areas on behalf of Greenland, including foreign affairs, security, and financial policy in consultation with Greenland's Self-Rule Government.
Carib Indians inhabited Grenada when Christopher COLUMBUS landed on the island in 1498, but it remained uncolonized for more than a century. The French settled Grenada in the 17th century, established sugar estates, and imported large numbers of African slaves. Britain took the island in 1762 and vigorously expanded sugar production. In the 19th century, cacao eventually surpassed sugar as the main export crop; in the 20th century, nutmeg became the leading export. In 1967, Britain gave Grenada autonomy over its internal affairs. Full independence was attained in 1974, making Grenada one of the smallest independent countries in the Western Hemisphere. In 1979, a leftist New Jewel Movement seized power under Maurice BISHOP, ushering in the Grenada Revolution. On 19 October 1983, factions within the revolutionary government overthrew and killed BISHOP and members of his party. Six days later, the island was invaded by US forces and those of six other Caribbean nations, which quickly captured the ringleaders and their hundreds of Cuban advisers. The rule of law was restored, and democratic elections were reinstituted the following year and have continued since then.
Guam was settled by Austronesian people around 1500 B.C. These people became the indigenous Chamorro and were influenced by later migrations, including the Micronesians in the first millennium A.D., and island Southeast Asians around 900. Society was stratified with higher classes living along the coast and lower classes living inland. Spanish explorer Ferdinand MAGELLAN was the first European to see Guam in 1521 and Spain claimed the island in 1565 as it served as a refueling stop for ships between Mexico and the Philippines. Spain formally colonized Guam in 1668. Spain’s brutal repression of the Chamorro, along with new diseases and intermittent warfare, reduced the indigenous population from more than 100,000 to less than 5,000 by the 1700s. Spain tried to repopulate the island by forcing people from nearby islands to settle on Guam and preventing them from escaping.
Guam became a hub for whalers and traders in the western Pacific in the early 1800s. During the 1898 Spanish-American War, the US Navy occupied Guam and set up a military administration. The US Navy opposed local control of government despite repeated petitions by the Chamorro. Japan invaded Guam in 1941 and instituted a repressive regime. During the US recapture of Guam in 1944, the island’s two largest villages were destroyed. After World War II, political pressure from local Chamorro leaders led to Guam being established as an unincorporated organized territory in 1950 with US citizenship granted to all Chamorro. In a referendum in 1982, more than 75% of voters chose closer relations with the US over independence, although no change in status was made because of disagreements on the future right of Chamorro self-determination. The US military holds about 29% of Guam’s land and stations several thousand troops on the island. The installations are some of the most strategically important US bases in the Pacific; they also constitute the island’s most important source of income and economic stability.
The Maya civilization flourished in Guatemala and surrounding regions during the first millennium A.D. After almost three centuries as a Spanish colony, Guatemala won its independence in 1821. During the second half of the 20th century, it experienced a variety of military and civilian governments, as well as a 36-year guerrilla war. In 1996, the government signed a peace agreement formally ending the internal conflict.
Guernsey and the other Channel Islands represent the last remnants of the medieval Duchy of Normandy, which held sway in both France and England. The islands were the only British soil occupied by German troops in World War II. The Bailiwick of Guernsey consists of the main island of Guernsey and a number of smaller islands including Alderney, Sark, Herm, Jethou, Brecqhou, and Lihou. The Bailiwick is a self-governing British Crown dependency that is not part of the UK. However, the UK Government is constitutionally responsible for its defense and international representation.
Guinea's deep Muslim heritage arrived via the neighboring Almoravid Empire in the 11th century. Following Almoravid decline, Guinea existed on the fringe of several African kingdoms, all competing for regional dominance. In the 13th century, the Mali Empire took control of Guinea, encouraging its already growing Muslim faith. After the fall of the West African empires, various smaller kingdoms controlled Guinea. In the 18th century, Fulani Muslims established an Islamic state in central Guinea that represents one of the earliest examples of a written constitution and alternating leadership. While European traders first arrived in the 16th century, it was the French who secured colonial rule in the 19th century.
In 1958, Guinea achieved independence from France. Sekou TOURE became Guinea’s first post-independence president; he established a dictatorial regime and ruled until his death in 1984, after which General Lansana CONTE staged a coup and seized the government. He too established an authoritarian regime and manipulated presidential elections until his death in December 2008, when Captain Moussa Dadis CAMARA led a military coup, seized power, and suspended the constitution. In September 2009, presidential guards opened fire on an opposition rally, killing more than 150 people in Conakry, the capital. In early December 2009, CAMARA was wounded in an assassination attempt and exiled to Burkina Faso. In 2010 and 2013 respectively, the country held its first free and fair presidential and legislative elections. Alpha CONDE won the 2010 and 2015 presidential elections. CONDE's first cabinet was the first all-civilian government in Guinean history. In March 2020, Guinea passed a new constitution in a national referendum that changed presidential term limit rules. CONDE argued that, given this change, he was allowed to run for a third term, which he then won in October 2020. On 5 September 2021, Col Mamady DOUMBOUYA led special forces troops in a successful military coup, ousting and detaining CONDE and establishing the National Committee for Reconciliation and Development (CNRD). DOUMBOUYA and the CNRD suspended the constitution and dissolved the government and the legislature. DOUMBOUYA was sworn in as transition president on 1 October 2021, and appointed Mohamed BEAVOGUI as transition prime minister a week later. BEAVOGUI subsequently formed a largely technocratic cabinet. The National Transition Council (CNT), which acts as the legislative body for the transition, was formed on 22 January 2022. The 81-member CNT is led by Dr. Dansa KOUROUMA and consists of appointed members representing a broad swath of Guinean society.
For much of its history, Guinea-Bissau was under the control of the Mali Empire and the Kaabu Kingdom. In the 16th century, Portugal began establishing trading posts along Guinea-Bissau’s shoreline. Initially, the Portuguese were restricted to the coastline and islands. However, the slave and gold trades were lucrative to local African leaders, and the Portuguese were slowly able to expand their power and influence inland. Starting in the 18th century, the Mali Empire and Kingdom of Kaabu slowly disintegrated into smaller local entities. By the 19th century, Portugal had fully incorporated Guinea-Bissau into its empire.
Since gaining independence in 1974, Guinea-Bissau has experienced considerable political and military upheaval. In 1980, a military coup established General Joao Bernardo 'Nino' VIEIRA as president. VIEIRA's regime suppressed political opposition and purged political rivals. Several coup attempts through the 1980s and early 1990s failed to unseat him. In May 1999, a military mutiny and civil war led to VIEIRA's ouster. In February 2000, a transitional government turned over power to opposition leader Kumba YALA. In September 2003, a bloodless military coup overthrew YALA and installed businessman Henrique ROSA as interim president. In 2005, former President VIEIRA was reelected, pledging to pursue economic development and national reconciliation; he was assassinated in March 2009. In June 2009, Malam Bacai SANHA was elected president, but he passed away in January 2012 from a long-term illness. In April 2012, a military coup prevented the second-round of the presidential election from taking place. Following mediation from the Economic Community of Western African States, a civilian transitional government assumed power. In 2014, Jose Mario VAZ was elected president after a free and fair election. In June 2019, VAZ became the first president in Guinea-Bissau’s history to complete a full presidential term. Umaro Sissoco EMBALO was elected president in December 2019, but he did not take office until February 2020 because of a prolonged challenge to the election results.
Originally a Dutch colony in the 17th century, by 1815 Guyana had become a British possession. The abolition of slavery led to settlement of urban areas by former slaves and the importation of indentured servants from India to work the sugar plantations. The resulting ethnocultural divide has persisted and has led to turbulent politics. Guyana achieved independence from the UK in 1966, and since then it has been ruled mostly by socialist-oriented governments. In 1992, Cheddi JAGAN was elected president in what is considered the country's first free and fair election since independence. After his death five years later, his wife, Janet JAGAN, became president but resigned in 1999 due to poor health. Her successor, Bharrat JAGDEO, was elected in 2001 and again in 2006. Early elections held in May 2015 resulted in the first change in governing party and the replacement of President Donald RAMOTAR by current President David GRANGER. After a December 2018 no-confidence vote against the GRANGER government, national elections were constitutionally required to take place within three months. After over a year of extra-constitutional rule by the GRANGER administration, elections were held, though voting irregularities led to a nationwide recount. The current Irfaan ALI administration was sworn in to office in August 2020. The discovery of oil in 2015 has been the primary economic and political focus, with many hoping the significant reserves will transform one of the poorest countries in the region.
The native Taino - who inhabited the island of Hispaniola when Christopher COLUMBUS first landed on it in 1492 - were virtually wiped out by Spanish settlers within 25 years. In the early 17th century, the French established a presence on Hispaniola. In 1697, Spain ceded to the French the western third of the island, which later became Haiti. The French colony, based on forestry and sugar-related industries, became one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean but relied heavily on the forced labor of enslaved Africans and environmentally degrading practices. In the late 18th century, Toussaint L'OUVERTURE led a revolution of Haiti's nearly half a million slaves that ended France's rule on the island. After a prolonged struggle, and under the leadership of Jean-Jacques DESSALINES, Haiti became the first country in the world led by former slaves after declaring its independence in 1804, but it was forced to pay an indemnity of 100 million francs (equivalent to $21 billion USD in March 2022) to France for more than a century and was shunned by other countries for nearly 40 years. On 12 July 1862, the US officially recognized Haiti, but foreign economic influence and internal political instability induced the US to occupy Haiti from 1915-1934. Subsequently, Francois "Papa Doc" DUVALIER and then his son Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" DUVALIER led repressive and corrupt regimes that ruled Haiti in 1957-1971 and 1971-1986, respectively. President Jovenel MOISE was assassinated on 7 July 2021, leading the country further into an extra-constitutional governance structure and contributing to the country’s growing fragility. President MOISE's five-year term would have ended on 7 February 2022; his assassination plunged Haiti deeper into a political crisis that was not anticipated in its constitution. Thus, on 20 July 2021, the Government of Haiti installed Ariel HENRY - whom President MOISE had nominated - as prime minister. As of March 2022, Haiti had no president, no parliamentary quorum, and a dysfunctional high court due to a lack of judges. Haiti has long been plagued by natural disasters. In January 2010, a major 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti with an epicenter about 25 km (15 mi) west of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Estimates are that over 300,000 people were killed and some 1.5 million left homeless. The earthquake was assessed as the worst in this region over the last 200 years. A 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti’s southern peninsula in August 2021, causing well over 2,000 deaths; an estimated 500,000 required emergency humanitarian aid. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, as well as one of the most unequal in wealth distribution.
American sailor John HEARD discovered Heard Island in 1853 and thought it was a glacier that had broken away from Antarctica. Fellow American William MCDONALD discovered the McDonald Islands the following year. Starting in 1855, sealers lived on the islands harvesting elephant seal oil; by the time the practice was ended in 1877, most of the islands’ seals were killed. The UK formally claimed the islands in 1910 and Australian explorer Douglas MAWSON visited Heard Island in 1929. In 1947, the UK transferred the islands to Australia for its Antarctica research, but Australia closed the research station on Heard Island in 1954 when it opened a new research station on the Antarctic continent. McDonald Island has been an active volcano since it emerged from dormancy in 1992, and the island doubled in size after an eruption in 1996. In 1997, the islands were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Populated by a large number of bird species, seals, and penguins, the islands are primarily used for research with limited fishing being permitted in the surrounding waters.
Popes in their secular role ruled portions of the Italian peninsula for more than a thousand years until the mid-19th century, when many of the Papal States were seized by the newly united Kingdom of Italy. In 1870, the pope's holdings were further circumscribed when Rome itself was annexed. Disputes between a series of "prisoner" popes and Italy were resolved in 1929 by three Lateran Treaties, which established the independent state of Vatican City and granted Roman Catholicism special status in Italy. In 1984, a concordat between the Holy See and Italy modified certain of the earlier treaty provisions, including the primacy of Roman Catholicism as the Italian state religion. Present concerns of the Holy See include religious freedom, threats against minority Christian communities in Africa and the Middle East, the plight of refugees and migrants, sexual misconduct by clergy, international development, interreligious dialogue and reconciliation, and the application of church doctrine in an era of rapid change and globalization. About 1.3 billion people worldwide profess Catholicism - the world's largest Christian faith.
Once part of Spain's vast empire in the New World, Honduras became an independent nation in 1821. After two and a half decades of mostly military rule, a freely elected civilian government came to power in 1982. During the 1980s, Honduras proved a haven for anti-Sandinista contras fighting the Marxist Nicaraguan Government and an ally to Salvadoran Government forces fighting leftist guerrillas. The country was devastated by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which killed about 5,600 people and caused approximately $2 billion in damage. Since then, the economy has slowly rebounded, despite COVID and severe storm-related setbacks in 2020 and 2021.
Seized by the UK in 1841, Hong Kong was formally ceded by China the following year at the end of the First Opium War; the Kowloon Peninsula was added in 1860 at the end of the Second Opium War, and was further extended when Britain obtained a 99-year lease of the New Territories in 1898. Pursuant to an agreement signed by China and the UK on 19 December 1984, Hong Kong became the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of the People's Republic of China on 1 July 1997. In this agreement, China promised that, under its "one country, two systems" formula, China's socialist economic and strict political system would not be imposed on Hong Kong and that Hong Kong would enjoy a "high degree of autonomy" in all matters except foreign and defense affairs for the subsequent 50 years.
Since the turnover, Hong Kong has continued to enjoy success as an international financial center. However, dissatisfaction with the Hong Kong Government and growing Chinese political influence has been a central issue and led to considerable civil unrest, including large-scale pro-democracy demonstrations in 2019 after the HKSAR attempted to revise a local ordinance to allow extraditions to mainland China. In response, the governments of the HKSAR and China took several actions that reduced the city's autonomy and placed new restrictions on the rights of Hong Kong residents, moves that were widely criticized to be in direct contravention of obligations under the Hong Kong Basic Law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Chief among these actions was a sweeping national security law for Hong Kong imposed by the Chinese Government in June 2020 that criminalized acts such as those interpreted as secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign or external forces. The law ushered in a widespread crackdown on public protests, criticism of authorities, and freedom of speech, and was used by authorities to target pro-democracy activists, organizations, and media companies. Democratic lawmakers and political figures were arrested, while others fled abroad. At the same time, dozens of civil society groups and several independent media outlets were closed or have disbanded. In March 2021, Beijing imposed a more restrictive electoral system, including restructuring the Legislative Council (LegCo) and allowing only government-approved candidates to run for office, claiming it was to ensure a system of "patriots" governed Hong Kong. The changes ensured that virtually all seats in the December 2021 LegCo election were won by pro-establishment candidates and effectively ended political opposition to Beijing in the territory.
Hungary became a Christian kingdom in A.D. 1000 and for many centuries served as a bulwark against Ottoman Turkish expansion in Europe. The kingdom eventually became part of the polyglot Austro-Hungarian Empire, which collapsed during World War I. The country fell under communist rule following World War II. In 1956, a revolt and an announced withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact were met with a massive military intervention by Moscow. Under the leadership of Janos KADAR in 1968, Hungary began liberalizing its economy, introducing so-called "Goulash Communism." Hungary held its first multiparty elections in 1990 and initiated a free market economy. It joined NATO in 1999 and the EU five years later.
Settled by Norwegian and Celtic (Scottish and Irish) immigrants during the late 9th and 10th centuries A.D., Iceland boasts the world's oldest functioning legislative assembly, the Althingi, established in 930. Independent for over 300 years, Iceland was subsequently ruled by Norway and Denmark. Fallout from the Askja volcano of 1875 devastated the Icelandic economy and caused widespread famine. Over the next quarter century, 20% of the island's population emigrated, mostly to Canada and the US. Denmark granted limited home rule in 1874 and complete independence in 1944. The second half of the 20th century saw substantial economic growth driven primarily by the fishing industry. The economy diversified greatly after the country joined the European Economic Area in 1994, but Iceland was especially hard hit by the global financial crisis in the years following 2008. The economy is now on an upward trajectory, fueled primarily by a tourism and construction boom. Literacy, longevity, and social cohesion are first rate by world standards.
The Indus Valley civilization, one of the world's oldest, flourished during the 3rd and 2nd millennia B.C. and extended into northwestern India. Aryan tribes from the northwest infiltrated the Indian subcontinent about 1500 B.C.; their merger with the earlier Dravidian inhabitants created the classical Indian culture. The Maurya Empire of the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C. - which reached its zenith under ASHOKA - united much of South Asia. The Golden Age ushered in by the Gupta dynasty (4th to 6th centuries A.D.) saw a flowering of Indian science, art, and culture. Islam spread across the subcontinent over a period of 700 years. In the 10th and 11th centuries, Turks and Afghans invaded India and established the Delhi Sultanate. In the early 16th century, the Emperor BABUR established the Mughal Dynasty, which ruled India for more than three centuries. European explorers began establishing footholds in India during the 16th century.
By the 19th century, Great Britain had become the dominant political power on the subcontinent and India was seen as the "Jewel in the Crown" of the British Empire. The British Indian Army played a vital role in both World Wars. Years of nonviolent resistance to British rule, led by Mohandas GANDHI and Jawaharlal NEHRU, eventually resulted in Indian independence in 1947. Large-scale communal violence took place before and after the subcontinent partition into two separate states - India and Pakistan. The neighboring countries have fought three wars since independence, the last of which was in 1971 and resulted in East Pakistan becoming the separate nation of Bangladesh. India's nuclear weapons tests in 1998 emboldened Pakistan to conduct its own tests that same year. In November 2008, terrorists originating from Pakistan conducted a series of coordinated attacks in Mumbai, India's financial capital. India's economic growth following the launch of economic reforms in 1991, a massive youthful population, and a strategic geographic location have contributed to India's emergence as a regional and global power. However, India still faces pressing problems such as environmental degradation, extensive poverty, and widespread corruption, and its restrictive business climate challenges economic growth expectations.
The Indian Ocean is the third largest of the world's five oceans (after the Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean, but larger than the Southern Ocean and Arctic Ocean). Four critically important access waterways are the Suez Canal (Egypt), Bab el Mandeb (Djibouti-Yemen), Strait of Hormuz (Iran-Oman), and Strait of Malacca (Indonesia-Malaysia).The decision by the International Hydrographic Organization in the spring of 2000 to delimit a fifth ocean, the Southern Ocean, removed the portion of the Indian Ocean south of 60 degrees south latitude.
The archipelago was once largely under the control of Buddhist and Hindu rulers. By around the 7th century, a Buddhist kingdom arose on Sumatra and expanded into Java and the Malay Peninsula until it was conquered in the late 13th century by the Hindu Majapahit Empire from Java. Majapahit (1290-1527) united most of modern-day Indonesia and Malaysia. Traders introduced Islam in the trade ports around the 11th century, and Indonesians gradually adopted Islam over the next 500 years. The Portuguese conquered parts of Indonesia in the 16th century, but they were ousted by the Dutch (except in East Timor), who began colonizing the islands in the early 17th century. It would be the early 20th century before Dutch colonial rule was established across the entirety of what would become the boundaries of the modern Indonesian state.
Japan occupied the islands from 1942 to 1945. Indonesia declared its independence shortly before Japan's surrender, but it required four years of sometimes brutal fighting, intermittent negotiations, and UN mediation before the Netherlands agreed to transfer sovereignty in 1949. A period of sometimes unruly parliamentary democracy ended in 1957 when President SOEKARNO declared martial law and instituted "Guided Democracy." After an abortive coup in 1965 by alleged communist sympathizers, SOEKARNO was gradually eased from power. From 1967 until 1998, President SUHARTO ruled Indonesia with his "New Order" government. After street protests toppled SUHARTO in 1998, free and fair legislative elections took place in 1999. Indonesia is now the world's third most populous democracy, the world's largest archipelagic state, and the world's largest Muslim-majority nation. Current issues include: alleviating poverty, improving education, preventing terrorism, consolidating democracy after four decades of authoritarianism, implementing economic and financial reforms, stemming corruption, reforming the criminal justice system, addressing climate change, and controlling infectious diseases, particularly those of global and regional importance. In 2005, Indonesia reached a historic peace agreement with armed separatists in Aceh. Indonesia continues to face low intensity armed resistance in Papua by the separatist Free Papua Movement.
Known as Persia until 1935, Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979 after the ruling monarchy was overthrown and Shah Mohammad Reza PAHLAVI was forced into exile. Conservative clerical forces led by Ayatollah Ruhollah KHOMEINI established a theocratic system of government with ultimate political authority vested in a learned religious scholar referred to commonly as the Supreme Leader who, according to the constitution, is accountable only to the Assembly of Experts - a popularly elected 88-member body of clerics. US-Iranian relations became strained when a group of Iranian students seized the US Embassy in Tehran in November 1979 and held embassy personnel hostage until mid-January 1981. The US cut off diplomatic relations with Iran in April 1980. During the period 1980-88, Iran fought a bloody, indecisive war with Iraq that eventually expanded into the Persian Gulf and led to clashes between US Navy and Iranian military forces. Iran has been designated a state sponsor of terrorism and was subject to US, UN, and EU economic sanctions and export controls because of its continued involvement in terrorism and concerns over possible military dimensions of its nuclear program until Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) Implementation Day in 2016. The US began gradually re-imposing sanctions on Iran after the US withdrawal from JCPOA in May 2018.
Following the election of reformer Hojjat ol-Eslam Mohammad KHATAMI as president in 1997 and a reformist Majles (legislature) in 2000, a campaign to foster political reform in response to popular dissatisfaction was initiated. The movement floundered as conservative politicians, supported by the Supreme Leader, unelected institutions of authority like the Council of Guardians, and the security services reversed and blocked reform measures while increasing security repression. Starting with nationwide municipal elections in 2003 and continuing through Majles elections in 2004, conservatives reestablished control over Iran's elected government institutions, which culminated with the August 2005 inauguration of hardliner Mahmud AHMADI-NEJAD as president. His controversial reelection in June 2009 sparked nationwide protests over allegations of electoral fraud, but the protests were quickly suppressed. Deteriorating economic conditions due primarily to government mismanagement and international sanctions prompted at least two major economically based protests in July and October 2012, but Iran's internal security situation remained stable. President AHMADI-NEJAD's independent streak angered regime establishment figures, including the Supreme Leader, leading to conservative opposition to his agenda for the last year of his presidency, and an alienation of his political supporters. In June 2013, Iranians elected a centrist cleric Dr. Hasan Fereidun RUHANI to the presidency. A longtime senior member in the regime, he made promises of reforming society and Iran's foreign policy. In July 2015, Iran and the five permanent members, plus Germany (P5+1) signed the JCPOA under which Iran agreed to restrictions on its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief; however, the US reimposed sanctions in 2018 dealing a blow to RUHANI's legacy and the Iranian economy. Negotiations to restore the deal started in 2021 and are ongoing. Iran held elections in February 2020 for the Majles and the president in June 2021, resulting in a hardline and conservative monopoly across the regime's elected and unelected institutions. President Ebrahim RAISI is a hardline cleric with a decades-long career in Iran's judiciary and has had limited foreign policy and economic experience.
Formerly part of the Ottoman Empire, Iraq was occupied by the United Kingdom during World War I and was declared a League of Nations mandate under UK administration in 1920. Iraq attained its independence as a kingdom in 1932. It was proclaimed a "republic" in 1958 after a coup overthrew the monarchy, but in actuality, a series of strongmen ruled the country until 2003. The last was SADDAM Husayn from 1979 to 2003. Territorial disputes with Iran led to an inconclusive and costly eight-year war (1980-88). In August 1990, Iraq seized Kuwait but was expelled by US-led UN coalition forces during the Gulf War of January-February 1991. After Iraq's expulsion, the UN Security Council (UNSC) required Iraq to scrap all weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles and to allow UN verification inspections. Continued Iraqi noncompliance with UNSC resolutions led to the Second Gulf War in March 2003 and the ouster of the SADDAM Husayn regime by US-led forces.
In October 2005, Iraqis approved a constitution in a national referendum and, pursuant to this document, elected a 275-member Council of Representatives (COR) in December 2005. The COR approved most cabinet ministers in May 2006, marking the transition to Iraq's first constitutional government in nearly a half century. Iraq held elections for provincial councils in all governorates - except for Iraq's Kurdistan Region and Kirkuk - in January 2009 and in April and June 2013, and has repeatedly postponed the next provincial elections, originally planned for April 2017. Iraq has held four national legislative elections since 2006, most recently in October 2021 when 329 legislators were elected to the COR. The acting Iraqi National Intelligence Service Director General Mustafa al-KADHIMI became prime minister in May 2020 after the previous prime minister resigned in late 2019 because of widespread protests demanding more employment opportunities and an end to corruption. His mandate as prime minister was to guide Iraq toward an early national legislative election, which was held in October 2021.
Between 2014 and 2017, Iraq was engaged in a military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) to recapture territory lost in the western and northern portion of the country. Iraqi and allied forces recaptured Mosul, the country's second-largest city, in 2017 and drove ISIS out of its other urban strongholds. In December 2017, then-Prime Minister Haydar al-ABADI publicly declared victory against ISIS while continuing operations against the group's residual presence in rural areas. Also in late 2017, ABADI responded to an independence referendum held by the Kurdistan Regional Government by ordering Iraqi forces to take control of disputed territories across central and northern Iraq that were previously occupied and governed by Kurdish forces.
Celtic tribes arrived on the island between 600 and 150 B.C. Invasions by Norsemen that began in the late 8th century were finally ended when King Brian BORU defeated the Danes in 1014. Norman invasions began in the 12th century and set off more than seven centuries of Anglo-Irish struggle marked by fierce rebellions and harsh repressions. The Irish famine of the mid-19th century was responsible for a drop in the island's population by more than one quarter through starvation, disease, and emigration. For more than a century afterward, the population of the island continued to fall only to begin growing again in the 1960s. Over the last 50 years, Ireland's high birthrate has made it demographically one of the youngest populations in the EU.
The modern Irish state traces its origins to the failed 1916 Easter Monday Uprising that galvanized nationalist sentiment and fostered a guerrilla war resulting in independence from the UK in 1921 with the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the creation of the Irish Free State. The treaty was deeply controversial in Ireland in part because it helped solidify the partition of Ireland, with six of the island's 32 counties remaining in the UK as Northern Ireland. The split between pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty partisans led to the Irish Civil War (1922-23). The traditionally dominant political parties in Ireland, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, are de facto descendants of the opposing sides of the treaty debate. Ireland formally left the British Dominion in 1949 when Ireland declared itself a republic.
Deep sectarian divides between the Catholic and Protestant populations and systemic discrimination in Northern Ireland erupted into years of violence known as the "Troubles" that began in the 1960s. In 1998, the governments of Ireland and the UK, along with most political parties in Northern Ireland, reached the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement with the support of the US. This agreement helped end the Troubles and initiated a new phase of cooperation between the Irish and British Governments.
Ireland was neutral in World War II and continues its policy of military neutrality. Ireland joined the European Community in 1973 and the euro-zone currency union in 1999. The economic boom years of the Celtic Tiger (1995-2007) saw rapid economic growth, which came to an abrupt end in 2008 with the meltdown of the Irish banking system. As a small, open economy, Ireland has excelled at courting foreign direct investment, especially from US multi-nationals, which helped the economy recover from the financial crisis and insolated it from the economic shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Part of the Norwegian Kingdom of the Hebrides until the 13th century when it was ceded to Scotland, the isle came under the British crown in 1765. Current concerns include reviving the almost extinct Manx Gaelic language. The Isle of Man is a British Crown dependency, which makes it a self-governing possession of the British Crown that is not part of the UK. The UK Government, however, remains constitutionally responsible for its defense and international representation.
Israel has emerged as a regional economic and military powerhouse, leveraging its booming high-tech sector, massive defense industry, and concerns about Iran to foster partnerships around the world. The State of Israel was established in 1948. The UN General Assembly had proposed to partition the British Mandate for Palestine into an Arab and Jewish state. Arab states rejected the UN plan and were subsequently defeated militarily in the 1948 war that followed the withdrawal of the British on 14 May 1948. Israel was admitted as a member of the UN in 1949 and saw rapid population growth, primarily due to migration from Europe and the Middle East, over the following years. Israel and its Arab neighbors fought wars in 1967 and 1973 and Israel signed peace treaties with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the course of the 1967 war, and subsequently administered those territories through military authorities. Israel and Palestinian officials signed interim agreements in the 1990s that created an interim period of Palestinian self-rule in parts of the West Bank and Gaza. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. While the most recent formal efforts between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to negotiate final status issues occurred in 2013-2014, the US continues its efforts to advance peace. Immigration to Israel continues, with more than 20,000 new immigrants, mostly Jewish, in 2020.
The Israeli economy has undergone a dramatic transformation in the last 25 years, led by cutting-edge, high-tech sectors. Offshore gas discoveries in the Mediterranean, most notably in the Tamar and Leviathan gasfields, place Israel at the center of a potential regional natural gas market. However, longer-term structural issues such as low labor force participation among minority populations, low workforce productivity, high costs for housing and consumer staples, and a lack of competition, remain a concern for many Israelis and an important consideration for Israeli politicians. Former Prime Minister Benjamin NETANYAHU dominated Israel's political landscape from 2009 to June 2021, becoming Israel's longest serving prime minister before he was unseated by Naftali BENNETT, after Israel's fourth election in two years. BENNETT formed the most ideologically diverse coalition in Israel's history, including the participation of an Arab-Israeli party. He only served as prime minister for a year before stepping down on 1 July 2022 in favor of Yair LAPID. Israel signed normalization agreements – brokered by the US – with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco in late 2020 and reached an agreement with Sudan in early 2021.
Italy became a nation-state in 1861 when the regional states of the peninsula, along with Sardinia and Sicily, were united under King Victor EMMANUEL II. An era of parliamentary government came to a close in the early 1920s when Benito MUSSOLINI established a Fascist dictatorship. His alliance with Nazi Germany led to Italy's defeat in World War II. A democratic republic replaced the monarchy in 1946 and economic revival followed. Italy is a charter member of NATO and the European Economic Community (EEC) and its subsequent successors the EC and the EU. It has been at the forefront of European economic and political unification, joining the Economic and Monetary Union in 1999. Persistent problems include sluggish economic growth, high youth and female unemployment, organized crime, corruption, and economic disparities between southern Italy and the more prosperous north.
The island - "discovered" by Christopher COLUMBUS in 1494 - was settled by the Spanish early in the 16th century. The Native Taino, who had inhabited Jamaica for centuries, were gradually exterminated and replaced by African slaves. England seized the island in 1655 and established a plantation economy based on sugar, cocoa, and coffee. The abolition of slavery in 1834 freed a quarter million slaves, many of whom became small farmers. Jamaica gradually increased its independence from Britain. In 1958, it joined other British Caribbean colonies in forming the Federation of the West Indies. Jamaica withdrew from the Federation in 1961 and gained full independence in 1962. Deteriorating economic conditions during the 1970s led to recurrent violence as rival gangs affiliated with the major political parties evolved into powerful organized crime networks involved in international drug smuggling and money laundering. Violent crime, drug trafficking, corruption, the COVID-19 pandemic, and poverty pose significant challenges to the government today. Nonetheless, many rural and resort areas remain relatively safe and contribute substantially to the economy.
This desolate, arctic, mountainous island was named after a Dutch whaling captain who indisputably discovered it in 1614 (earlier claims are inconclusive). Visited only occasionally by seal hunters and trappers over the following centuries, the island came under Norwegian sovereignty in 1929. The long dormant Beerenberg volcano, the northernmost active volcano on earth, resumed activity in 1970 and the most recent eruption occurred in 1985.
In 1603, after decades of civil warfare, the Tokugawa shogunate (a military-led, dynastic government) ushered in a long period of relative political stability and isolation from foreign influence. For more than two centuries this policy enabled Japan to enjoy a flowering of its indigenous culture. Japan opened its ports after signing the Treaty of Kanagawa with the US in 1854 and began to intensively modernize and industrialize. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Japan became a regional power that was able to defeat the forces of both China and Russia. It occupied Korea, Formosa (Taiwan), and southern Sakhalin Island. In 1931-32 Japan occupied Manchuria, and in 1937 it launched a full-scale invasion of China. Japan attacked US forces in 1941 - triggering America's entry into World War II - and soon occupied much of East and Southeast Asia. After its defeat in World War II, Japan recovered to become an economic power and an ally of the US. While the emperor retains his throne as a symbol of national unity, elected politicians hold actual decision-making power. Following three decades of unprecedented growth, Japan's economy experienced a major slowdown starting in the 1990s, but the country remains an economic power. In March 2011, Japan's strongest-ever earthquake, and an accompanying tsunami, devastated the northeast part of Honshu island, killed thousands, and damaged several nuclear power plants. Prime Minister Shinzo ABE was reelected to office in December 2012, and embarked on ambitious economic and security reforms to improve Japan's economy and bolster the country's international standing. In November 2019, ABE became Japan's longest-serving post-war prime minister; he resigned in September 2020 and was succeeded by Yoshihide SUGA. Fumio KISHIDA became prime minister in October 2021.
Jersey and the other Channel Islands represent the last remnants of the medieval Duchy of Normandy that held sway in both France and England. These islands were the only British soil occupied by German troops in World War II. The Bailiwick of Jersey is a British Crown dependency, which means that it is not part of the UK but is rather a self-governing possession of the British Crown. However, the UK Government is constitutionally responsible for its defense and international representation.
Following World War I and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the League of Nations awarded Britain the mandate to govern much of the Middle East. Britain demarcated a semi-autonomous region of Transjordan from Palestine in 1921 and recognized ABDALLAH I from the Hashemite family as the country's first leader. The Hashemites also controlled Hijaz, or the western coastal area of modern day Saudi Arabia until 1925, when they were pushed out by Ibn SAUD and Wahhabi tribes. The country gained its independence in 1946 and thereafter became The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.The country has had four kings. Jordan's long-time ruler, King HUSSEIN (1953-99), successfully navigated competing pressures from the major powers (US, USSR, and UK), various Arab states, Israel, and Palestinian militants, which led to a brief civil war in 1970 referred to as "Black September" and ended in King HUSSEIN's ouster of the militants from Jordan. Jordan's borders also have changed. In 1948, Jordan took control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, eventually annexing those territories in 1950 and granting its new Palestinian residents Jordanian citizenship. In 1967, Jordan lost the West Bank and East Jerusalem to Israel in the Six-Day War but retained administrative claims until 1988 when King HUSSEIN permanently relinquished Jordanian claims to the West Bank in favor of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). King HUSSEIN signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, after Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Accords in 1993.
Jordanian kings continue to claim custodianship of the holy sites in Jerusalem by virtue of their Hashemite heritage as descendants of the Prophet Mohammad and agreements with Israel and Jerusalem-based religious and Palestinian leaders. After Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 War, it authorized the Jordanian-controlled Islamic Trust, or Waqf, to continue administering affairs in the Al Haram ash Sharif/Temple Mount holy compound, and the Jordan-Israel peace treaty reaffirmed Jordan's "special role" in administering the Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem.
King HUSSEIN died in 1999 and was succeeded by his eldest son, ABDALLAH II, who remains the current king. In 2009, King ABDALLAH II designated his son HUSSEIN as the Crown Prince. During his reign, ABDALLAH II has contended with a series of challenges, including the Arab Spring influx of refugees from neighboring states and a perennially weak economy.
Ethnic Kazakhs derive from a mix of Turkic nomadic tribes that migrated to the region in the 15th century. The Kazakh steppe was conquered by the Russian Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries, and Kazakhstan became a Soviet Republic in 1925. Repression and starvation caused by forced agricultural collectivization led to more than a million deaths in the early 1930s. During the 1950s and 1960s, the agricultural "Virgin Lands" program led to an influx of settlers (mostly ethnic Russians, but also other nationalities) and at the time of Kazakhstan’s independence in 1991, ethnic Kazakhs were a minority. Non-Muslim ethnic minorities departed Kazakhstan in large numbers from the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s and a national program has repatriated about a million ethnic Kazakhs (from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Mongolia, and the Xinjiang region of China) back to Kazakhstan. As a result of this shift, the ethnic Kazakh share of the population now exceeds two thirds.
Kazakhstan's economy is the largest in Central Asia, mainly due to the country's vast natural resources. Current issues include: diversifying the economy, attracting foreign direct investment, enhancing Kazakhstan's economic competitiveness, and strengthening economic relations with neighboring states and foreign powers.
Trade centers such as Mombasa have existed along the Kenyan and Tanzanian coastlines, known as the Land of Zanj, since at least the 2nd century. These centers traded with the outside world, including China, India, Indonesia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Persia. By around the 9th century, the mix of Africans, Arabs, and Persians who lived and traded there became known as Swahili ("people of the coast") with a distinct language (KiSwahili) and culture. The Portuguese arrived in the 1490s and, using Mombasa as a base, sought to monopolize trade in the Indian Ocean. The Portuguese were pushed out in the late 1600s by the combined forces of Oman and Pate, an island off the coast. In 1890, Germany and the UK divided up the region, with the UK taking the north and the Germans the south, including present-day Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda. The British established the East Africa Protectorate in 1895, which in 1920 was converted into a colony and named Kenya after its highest mountain. Numerous political disputes between the colony and the UK subsequently led to the violent Mau Mau Uprising, which began in 1952, and the eventual declaration of independence in 1963.Jomo KENYATTA, the founding president and an icon of the liberation struggle, led Kenya from independence in 1963 until his death in 1978, when Vice President Daniel Arap MOI took power in a constitutional succession. The country was a de facto one-party state from 1969 until 1982, after which time the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) changed the constitution to make itself the sole legal political party in Kenya. MOI acceded to internal and external pressure for political liberalization in late 1991. The ethnically fractured opposition failed to dislodge KANU from power in elections in 1992 and 1997, which were marred by violence and fraud. President MOI stepped down in December 2002 following fair and peaceful elections. Mwai KIBAKI, running as the candidate of the multiethnic, united opposition group, the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), defeated KANU candidate Uhuru KENYATTA, the son of founding president Jomo KENYATTA, and assumed the presidency following a campaign centered on an anticorruption platform.
KIBAKI's reelection in 2007 resulted in two months of post-election ethnic violence that caused the death of more than 1,100 people and the dislocation of hundreds of thousands. Opposition candidate, Raila ODINGA, accused the government of widespread vote rigging. African Union-sponsored mediation led by former UN Secretary General Kofi ANNAN resulted in a power-sharing accord that brought ODINGA into the government in the restored position of prime minister. The power sharing accord included a broad reform agenda, the centerpiece of which was constitutional reform. In 2010, Kenyans overwhelmingly adopted a new constitution in a national referendum. The new constitution introduced additional checks and balances to executive power and devolved power and resources to 47 newly created counties. It also eliminated the position of prime minister. Uhuru KENYATTA won the first presidential election under the new constitution in March 2013. KENYATTA won a second and final term in office in November 2017 following a contentious, repeat election. In August 2022, William RUTO won a close presidential election; he assumed the office the following month after the Kenyan Supreme Court upheld the victory.
Kiribati is made up of three distinct island groups - the Gilbert Islands, the Line Islands, and the Phoenix Islands. The first Austronesian voyagers arrived in the Gilbert Islands as early as 3000 B.C., but these islands were not widely settled until about A.D. 200 by Micronesians. Around 1300, Samoans and Tongans invaded the southern Gilbert Islands, bringing Polynesian cultural elements with them. Later arrivals by Fijians brought Melanesian elements to the Gilbert Islands, and extensive intermarriage between the Micronesian, Polynesian, and Melanesian people led to the creation of what would become Gilbertese cultural traditions by the time Europeans spotted the islands in the 1600s. The Phoenix Islands and Line Islands were both visited by various Melanesian and Polynesian peoples, but their isolation and lack of natural resources meant that long-term settlements were not possible and both island groups were uninhabited by the time of European contact.
Kiribati experienced sustained European contact by the 1760s; all three island groups were named and charted by 1826. American whaling ships frequently passed through the islands, and the UK declared a protectorate over the Gilbert and nearby Ellice Islands in 1892 to block growing US influence. Phosphate-rich Banaba Island was annexed to the protectorate in 1900. In 1916, the protectorate became a colony, and some Line Islands were added in 1916 and 1919, with the final ones added in 1972. The Phoenix Islands were added to the colony in 1937, and the UK agreed to share jurisdiction of some of them with the US because of their strategic location for aviation. Japan occupied the northern Gilbert Islands in 1941; the islands of Makin and Tarawa were the sites of major US amphibious victories over entrenched Japanese garrisons in 1943. The UK continued to rule the colony after World War II. The Ellice Islands became its own colony in 1974. The Gilbert Islands became fully self-governing in 1977 and independent in 1979 as Kiribati, the Gilbertese spelling of Gilberts. The US relinquished all claims to the sparsely inhabited Phoenix and Line Islands in a 1979 treaty of friendship.
In 1994, Kiribati adjusted the international date line to the east of the Line Islands, bringing all islands in the country to the same day and giving Kiribati the earliest time zone in the world. Kiribati is a leading climate change and marine protection advocate. The Phoenix Islands Protected Area was established in 2008; in 2010, it became the world's largest (and deepest) UNESCO World Heritage site. In 2012, Kiribati purchased a 22 sq km (8.5 sq mi) plot of land in Fiji for potential eventual resettlement of its population because of climate change.
The first recorded kingdom (Choson) on the Korean Peninsula dates from approximately 2300 B.C. Over the subsequent centuries, three main kingdoms - Kogoryo, Paekche, and Silla - were established on the Peninsula. By the 5th century A.D., Kogoryo emerged as the most powerful, with control over much of the Peninsula, as well as part of Manchuria (modern-day northeast China). However, Silla allied with the Chinese to create the first unified Korean state in the late 7th century (688). Following the collapse of Silla in the 9th century, Korea was unified under the Koryo (Goryeo; 918-1392) and the Chosen (Joseon; 1392-1910) dynasties.
Korea became the object of intense imperialistic rivalry between the Chinese (its traditional benefactor), Japanese, and Russian empires in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Following the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Korea was occupied by Imperial Japan. In 1910, Japan formally annexed the entire peninsula. After World War II, Korea was split with the northern half coming under Soviet-sponsored communist control. After the Korean War (1950-53), during which North Korea failed to conquer UN-backed South Korea (Republic of Korea, ROK), North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, DPRK), under its founder President KIM Il Sung, adopted a policy of juche ("self-reliance") as a check against outside influence. North Korea demonized the US as the ultimate threat to its social system through state-funded propaganda, and molded political, economic, and military policies around the core ideological objective of eventual unification of Korea under Pyongyang's control. KIM Il Sung's son, KIM Jong Il, was officially designated as his father's successor in 1980, assuming a growing political and managerial role until the elder KIM's death in 1994. Under KIM Jong Il's reign, North Korea continued developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. KIM Jong Un was publicly unveiled as his father's successor in 2010. Following KIM Jong Il's death in 2011, KIM Jong Un quickly assumed power and has since occupied the regime's highest political and military posts.
After decades of economic mismanagement and resource misallocation, the North since the mid-1990s has faced chronic food shortages and economic stagnation. In recent years, the North's domestic agricultural production has increased, but still falls far short of producing sufficient food to provide for its entire population. Starting in 2002, North Korea began to ease restrictions to allow semi-private markets, but has made few other efforts to meet its goal of improving the overall standard of living. New economic development plans in the 2010s failed to meet government-mandated goals for key industrial sectors, food production, or overall economic performance. In response, the North Korean leader in early 2021 admitted these failures, but vowed to continue "self-reliant" policies.
North Korea has a history of provocative regional military actions and posturing that are of major concern to the international community and have limited North Korea’s international engagement, particularly economically. These include proliferation of military-related items; long-range missile development; WMD programs including tests of nuclear devices in 2006, 2009, 2013, 2016, and 2017; and large conventional armed forces. In 2013, North Korea declared a policy of simultaneous development of its nuclear weapons program and economy. In late 2017, KIM Jong Un declared the North's nuclear weapons development complete. In 2018, KIM announced a pivot towards diplomacy, including a re-prioritization of economic development, a pause in missile testing beginning in late 2017, and a refrain from anti-US rhetoric starting in June 2018. Since 2018, KIM has participated in four meetings with Chinese President XI Jinping, three with South Korean President MOON Jae-in, and three with US President TRUMP. Since 2019, North Korea has continued developing its ballistic missile program and issued statements condemning the US, and vowing to further strengthen its military capabilities, including long range missiles and nuclear weapons. North Korea remains one of the world’s most isolated and one of Asia’s poorest countries.
The first recorded kingdom (Choson) on the Korean Peninsula dates from approximately 2300 B.C. Over the subsequent centuries, three main kingdoms - Kogoryo, Paekche, and Silla - were established on the Peninsula. By the 5th century A.D., Kogoryo emerged as the most powerful, with control over much of the Peninsula, as well as part of Manchuria (modern-day northeast China). However, Silla allied with the Chinese to create the first unified Korean state in the late 7th century (688). Following the collapse of Silla in the 9th century, Korea was unified under the Koryo (Goryeo; 918-1392) and the Chosen (Joseon; 1392-1910) dynasties.
Korea became the object of intense imperialistic rivalry between the Chinese (its traditional benefactor), Japanese, and Russian empires in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Following the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Korea was occupied by Imperial Japan. In 1910, Tokyo formally annexed the entire Peninsula. Korea regained its independence following Japan's surrender to the US and its allies in 1945. After World War II, a democratic government (Republic of Korea, ROK) was set up in the southern half of the Korean Peninsula while a communist-style government was installed in the north (North Korea; aka Democratic People's Republic of Korea, DPRK). During the Korean War (1950-53), US troops and UN forces fought alongside ROK soldiers to defend South Korea from a North Korean invasion supported by communist China and the Soviet Union. A 1953 armistice split the Peninsula along a demilitarized zone at about the 38th parallel. PARK Chung-hee took over leadership of the country in a 1961 coup. During his regime from 1961 to 1979, South Korea achieved rapid economic growth, with per capita income rising to roughly 17 times the level of North Korea in 1979.
PARK was assassinated in 1979, and subsequent years were marked by political turmoil and continued authoritarian rule as the country's pro-democracy movement grew. South Korea held its first free presidential election under a revised democratic constitution in 1987, with former South Korean Army general ROH Tae-woo winning a close race. In 1993, KIM Young-sam (1993-98) became the first civilian president of South Korea's new democratic era. President KIM Dae-jung (1998-2003) won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his contributions to South Korean democracy and his "Sunshine Policy" of engagement with North Korea. President PARK Geun-hye, daughter of former South Korean President PARK Chung-hee, took office in February 2013 as South Korea's first female leader. In December 2016, the National Assembly passed an impeachment motion against President PARK over her alleged involvement in a corruption and influence-peddling scandal, immediately suspending her presidential authorities. The impeachment was upheld in March 2017, triggering an early presidential election in May 2017 won by MOON Jae-in.
South Korea hosted the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in February 2018, in which North Korea also participated. Discord with North Korea has permeated inter-Korean relations for much of the past decade, highlighted by North Korea's attacks on a South Korean ship and island in 2010, the exchange of artillery fire across the DMZ in 2015, and multiple nuclear and missile tests in 2016 and 2017. North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympics, dispatch of a senior delegation to Seoul, and three inter-Korean summits in 2018 appear to have ushered in a temporary period of respite, buoyed by the historic US-North Korea summits in 2018 and 2019. Nevertheless, relations were stagnant into early 2022.
The central Balkans were part of the Roman and Byzantine Empires before ethnic Serbs migrated to the territories of modern Kosovo in the 7th century. During the medieval period, Kosovo became the center of a Serbian Empire and saw the construction of many important Serb religious sites, including many architecturally significant Serbian Orthodox monasteries. The defeat of Serbian forces at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 led to five centuries of Ottoman rule during which large numbers of Turks and Albanians moved to Kosovo. By the end of the 19th century, Albanians replaced Serbs as the dominant ethnic group in Kosovo. Serbia reacquired control over the region from the Ottoman Empire during the First Balkan War of 1912. After World War II, Kosovo's present-day boundaries were established when Kosovo became an autonomous province of Serbia in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (S.F.R.Y.). Despite legislative concessions, Albanian nationalism increased in the 1980s, which led to riots and calls for Kosovo's independence. The Serbs - many of whom viewed Kosovo as their cultural heartland - instituted a new constitution in 1989 revoking Kosovo's autonomous status. Kosovo's Albanian leaders responded in 1991 by organizing a referendum declaring Kosovo independent. Serbia undertook repressive measures against the Kosovar Albanians in the 1990s, provoking a Kosovar Albanian insurgency.
Beginning in 1998, Serbia conducted a brutal counterinsurgency campaign that resulted in massacres and massive expulsions of ethnic Albanians (some 800,000 ethnic Albanians were forced from their homes in Kosovo). After international attempts to mediate the conflict failed, a three-month NATO military operation against Serbia beginning in March 1999 forced the Serbs to agree to withdraw their military and police forces from Kosovo. UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999) placed Kosovo under a transitional administration, the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, pending a determination of Kosovo's future status. A UN-led process began in late 2005 to determine Kosovo's final status. The 2006-07 negotiations ended without agreement between Belgrade and Pristina, though the UN issued a comprehensive report on Kosovo's final status that endorsed independence. On 17 February 2008, the Kosovo Assembly declared Kosovo independent. Since then, close to 100 countries have recognized Kosovo, and it has joined numerous international organizations. In October 2008, Serbia sought an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the legality under international law of Kosovo's declaration of independence. The ICJ released the advisory opinion in July 2010 affirming that Kosovo's declaration of independence did not violate general principles of international law, UN Security Council Resolution 1244, or the Constitutive Framework. The opinion was closely tailored to Kosovo's unique history and circumstances.
Demonstrating Kosovo’s development into a sovereign, multi-ethnic, democratic country, the international community ended the period of Supervised Independence in 2012. Kosovo held its most recent national and municipal elections in 2021, ushering in a government led by the Self-Determination Movement's (VV) Albin KURTI, a former political prisoner who did not fight in the 1998-99 war. Serbia continues to reject Kosovo's independence, but the two countries agreed in April 2013 to normalize their relations through EU-facilitated talks, which produced several subsequent agreements the parties are implementing to varying degrees, though they have not yet reached a comprehensive normalization of relations. Kosovo has pursued bilateral recognitions and memberships in international organizations, moves that Serbia strongly opposes. Kosovo signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU in 2015, and the EU named Kosovo as among the six Western Balkan countries that will be able to join the organization once it meets the criteria to accede. Kosovo also seeks memberships in the UN and in NATO.
Kuwait has been ruled by the AL-SABAH dynasty since the 18th century. The threat of Ottoman invasion in 1899 prompted Amir Mubarak AL-SABAH to seek protection from Britain, ceding foreign and defense responsibility to Britain until 1961, when the country attained its independence. Kuwait was attacked and overrun by Iraq in August 1990. Following several weeks of aerial bombardment, a US-led UN coalition began a ground assault in February 1991 that liberated Kuwait in four days. In 1992, the Amir reconstituted the parliament that he had dissolved in 1986. Amid the 2010-11 uprisings and protests across the Arab world, stateless Arabs, known as Bidoon, staged small protests in early 2011 demanding citizenship, jobs, and other benefits available to Kuwaiti nationals. Other demographic groups, notably Islamists and Kuwaitis from tribal backgrounds, soon joined the growing protest movements, which culminated in late 2011 with the resignation of the prime minister amidst allegations of corruption. Demonstrations renewed in late 2012 in response to an amiri decree amending the electoral law that lessened the voting power of the tribal blocs.
An opposition coalition of Sunni Islamists, tribal populists, and some liberals, largely boycotted legislative elections in 2012 and 2013, which ushered in a legislature more amenable to the government's agenda. Faced with the prospect of painful subsidy cuts, oppositionists and independents actively participated in the November 2016 election, winning nearly half of the seats, but a cohesive opposition alliance largely ceased to exist with the 2016 election and the opposition became increasingly factionalized. Since coming to power in 2006, the Amir has dissolved the National Assembly on seven occasions (the Constitutional Court annulled the Assembly elections in June 2012 and again in June 2013) and shuffled the cabinet over a dozen times, usually citing political stagnation and gridlock between the legislature and the government.
The current Amir, who assumed his role in 2020, launched a "National Dialogue" in September 2021 meant to resolve political gridlock. As part of the "National Dialogue," the Amir pardoned several opposition figures who had been living in exile, and they returned to Kuwait. Legislative challenges remain, and the cabinet was reshuffled in March 2022.
A Central Asian country of incredible natural beauty and proud nomadic traditions, most of the territory of present-day Kyrgyzstan was formally annexed by the Russian Empire in 1876. The Kyrgyz staged a major revolt against the Tsarist Empire in 1916 in which almost one-sixth of the Kyrgyz population was killed. Kyrgyzstan became a Soviet republic in 1926 and achieved independence in 1991 when the USSR dissolved. Nationwide demonstrations in 2005 and 2010 resulted in the ouster of the country’s first two presidents, Askar AKAEV and Kurmanbek BAKIEV. Interim President Roza OTUNBAEVA led a transitional government and following a nation-wide election, President Almazbek ATAMBAEV was sworn in as president in 2011. In 2017, ATAMBAEV became the first Kyrgyzstani president to step down after serving one full six-year term as required in the country’s constitution. Former prime minister and ruling Social-Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan member, Sooronbay JEENBEKOV, replaced him after winning the 2017 presidential election, which was the most competitive in the country’s history, although international and local election observers noted cases of vote buying and abuse of public resources. In October 2020, protests against legislative election results spread across Kyrgyzstan, leading to JEENBEKOV’s resignation from the presidency, and catapulting previously imprisoned Sadyr JAPAROV to acting president. In January 2021, Kyrgyzstanis formerly elected JAPAROV as president and approved a referendum to move Kyrgyzstan from a parliamentary to a presidential system. In April 2021, Kyrgyzstanis voted in favor of draft constitutional changes that consolidated power in the presidency. Pro-government parties won a majority in the Jogorku Kenesh (Kyrgyzstan’s legislature) in November 2021 elections. Continuing concerns for Kyrgyzstan include the trajectory of democratization, endemic corruption, a history of tense, and at times violent, interethnic relations, border security vulnerabilities, and potential terrorist threats.
Modern-day Laos has its roots in the ancient Lao kingdom of Lan Xang, established in the 14th century under King FA NGUM. For 300 years Lan Xang had influence reaching into present-day Cambodia and Thailand, as well as over all of what is now Laos. After centuries of gradual decline, Laos came under the domination of Siam (Thailand) from the late 18th century until the late 19th century, when it became part of French Indochina. The Franco-Siamese Treaty of 1907 defined the current Lao border with Thailand. In 1975, the communist Pathet Lao took control of the government, ending a six-century-old monarchy and instituting a strict socialist regime closely aligned to Vietnam. A gradual, limited return to private enterprise and the liberalization of foreign investment laws began in 1988. Laos became a member of ASEAN in 1997 and the WTO in 2013.
In the 2010s, the country benefited from direct foreign investment, particularly in the natural resource and industry sectors. Construction of a number of large hydropower dams and expanding mining activities have also boosted the economy. Laos has retained its official commitment to communism and maintains close ties with its two communist neighbors, Vietnam and China, both of which continue to exert substantial political and economic influence on the country. China, for example, provided 70% of the funding for a $5.9 billion, 400-km railway line between the Chinese border and the capital Vientiane, which opened for operations in December 2021. Laos financed the remaining 30% with loans from China. At the same time, Laos has expanded its economic reliance on the West and other Asian countries, such as Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand.
Several eastern Baltic tribes merged in medieval times to form the ethnic core of the Latvian people (ca. 8th-12th centuries A.D.). The region subsequently came under the control of Germans, Poles, Swedes, and finally, Russians. A Latvian republic emerged following World War I, but it was annexed by the USSR in 1940 - an action never recognized by the US and many other countries. Latvia reestablished its independence in 1991 following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Although the last Russian troops left in 1994, the status of the Russian minority (some 25% of the population) remains of concern to Moscow. Latvia acceded to both NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004; it joined the euro zone in 2014 and the OECD in 2016. A dual citizenship law was adopted in 2013, easing naturalization for non-citizen children.
As a result of its location at the crossroads of three continents, the area that is modern-day Lebanon is rich in cultural and religious diversity. This region was subject to various foreign conquests for much of its history, including by the Romans, Arabs, and Ottomans. Following World War I, France acquired a mandate over the northern portion of the former Ottoman Empire province of Syria. From it the French demarcated the region of Lebanon in 1920, and it gained independence in 1943. Since then, Lebanon has experienced periods of political turmoil interspersed with prosperity built on its historical position as a regional center for finance and trade, although that status has significantly diminished since the beginning of Lebanon’s economic crisis in 2019, which includes simultaneous currency, debt, and banking crises. The country's 1975-90 civil war, which resulted in an estimated 120,000 fatalities, was followed by years of social and political instability. Sectarianism is a key element of Lebanese political life. Neighboring Syria has historically influenced Lebanon's foreign and domestic policies, and its military occupied Lebanon from 1976 until 2005. Hizballah - a major Lebanese political party, militia, and US-designated foreign terrorist organization - and Israel continued attacks and counterattacks against each other after Syria's withdrawal, and fought a brief war in 2006. Lebanon's borders with Syria and Israel remain unresolved.
Paramount chief MOSHOESHOE I consolidated what would become Basutoland in the early 19th century and made himself king in 1822. Continuing encroachments by Dutch settlers from the neighboring Orange Free State caused the king to enter into an 1868 agreement with the UK by which Basutoland became a British protectorate, and after 1884, a crown colony. Upon independence in 1966, the country was renamed the Kingdom of Lesotho. The Basotho National Party ruled the country during its first two decades. King MOSHOESHOE II was exiled in 1990, but returned to Lesotho in 1992 and was reinstated in 1995 and subsequently succeeded by his son, King LETSIE III, in 1996. Constitutional government was restored in 1993 after seven years of military rule. In 1998, violent protests and a military mutiny following a contentious election prompted a brief but bloody intervention by South African and Batswana military forces under the aegis of the Southern African Development Community. Subsequent constitutional reforms restored relative political stability. Peaceful parliamentary elections were held in 2002, but the National Assembly elections in 2007 were hotly contested and aggrieved parties disputed how the electoral law was applied to award proportional seats in the Assembly. In 2012, competitive elections involving 18 parties saw Prime Minister Motsoahae Thomas THABANE form a coalition government - the first in the country's history - that ousted the 14-year incumbent, Pakalitha MOSISILI, who peacefully transferred power the following month. MOSISILI returned to power in snap elections in February 2015 after the collapse of THABANE’s coalition government and an alleged attempted military coup. In June 2017, THABANE returned to become prime minister.
With 28 ethnic groups and languages, Liberia is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. For hundreds of years, the Mali and Songhai Empires claimed most of Liberia. Beginning in the 15th century, European traders began establishing outposts along the Liberian coast. Unlike its neighbors, however, Liberia did not fall under European colonial rule. In the early 19th century, the US began sending freed enslaved people and other people of color to Liberia to establish settlements. In 1847, these settlers declared independence from the US, writing their own constitution and establishing Africa’s first republic.
Early in Liberia’s history, tensions arose between the Americo-Liberian settlers and the indigenous population. In 1980, Samuel DOE, who was from the indigenous population, led a military coup and ushered in a decade of authoritarian rule. In December 1989, Charles TAYLOR launched a rebellion against DOE's regime that led to a prolonged civil war in which DOE was killed. A period of relative peace in 1997 permitted an election that brought TAYLOR to power. In 2000, fighting resumed. An August 2003 peace agreement ended the war and prompted President TAYLOR’s resignation. TAYLOR was later convicted by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague for his involvement in Sierra Leone's civil war. In late 2005, President Ellen JOHNSON SIRLEAF became president after two years of transitional governments; she was the first female head of state in Africa. In 2011, JOHNSON SIRLEAF won reelection but struggled to rebuild Liberia's economy, particularly following the 2014-15 Ebola epidemic, and to reconcile a nation still recovering from 14 years of fighting. In 2017, former soccer star George WEAH won the presidential runoff election, marking the first successful transfer of power from one democratically elected government to another since the end of Liberia’s civil wars. Like his predecessor, WEAH has struggled to improve the country’s economy. The next presidential election is scheduled for 2023.
Berbers have inhabited central north Africa since ancient times, but the region has been settled and ruled by Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Persians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Vandals. In the the 7th century, Islam spread through the region; in the mid-16th century, Ottoman rule began. The Italians supplanted the Ottoman Turks in the area around Tripoli in 1911 and did not relinquish their hold until 1943 when they were defeated in World War II. Libya then passed to UN administration and achieved independence in 1951. Following a 1969 military coup, Col. Muammar al-QADHAFI assumed leadership and began to espouse his political system at home, which was a combination of socialism and Islam. During the 1970s, QADHAFI used oil revenues to promote his ideology outside Libya, supporting subversive and terrorist activities that included the downing of two airliners - one over Scotland, another in Northern Africa - and a discotheque bombing in Berlin. UN sanctions in 1992 isolated QADHAFI politically and economically following the attacks; sanctions were lifted in 2003 following Libyan acceptance of responsibility for the bombings and agreement to claimant compensation. QADHAFI also agreed to end Libya's program to develop weapons of mass destruction, and he made significant strides in normalizing relations with Western nations.
Unrest that began in several Middle Eastern and North African countries in late 2010 erupted in Libyan cities in early 2011. QADHAFI's brutal crackdown on protesters spawned an eight-month civil war that saw the emergence of a National Transitional Council (NTC), UN authorization of air and naval intervention by the international community, and the toppling of the QADHAFI regime. In 2012, the NTC handed power to an elected parliament, the General National Congress (GNC). Voters chose a new parliament to replace the GNC in June 2014 - the House of Representatives (HoR) - which relocated to the eastern city of Tobruk after fighting broke out in Tripoli and Benghazi in July 2014.
In December 2015, the UN brokered an agreement among a broad array of Libyan political parties and social groups - known as the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) - establishing an interim executive body, the Government of National Accord (GNA). However, the HoR and defunct-GNC-affiliated political hardliners continued to oppose the GNA and hamper the LPA’s implementation, leaving Libya with eastern and western-based rival governments. In September 2017, UN Special Representative Ghassan SALAME announced a new roadmap for national political reconciliation. In November 2018, the international community supported SALAME’s recalibrated Action Plan for Libya that aimed to break the political deadlock by holding a National Conference in early 2019. These plans, however, were derailed when the eastern-based self-described Libyan National Army (LNA) launched an offensive to seize Tripoli in April 2019. Several countries sent armed personnel and advanced military equipment into Libya. The LNA's offensive collapsed in June 2020, and a subsequent UN-sponsored cease-fire in October 2020 helped formalize the pause in fighting between rival camps, although foreign forces, fighters, and mercenaries that aided eastern and western factions during the fighting remain in Libya.
In early 2021, the UN-facilitated Libyan Political Dialogue Forum selected a new prime minister for an interim government, the Government of National Unity (GNU), and a new presidential council charged with preparing for presidential and parliamentary elections in December 2021 and uniting the country’s state institutions. The HoR approved the GNU and its cabinet in March 2021, providing Libya with its first unified government since 2014. On 22 December 2021, Libya's parliament postponed the first round of the presidential election to an undetermined date in the future. Talks in June 2022 failed to reach agreement on eligibility requirements for presidential candidates.
The Principality of Liechtenstein was established within the Holy Roman Empire in 1719. Occupied by both French and Russian troops during the Napoleonic Wars, it became a sovereign state in 1806 and joined the German Confederation in 1815. Liechtenstein became fully independent in 1866 when the Confederation dissolved. Until the end of World War I, it was closely tied to Austria, but the economic devastation caused by that conflict forced Liechtenstein to enter into a customs and monetary union with Switzerland. Since World War II (in which Liechtenstein remained neutral), the country's low taxes have spurred outstanding economic growth. In 2000, shortcomings in banking regulatory oversight resulted in concerns about the use of financial institutions for money laundering. However, Liechtenstein implemented anti-money laundering legislation and a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with the US that went into effect in 2003.
Lithuanian lands were united under MINDAUGAS in 1236; over the next century, through alliances and conquest, Lithuania extended its territory to include most of present-day Belarus and Ukraine. By the end of the 14th century Lithuania was the largest state in Europe. An alliance with Poland in 1386 led the two countries into a union through the person of a common ruler. In 1569, Lithuania and Poland formally united into a single dual state, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This entity survived until 1795 when its remnants were partitioned by surrounding countries. Lithuania regained its independence following World War I but was annexed by the USSR in 1940 - an action never recognized by the US and many other countries. On 11 March 1990, Lithuania became the first of the Soviet republics to declare its independence, but Moscow did not recognize this proclamation until September of 1991 (following the abortive coup in Moscow). The last Russian troops withdrew in 1993. Lithuania subsequently restructured its economy for integration into Western European institutions; it joined both NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004. In 2015, Lithuania joined the euro zone, and it joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2018.
Founded in 963, Luxembourg became a grand duchy in 1815 and an independent state under the Netherlands. It lost more than half of its territory to Belgium in 1839 but gained a larger measure of autonomy. In 1867, Luxembourg attained full independence under the condition that it promise perpetual neutrality. Overrun by Germany in both world wars, it ended its neutrality in 1948 when it entered into the Benelux Customs Union and when it joined NATO the following year. In 1957, Luxembourg became one of the six founding countries of the EEC (later the EU), and in 1999 it joined the euro currency zone.
Colonized by the Portuguese in the 16th century, Macau was the first European settlement in the Far East. Pursuant to an agreement signed by China and Portugal on 13 April 1987, Macau became the Macau Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China on 20 December 1999. In this agreement, China promised that, under its "one country, two systems" formula, China's political and economic system would not be imposed on Macau, and that Macau would enjoy a "high degree of autonomy" in all matters except foreign affairs and defense for the subsequent 50 years.
Madagascar was one of the last major habitable landmasses on earth settled by humans. While there is some evidence of human presence on the island in the millennia B.C., large-scale settlement began between A.D. 350 and 550 with settlers from present-day Indonesia. The island attracted Arab and Persian traders as early as the 7th century, and migrants from Africa arrived around A.D. 1000. Madagascar was a pirate stronghold during the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and served as a slave trading center into the 19th century. From the 16th to the late 19th century, a native Merina Kingdom dominated much of Madagascar. The island was conquered by the French in 1896 who made it a colony; independence was regained in 1960.
During 1992-93, free presidential and National Assembly elections were held ending 17 years of single-party rule. In 1997, in the second presidential race, Didier RATSIRAKA, the leader during the 1970s and 1980s, returned to the presidency. The 2001 presidential election was contested between the followers of Didier RATSIRAKA and Marc RAVALOMANANA, nearly causing secession of half of the country. In 2002, the High Constitutional Court announced RAVALOMANANA the winner. RAVALOMANANA won a second term in 2006 but, following protests in 2009, handed over power to the military, which then conferred the presidency on the mayor of Antananarivo, Andry RAJOELINA, in what amounted to a coup d'etat. Following a lengthy mediation process led by the Southern African Development Community, Madagascar held UN-supported presidential and parliamentary elections in 2013. Former de facto finance minister Hery RAJAONARIMAMPIANINA won a runoff election in December 2013 and was inaugurated in January 2014. In January 2019, RAJOELINA was declared the winner of a runoff election against RAVALOMANANA; both RATSIRAKA and RAJAONARIMAMPIANINA also ran in the first round of the election, which took place in November 2018.
Malawi shares its name with the Chewa word for flames and is linked to the Maravi people from whom the Chewa language originated. The Maravi settled in what is now Malawi around 1400 during one of the later waves of Bantu migration across central and southern Africa. Several of Malawi’s ethnic groups trace their origins to different Maravi lineages. A powerful Maravi kingdom, established around 1500, reached its zenith around 1700, when it controlled what is now southern and central Malawi as well as portions of neighboring Mozambique and Zambia before beginning to decline because of destabilization from the escalating global trade in enslaved people. In the early 1800s, widespread conflict in southern Africa displaced various ethnic Ngoni groups, some of which moved into Malawi and further undermined the Maravi. Members of the Yao ethnic group - which had long traded with Malawi from Mozambique - introduced Islam and began to settle in Malawi in significant numbers in the mid-1800s; in the late 1800s, members of the Lomwe ethnic group also moved into southern Malawi from Mozambique. British missionary and trading activity increased in the area around Lake Nyasa in the mid-1800s, and Britain declared a protectorate, called British Central Africa, over what is now Malawi in 1891 and eliminated various political entities that sought to retain their autonomy over the subsequent decade. The British renamed the territory Nyasaland in 1907 and it was part of the colonial Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland - including present-day Zambia and Zimbabwe - from 1953 to 1963 before gaining independence as Malawi in 1964.
Hastings Kamuzu BANDA served as prime minister at independence and, when the country became a republic in 1966, he became president. He later instituted one-party rule under his Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and was declared president for life. After three decades of one-party rule, the country held multiparty presidential and parliamentary elections in 1994 under a provisional constitution that came into full effect the following year. Bakili MULUZI of the United Democratic Front party became the first freely elected president of Malawi when he defeated BANDA at the polls in 1994; he won reelection in 1999. President Bingu wa MUTHARIKA was elected in 2004 and subsequently started his own party, the Democratic Progressive Party, in 2005. MUTHARIKA was reelected to a second term in 2009. He died abruptly in 2012 and was succeeded by Vice President Joyce BANDA, who had earlier started her own party, the People's Party. MUTHARIKA's brother, Peter MUTHARIKA, defeated BANDA in the election in 2014. Peter MUTHARIKA was reelected in a disputed election in 2019 that resulted in countrywide protests. The courts ordered a new the election, and in 2020 Lazarus CHAKWERA of the MCP was elected president after defeating MUTHARIKA as head of a coalition of opposition parties. Population growth, increasing pressure on agricultural lands, corruption, and the scourge of HIV/AIDS pose major problems for Malawi.
Malaysia’s location has long made it an important cultural, economic, historical, social, and trade link between the islands of Southeast Asia and the mainland. Through the Strait of Malacca, which separates the Malay Peninsula from the archipelago, flowed maritime trade and with it influences from China, India, the Middle East, and the east coast of Africa. Prior to the 14th century, several powerful maritime empires existed in what is modern-day Malaysia, including the Srivijayan, which controlled much of the southern part of the peninsula between the 7th and 13th centuries, and the Majapahit Empire, which took control over most of the peninsula and the Malay Archipelago between the 13th and 14th centuries. The adoption of Islam between the 13th and 17th centuries also saw the rise of a number of powerful maritime states and sultanates on the Malay Peninsula and the island of Borneo, such as the port city of Malacca (Melaka), which at its height in the 15th century had a navy and hosted thousands of Chinese, Arab, Persian, and Indian merchants.
The Portuguese in the 16th century and the Dutch in the 17th century were the first European colonial powers to establish themselves on the Malay Peninsula and Southeast Asia. However, it was the British who ultimately secured their hegemony across the territory and during the late 18th and 19th centuries established colonies and protectorates in the area that is now Malaysia. These holdings were occupied by Japan from 1942 to 1945. In 1948, the British-ruled territories on the Malay Peninsula except Singapore formed the Federation of Malaya, which became independent in 1957. Malaysia was formed in 1963 when the former British colonies of Singapore, as well as Sabah and Sarawak on the northern coast of Borneo, joined the Federation. The first several years of the country's independence were marred by a communist insurgency, Indonesian confrontation with Malaysia, Philippine claims to Sabah, and Singapore's expulsion in 1965. During the 22-year term of Prime Minister MAHATHIR Mohamad (1981-2003), Malaysia was successful in diversifying its economy from dependence on exports of raw materials to the development of manufacturing, services, and tourism. Prime Minister MAHATHIR and a newly-formed coalition of opposition parties defeated Prime Minister Mohamed NAJIB bin Abdul Razak's United Malays National Organization (UMNO) in May 2018, ending over 60 years of uninterrupted rule by UMNO. MAHATHIR resigned in February 2020 amid a political dispute. King ABDULLAH then selected Tan Sri MUHYIDDIN Yassin as the new prime minister. MUHYIDDIN resigned in August 2021 after losing a majority of support in parliament. King ABDULLAH next selected ISMAIL SABRI Yakoob as the successor prime minister.
A sultanate since the 12th century, the Maldives became a British protectorate in 1887. The islands became a republic in 1968, three years after independence. President Maumoon Abdul GAYOOM dominated Maldives' political scene for 30 years, elected to six successive terms by single-party referendums. Following political demonstrations in the capital Male in August 2003, GAYOOM and his government pledged to embark upon a process of liberalization and democratic reforms, including a more representative political system and expanded political freedoms. Political parties were legalized in 2005.
In June 2008, a constituent assembly - termed the "Special Majlis" - finalized a new constitution ratified by GAYOOM in August 2008. The first-ever presidential elections under a multi-candidate, multi-party system were held in October 2008. GAYOOM was defeated in a runoff poll by Mohamed NASHEED, a political activist who had been jailed several years earlier by the GAYOOM regime. In early February 2012, after several weeks of street protests in response to his ordering the arrest of a top judge, NASHEED purportedly resigned the presidency and handed over power to Vice President Mohammed WAHEED Hassan Maniku. A government-appointed Commission of National Inquiry concluded there was no evidence of a coup, but NASHEED contends that police and military personnel forced him to resign. NASHEED, WAHEED, and Abdulla YAMEEN Abdul Gayoom ran in the 2013 elections with YAMEEN ultimately winning the presidency after three rounds of voting. As president, YAMEEN weakened democratic institutions, curtailed civil liberties, jailed his political opponents, restricted the press, and exerted control over the judiciary to strengthen his hold on power and limit dissent. In September 2018, YAMEEN lost his reelection bid to Ibrahim Mohamed SOLIH, a parliamentarian of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), who had the support of a coalition of four parties that came together to defeat YAMEEN and restore democratic norms to Maldives. In April 2019, SOLIH's MDP won 65 of 87 seats in parliament.
Present-day Mali is named after the Mali Empire that ruled the region between the 13th and 16th centuries. At its peak in the 14th century, it was the largest and wealthiest empire in West Africa and controlled an area about twice the size of modern-day France. Primarily a trading empire, Mali derived its wealth from gold and maintained several goldfields and trade routes in the Sahel. The empire also influenced West African culture through the spread of its language, laws, and customs, but by the 16th century it fragmented into mostly small chiefdoms. The Songhai Empire, previously a Mali dependency centered in Timbuktu, gained prominence in the 15th and 16th centuries. Under Songhai rule, Timbuktu became a large commercial center and well-known for its scholarship and religious teaching. Timbuktu remains a center of culture in West Africa today. In the late 16th century, the Songhai Empire fell to Moroccan invaders and disintegrated into independent sultanates and kingdoms.
France, expanding from Senegal, seized control of the area in the 1890s and incorporated it into French West Africa as French Sudan. In 1960, French Sudan gained independence from France and became the Mali Federation. When Senegal withdrew after only a few months, the remaining area was renamed the Republic of Mali. Mali saw 31 years of dictatorship until 1991, when a military coup led by Amadou Toumani TOURE ousted the government, established a new constitution, and instituted a multi-party democracy. President Alpha Oumar KONARE won Mali's first two democratic presidential elections in 1992 and 1997. In keeping with Mali's two-term constitutional limit, he stepped down in 2002 and was succeeded by Amadou Toumani TOURE, who won a second term in 2007.
In 2012, rising ethnic tensions and an influx of fighters - some linked to Al-Qa’ida - from Libya led to a rebellion and military coup. Following the coup, rebels expelled the military from the country’s three northern regions, allowing terrorist organizations to develop strongholds in the area. With French military intervention, the Malian Government managed to retake most of the north. However, the government’s grasp in the region remains weak with local militias, terrorists, and insurgent groups continuously trying to expand control. In 2015, the Malian Government and northern rebels signed an internationally mediated peace accord. Despite a June 2017 target for implementation of the agreement, the signatories have made little progress. Extremist groups were left out of the peace process, and terrorist attacks remain common.
Ibrahim Boubacar KEITA won the Malian presidential elections in 2013 and 2018. Aside from security and logistic shortfalls, international observers deemed these elections credible. Terrorism, banditry, ethnic-based violence, and extra-judicial military killings plagued the country during KEITA’s second term. In August 2020, the military arrested KEITA, his prime minister, and other senior members of the government and established a military junta called the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP). In September 2020, the junta established a transition government and appointed Bah N’DAW, a retired army officer and former defense minister, as interim president and Colonel Assimi GOITA, the coup leader and chairman of the CNSP, as interim vice president. The transition government’s charter allowed it to rule for up to 18 months before calling a general election.
In May 2021, Colonel Assimi GOITA led a military takeover, arresting the interim president after a Cabinet shake up removed GOITA’s key allies. GOITA was sworn in as transition president in June 2021 and Choguel Kokalla MAIGA was sworn in as prime minister. In January 2022, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed sanctions against the transition government and member states closed their borders after the transition government presented a five-year extension to the electoral calendar. ECOWAS and the transition government continue to work to negotiate an acceptable electoral calendar.
With a civilization that dates back thousands of years, Malta boasts some of the oldest megalithic sites in the world. Situated in the center of the Mediterranean, Malta’s islands have long served as a strategic military asset, with the islands at various times having come under control of the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, and the French. Most recently a British colony (since 1814), Malta gained its independence in 1964 and declared itself a republic 10 years later. While under British rule, the island staunchly supported the UK through both world wars. Since about the mid-1980s, the island has transformed itself into a freight transshipment point, a financial center, and a tourist destination while its key industries moved toward more service-oriented activities. Malta became an EU member in May 2004 and began using the euro as currency in 2008.
Humans arrived in the Marshall Islands in the first millennium B.C. and gradually created permanent settlements on the various atolls. The early inhabitants were skilled navigators who frequently traveled between atolls using stick charts to map the islands. Society became organized under two paramount chiefs, one each for the Ratak (Sunrise) Chain and the Ralik (Sunset) Chain. The traditional hierarchy continued even after contact with Europeans in the early 1500s. Spain formally claimed the islands in 1592, but few other Europeans passed by the islands in the next two centuries. In 1788, British sea captain John MARSHALL undertook an exploratory voyage, and the islands were mapped in the early 1800s by Russian explorers. In the 1850s, US Protestant missionaries began arriving on the islands. Germany established a supply station on Jaluit Atoll and bought the islands from Spain in 1884, although paramount chiefs continued to rule.
Japan seized the Marshall Islands in 1914 and was granted a League of Nations Mandate to administer the islands in 1920. Japan built large military bases throughout the Marshall Islands, and during World War II, the US captured the bases on Kwajalein, Enewetak, and Majuro Atolls in Operations Flintlock and Catchpole. The Marshall Islands came under US administration as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI) in 1947. Between 1946 and 1958, the US resettled populations from Bikini and Enewetak Atolls and conducted 67 nuclear tests; people from Ailinginae and Rongelap Atolls were also evacuated because of nuclear fallout, and all four atolls remain largely uninhabited. In 1979, the Marshall Islands drafted a constitution separate from the rest of the TTPI and declared independence under President Amata KABUA, a paramount chief. In 2000, Kessai NOTE became the first commoner elected president. In 2016, Hilda HEINE was the first woman elected president.
In 1982, the Marshall Islands signed a Compact of Free Association (COFA) with the US, which granted the Marshall Islands financial assistance and access to many US domestic programs in exchange for exclusive US military access and defense responsibilities; the COFA entered into force in 1986 and its funding was renewed in 2003. The Marshall Islands hosts the US Army Kwajalein Atoll Reagan Missile Test Site, a key installation in the US missile defense network. Kwajalein also hosts one of four dedicated ground antennas that assist in the operation of the Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation system (the others are at Cape Canaveral, Florida (US), on Ascension (Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha), and at Diego Garcia (British Indian Ocean Territory)).
The Berber and Bafour people were among the first to settle in what is now Mauritania. Originally a nomadic people, they were among the first in recorded history to convert from a nomadic to agricultural lifestyle. These groups account for roughly one third of Mauritania’s ethnic makeup. The remainder of Mauritania’s ethnic groups derive from former enslaved peoples and Sub-Saharan ethnic groups originating mainly from the Senegal River Valley. These three groups are organized according to a strict caste system with deep ethnic divides that still exist today.
A former French colony, Mauritania achieved independence from France in 1960. Mauritania initially began as a single-party, authoritarian regime and saw 49 years of dictatorships, flawed elections, failed attempts at democracy, and military coups. Ould Abdel AZIZ led the last coup in 2008, and was elected president in 2009 and reelected in 2014. Mohamed Ould Cheikh GHAZOUANI was elected president in 2019, and his inauguration marked the first peaceful transition of power from one democratically elected president to another, solidifying Mauritania’s status as an emerging democracy. International observers recognized the elections as relatively free and fair.
The country is working to address a continuing practice of slavery and its vestiges. Mauritania officially abolished slavery in 1981, but the practice was not criminalized until 2007. Between 2005 and 2011, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) launched a series of attacks killing American and foreign tourists and aid workers, attacking diplomatic and government facilities, and ambushing Mauritanian soldiers and gendarmes. Although Mauritania has not seen an attack since 2011, AQIM and similar groups remain active in the Sahel region.
Although known to Arab and European sailors since at least the early 1500s, the island of Mauritius was uninhabited until 1638 when the Dutch established a settlement named in honor of Prince Maurits van NASSAU. Their presence led to the rapid disappearance of the flightless dodo bird that has since become one of the most well-known examples of extinction in modern times. The Dutch abandoned their financially distressed settlement in 1710, although a number of formerly enslaved people remained. In 1722, the French established what would become a highly profitable settlement focused on sugar cane plantations that were reliant on the labor of enslaved people brought to Mauritius from other parts of Africa. In the 1790s, the island had a brief period of autonomous rule when plantation owners rejected French control because of laws ending slavery that were temporarily in effect during the French Revolution. Britain captured the Island in 1810 as part of the Napoleonic Wars but kept most of the French administrative structure, which remains to this day in the form of the country’s legal codes and widespread use of the French Creole language. The abolition of slavery in 1835 - later than most other British colonies - led to increased reliance on contracted laborers from the Indian subcontinent to work on plantations. Today their descendants form the majority of the population. Mauritius remained a strategically important British naval base, and later an air station, playing a role during World War II for anti-submarine and convoy operations, as well as for the collection of signals intelligence.
Mauritius gained independence from the UK in 1968 as a Parliamentary Republic and has remained a stable democracy with regular free elections and a positive human rights record. The country also attracted considerable foreign investment and now has one of Africa's highest per capita incomes. Mauritius’ often fractious coalition politics has been dominated by two prominent families each of which has had father-son pairs who have been prime minister over multiple, often nonconsecutive, terms. Seewoosagur RAMGOOLAM (1968-76) was Mauritius’ first prime minister and he was succeeded by Anerood JUGNAUTH (1982-95, 2000-03, 2014-17); his son Navin RAMGOOLAM (1995-2000, 2005-14); and Paul Raymond BERENGER (2003-05), the only non-Hindu prime minister of post-independence Mauritius. In 2017, Pravind JUGNAUTH became prime minister after his father stepped down short of completing his term, and he was elected in his own right in 2019. Mauritius claims the French island of Tromelin and the British Chagos Archipelago (British Indian Ocean Territory). Since 2017, Mauritius has secured favorable UN General Assembly resolutions and an International Court of Justice advisory opinion relating to its sovereignty dispute with the UK.
The site of several advanced Amerindian civilizations - including the Olmec, Toltec, Teotihuacan, Zapotec, Maya, and Aztec - Mexico was conquered and colonized by Spain in the early 16th century. Administered as the Viceroyalty of New Spain for three centuries, it achieved independence early in the 19th century. Elections held in 2000 marked the first time since the 1910 Mexican Revolution that an opposition candidate - Vicente FOX of the National Action Party (PAN) - defeated the party in government, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). He was succeeded in 2006 by another PAN candidate Felipe CALDERON, but Enrique PENA NIETO regained the presidency for the PRI in 2012. Left-leaning anti-establishment politician and former mayor of Mexico City (2000-05) Andres Manuel LOPEZ OBRADOR, from the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), became president in December 2018.
The global financial crisis in late 2008 caused a massive economic downturn in Mexico the following year. Growth rebounded to about 5% in 2010, but then averaged roughly half that for the rest of the decade. Notwithstanding this challenge, Mexico is currently the largest goods trading partner of the US – with $614.5 billion in two-way goods trade during 2019. US exports of goods and services to Mexico supported 1.2 million jobs in the US in 2015 (the latest data available) according to estimates from the Department of Commerce. Mexico's GDP contracted by 8.2% in 2020 due to pandemic-induced closures, its lowest level since the Great Depression, but Mexico’s economy rebounded in 2021 when it grew by 4.8%, driven largely by increased remittances, despite supply chain and pandemic-related challenges.
The US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA, or T-MEC by its Spanish acronym) entered into force on 1 July 2020 and replaced its predecessor, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Mexico amended its constitution on 1 May 2019 to facilitate the implementation of the labor components of USMCA.
Ongoing economic and social concerns include low real wages, high underemployment, inequitable income distribution, and few advancement opportunities for the largely indigenous population in the impoverished southern states. Since 2007, Mexico's powerful transnational criminal organizations have engaged in a struggle to control criminal markets, resulting in tens of thousands of drug-related homicides and forced disappearances.
Each of the four states that compose the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) - Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap - has its own unique history and cultural traditions. The first humans arrived in what is now the FSM in the second millennium B.C. In the 800s A.D., construction of the artificial islets at the Nan Madol complex in Pohnpei began, with the main architecture being built around 1200. At its height, Nan Madol united the approximately 25,000 people of Pohnpei under the Saudeleur Dynasty. Around the same time, Kosrae was united in a kingdom centered in Leluh by 1250. Yap’s society became strictly hierarchical, with chiefs receiving tributes from islands up to 1,100 km (700 mi) away. Widespread human settlement in Chuuk began in the 1300s, and the different islands in the Chuuk Lagoon were frequently at war with one another.
Portuguese and Spanish explorers visited a few of the islands in the 1500s and Spain began exerting nominal, but not day-to-day, control over some of the islands - which they named the Caroline Islands - in the 1600s. Christian missionaries arrived in the 1800s, in particular to Chuuk and Kosrae. By the 1870s, nearly every Kosraean had converted to Christianity and religion continues to play an important role in daily life on the island. In 1899, Spain sold all of the FSM to Germany. Japan seized the islands in 1914 and was granted a League of Nations mandate to administer them in 1920. The Japanese navy built bases across most of the islands and headquartered their Pacific naval operations in Chuuk. The US bombed Chuuk in 1944 during Operation Hailstone in World War II, destroying 250 Japanese planes and 40 ships. The US military largely bypassed the other islands in its leapfrog campaign across the Pacific.
The FSM came under US administration as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands in 1947, which comprised six districts: Chuuk, the Marshall Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Pohnpei, and Yap; Kosrae was separated from Pohnpei into a separate district in 1977. In 1979, Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap ratified the FSM Constitution and declared independence while the other three districts opted to pursue separate political statuses. In 1982, the FSM signed a Compact of Free Association (COFA) with the US, which granted the FSM financial assistance and access to many US domestic programs in exchange for exclusive US military access and defense responsibilities; the COFA entered into force in 1986 and its funding was renewed in 2003. There are significant inter-island rivalries stemming from their different histories and cultures. Chuuk, the most populous but poorest state, has pushed for secession, but an independence referendum has been repeatedly postponed and may not be held.
Eligible Micronesians can live, work, and study in any part of the US and its territories without a visa - this privilege reduces stresses on the island economy and the environment. Micronesians serve in the US armed forces and military recruiting from the FSM, per capita, is higher than many US states.
A large portion of present day Moldovan territory became a province of the Russian Empire in 1812 and then unified with Romania in 1918 in the aftermath of World War I. This territory was then incorporated into the Soviet Union at the close of World War II. Although Moldova has been independent from the Soviet Union since 1991, Russian forces have remained on Moldovan territory east of the Nistru River in the breakaway region of Transnistria.
Years of Communist Party rule in Moldova from 2001-09 ultimately ended with election-related violent protests and a rerun of parliamentary elections in 2009. A series of pro-Europe ruling coalitions governed Moldova from 2010-19, but pro-Russia Igor DODON won the presidency in 2016 and his Socialist Party of the Republic of Moldova won a plurality in the legislative election in 2019. Pro-EU reformist candidate Maia SANDU defeated DODON in his reelection bid in November 2020 and the Party of Action and Solidarity, which SANDU founded in 2015, won a parliamentary majority in an early legislative election in July 2021. Prime Minister Natalia GAVRILITA and her cabinet took office in August 2021.
The Genoese built a fortress on the site of present day Monaco in 1215. The current ruling GRIMALDI family first seized control in 1297 but was not able to permanently secure its holding until 1419. Economic development was spurred in the late 19th century with a railroad linkup to France and the opening of a casino. Since then, the principality's mild climate, splendid scenery, and gambling facilities have made Monaco world famous as a tourist and recreation center.
The peoples of Mongolia have a long history under a number of nomadic empires dating back to the period of the Xiongnu in the 4th century B.C. The name Mongol goes back to at least the 11th century A.D. The most famous Mongol, TEMÜÜJIN (aka Genghis Khan) emerged as the ruler of all Mongols in the early 1200s. By the time of his death in 1227, he had created through conquest a Mongol Empire that extended across much of Eurasia. His descendants, including ÖGÖDEI and KHUBILAI (aka Kublai Khan), continued military campaigns of conquest, taking control of Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the rest of China where KHUBILAI established the Yuan Dynasty in the 1270s. The Mongols attempted to invade Japan and Java before their empire broke apart in the 14th century. In the 17th century, Mongolia fell under the rule of the Manchus of the Chinese Qing Dynasty. Following the collapse of the Manchus in 1911, Mongolia declared its independence, achieving it with help from the Soviet Union in 1921. Mongolia became a socialist state (the Mongolian People’s Republic) in 1924. Following independence and until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the country was a Soviet satellite state, and heavily reliant on economic, military, and political assistance from Moscow. The period also was marked by purges, political repression, economic stagnation, and tensions with China.
Mongolia peacefully transitioned to an independent democracy in 1990. In 1992, it adopted a new constitution and established a free market economy. Since the country's transition, it has conducted eight presidential and nine legislative elections as of 2021. Throughout the period, the ex-communist Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) - which took the name Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) in 2010 - has competed for political power with the Democratic Party (DP) and several other smaller parties, including a new party formed by former President ENKHBAYAR, which confusingly adopted for itself the MPRP name until it merged with MPP in 2021. In the 2016 parliamentary elections, the MPP won overwhelming control of the Parliament over the DP, which had overseen a sharp decline in Mongolia’s economy during its control of the Parliament in the preceding years. Mongolians elected a DP member, Khaltmaa BATTULGA, as president in 2017. The June 2020 parliamentary elections left the MPP with continued dominant control of the parliament. Mongolians elected former prime minister and MPP member Ukhnaa KHURELSUKH as president in 2021. Mongolia maintains close cultural, political, and military ties with Russia while China is its largest economic partner. Mongolia’s foreign relations are focused on preserving its autonomy by balancing relations with China and Russia, as well as its other major partners, Japan, South Korea, and the US.
The use of the name Crna Gora or Black Mountain (Montenegro) began in the 13th century in reference to a highland region in the Serbian province of Zeta. The later medieval state of Zeta maintained its existence until 1496 when Montenegro finally fell under Ottoman rule. Over subsequent centuries, Montenegro managed to maintain a level of autonomy within the Ottoman Empire. From the 16th to 19th centuries, Montenegro was a theocracy ruled by a series of bishop princes; in 1852, it transformed into a secular principality. Montenegro was recognized as an independent sovereign principality at the Congress of Berlin in 1878. After World War I, during which Montenegro fought on the side of the Allies, Montenegro was absorbed by the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, which became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929. At the conclusion of World War II, it became a constituent republic of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. When the latter dissolved in 1992, Montenegro joined with Serbia, creating the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and, after 2003, shifting to a looser State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. In May 2006, Montenegro invoked its right under the Constitutional Charter of Serbia and Montenegro to hold a referendum on independence from the two-state union. The vote for severing ties with Serbia barely exceeded 55% - the threshold set by the EU - allowing Montenegro to formally restore its independence on 3 June 2006. In 2017, Montenegro joined NATO and is currently completing its EU accession process, having officially applied to join the EU in December 2008.
English and Irish colonists from St. Kitts first settled on Montserrat in 1632; the first African slaves arrived three decades later. The British and French fought for possession of the island for most of the 18th century, but it finally was confirmed as a British possession in 1783. The island's sugar plantation economy was converted to small farm landholdings in the mid-19th century. Much of this island was devastated and two thirds of the population fled abroad because of the eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano that began on 18 July 1995. Montserrat has endured volcanic activity since, with the last eruption occurring in 2013.
In 788, about a century after the Arab conquest of North Africa, a series of Moroccan Muslim dynasties began to rule in Morocco. In the 16th century, the Sa'adi monarchy, particularly under Ahmad al-MANSUR (1578-1603), repelled foreign invaders and inaugurated a golden age. The Alaouite Dynasty, to which the current Moroccan royal family belongs, dates from the 17th century. In 1860, Spain occupied northern Morocco and ushered in a half-century of trade rivalry among European powers that saw Morocco's sovereignty steadily erode; in 1912, the French imposed a protectorate over the country. A protracted independence struggle with France ended successfully in 1956. The internationalized city of Tangier and most Spanish possessions were turned over to the new country that same year. Sultan MOHAMMED V, the current monarch's grandfather, organized the new state as a constitutional monarchy and in 1957 assumed the title of king. Since Spain's 1976 withdrawal from Western Sahara, Morocco has extended its de facto administrative control to roughly 75% of this territory; however, the UN does not recognize Morocco as the administering power for Western Sahara. The UN since 1991 has monitored a cease-fire between Morocco and the Polisario Front - an organization advocating the territory’s independence - and restarted negotiations over the status of the territory in December 2018. On 10 December 2020, the US recognized Morocco's sovereignty over all of Western Sahara.
King MOHAMMED VI in early 2011 responded to the spread of pro-democracy protests in the North Africa region by implementing a reform program that included a new constitution, passed by popular referendum in July 2011, under which some new powers were extended to parliament and the prime minister, but ultimate authority remains in the hands of the monarch. In November 2011, the Justice and Development Party (PJD) - a moderate Islamist party - won the largest number of seats in parliamentary elections, becoming the first Islamist party to lead the Moroccan Government. In September 2015, Morocco held its first direct elections for regional councils, one of the reforms included in the 2011 constitution. The PJD again won the largest number of seats in nationwide parliamentary elections in October 2016, but it lost its plurality to the probusiness National Rally of Independents (RNI) in September 2021. In December 2020, Morocco signed a normalization agreement with Israel, similar to those that Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Sudan had concluded with Israel earlier in 2020.
In the first half of the second millennium A.D., northern Mozambican port towns were frequented by traders from Somalia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Arabia, Persia, and India. The Portuguese were able to wrest much of the coastal trade from Arab Muslims in the centuries after 1500 and to set up their own colonies. Portugal did not relinquish Mozambique until 1975. Large-scale emigration, economic dependence on South Africa, a severe drought, and a prolonged civil war hindered the country's development until the mid-1990s. The ruling Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) party formally abandoned Marxism in 1989, and a new constitution the following year provided for multiparty elections and a free market economy. A UN-negotiated peace agreement between FRELIMO and rebel Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) forces ended the fighting in 1992. In 2004, Mozambique underwent a delicate transition as Joaquim CHISSANO stepped down after 18 years in office. His elected successor, Armando GUEBUZA, served two terms and then passed executive power to Filipe NYUSI in 2015. RENAMO’s residual armed forces intermittently engaged in a low-level insurgency after 2012, but a late December 2016 cease-fire eventually led to the two sides signing a comprehensive peace deal in August 2019. Elections in October 2019, challenged by Western observers and civil society as being problematic, resulted in resounding wins for NYUSI and FRELIMO across the country. Since October 2017, violent extremists - who an official ISIS media outlet recognized as ISIS's network in Mozambique for the first time in June 2019 - have been conducting attacks against civilians and security services in the northern province of Cabo Delgado. In 2021, Rwanda and the Southern African Development Community deployed forces to support Mozambique’s efforts to counter the extremist group.
Various ethnic groups occupied southwestern Africa prior to Germany establishing a colony over most of the territory in 1884. South Africa occupied the colony, then known as German South West Africa, in 1915 during World War I and administered it as a mandate until after World War II, when it annexed the territory. In 1966, the Marxist South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) guerrilla group launched a war of independence for the area that became Namibia, but it was not until 1988 that South Africa agreed to end its administration in accordance with a UN peace plan for the entire region. Namibia gained independence in 1990 and has been governed by SWAPO since, though the party has dropped much of its Marxist ideology. President Hage GEINGOB was elected in 2014 in a landslide victory, replacing Hifikepunye POHAMBA who stepped down after serving two terms. SWAPO retained its parliamentary super majority in the 2014 elections. In 2019 elections, GEINGOB was reelected but by a substantially reduced majority and SWAPO narrowly lost its super majority in parliament.
Nauru was inhabited by Micronesian and Polynesian settlers by around 1000 B.C., and the island was divided into 12 clans. Nauru developed in relative isolation because ocean currents made landfall on the island difficult. As a result, the Nauruan language does not clearly resemble any other in the Pacific region. In 1798, British sea captain John FEARN became the first European to spot the island. By 1830, European whalers used Nauru as a supply stop, trading firearms for food. In 1878, a civil war erupted on the island, reducing the population by more than a third. Germany forcibly annexed Nauru in 1888 by holding the 12 chiefs under house arrest until they consented to the annexation. Germany banned alcohol, confiscated weapons, instituted strict dress codes, and brought in Christian missionaries to convert the population. Phosphate was discovered in 1900 and heavily mined, although Nauru and Nauruans earned about one tenth of one percent of the profits from the phosphate deposits.
Australian forces captured Nauru from Germany during World War I, and in 1919, it was placed under a joint Australian-British-New Zealand mandate with Australian administration. Japan occupied Nauru during World War II and used its residents as forced labor elsewhere in the Pacific while destroying much of the infrastructure on the island. After the war, Nauru became a UN trust territory under Australian administration. Recognizing the phosphate stocks would eventually be depleted, in 1962, Australian Prime Minister Robert MENZIES offered to resettle all Nauruans on Curtis Island in Queensland, but Nauruans rejected that plan and opted for independence, which was achieved in 1968. In 1970, Nauru purchased the phosphate mining assets, and income from the mines made Nauruans among the richest people in the world. However, Nauru subsequently began a series of unwise investments in buildings, musical theater, and an airline. Nauru sued Australia in 1989 for the damage caused by mining when Australia administered the island. Widespread phosphate mining officially ceased in 2006.
Nauru went nearly bankrupt by 2000 and tried to rebrand itself as an offshore banking haven, although it ended that practice in 2005. In 2001, Australia set up the Nauru Regional Processing Center (NRPC), an offshore refugee detention facility, paying Nauru per person at the center. The NRPC was closed in 2008 but reopened in 2012. The number of refugees has steadily declined since 2014, and the remaining people were moved to a hotel in Brisbane, Australia, in 2020, effectively shuttering the NRPC. In a bid for Russian humanitarian aid, in 2008, Nauru recognized the breakaway Georgian republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
This uninhabited island was claimed by the US in 1857 for its guano. Mining took place between 1865 and 1898. The lighthouse, built in 1917, was shut down in 1996 and administration of Navassa Island transferred from the US Coast Guard to the Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs. A 1998 scientific expedition to the island described it as a "unique preserve of Caribbean biodiversity." The following year it became a National Wildlife Refuge and annual scientific expeditions have continued.
During the late 18th-early 19th centuries, the principality of Gorkha united many of the other principalities and states of the sub-Himalayan region into a Nepali Kingdom. Nepal retained its independence following the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814-16 and the subsequent peace treaty laid the foundations for two centuries of amicable relations between Britain and Nepal. (The Brigade of Gurkhas continues to serve in the British Army to the present day.) In 1951, the Nepali monarch ended the century-old system of rule by hereditary premiers and instituted a cabinet system that brought political parties into the government. That arrangement lasted until 1960, when political parties were again banned, but was reinstated in 1990 with the establishment of a multiparty democracy within the framework of a constitutional monarchy.
An insurgency led by Maoists broke out in 1996. During the ensuing 10-year civil war between Maoist and government forces, the monarchy dissolved the cabinet and parliament and re-assumed absolute power in 2002, after the crown prince massacred the royal family in 2001. A peace accord in 2006 led to the promulgation of an interim constitution in 2007. Following a nationwide Constituent Assembly (CA) election in 2008, the newly formed CA declared Nepal a federal democratic republic, abolished the monarchy, and elected the country's first president. After the CA failed to draft a constitution by a 2012 deadline set by the Supreme Court, then-Prime Minister Baburam BHATTARAI dissolved the CA. Months of negotiations ensued until 2013 when the major political parties agreed to create an interim government headed by then-Chief Justice Khil Raj REGMI with a mandate to hold elections for a new CA. Elections were held in 2013, in which the Nepali Congress (NC) won the largest share of seats in the CA and in 2014 formed a coalition government with the second-place Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) with NC President Sushil KOIRALA serving as prime minister. Nepal's new constitution came into effect in 2015, at which point the CA became the Parliament. Khagda Prasad Sharma OLI served as the first post-constitution prime minister from 2015 to 2016. OLI resigned ahead of a no-confidence motion against him, and Parliament elected Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) leader Pushpa Kamal DAHAL (aka "Prachanda") prime minister. The constitution provided for a transitional period during which three sets of elections – local, provincial, and national – needed to take place. The first local elections in 20 years occurred in three phases between May and September 2017, and state and federal elections proceeded in two phases in November and December 2017. The parties headed by OLI and DAHAL ran in coalition and swept the parliamentary elections, and OLI, who led the larger of the two parties, was sworn in as prime minister in February 2018. In May 2018, OLI and DAHAL announced the merger of their parties - the UML and CPN-M - to establish the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), which headed the government for roughly two years before infighting led the party to split. OLI from late 2020 sought to dissolve parliament and hold elections. The supreme court in July 2021 declared OLI's efforts unconstitutional and called for an appointment of the opposition-supported NC leader Sher Bahadur DEUBA as prime minister.
The Dutch United Provinces declared their independence from Spain in 1579; during the 17th century, they became a leading seafaring and commercial power, with settlements and colonies around the world. After a 20-year French occupation, a Kingdom of the Netherlands was formed in 1815. In 1830, Belgium seceded and formed a separate kingdom. The Netherlands remained neutral in World War I but suffered German invasion and occupation in World War II. A modern, industrialized nation, the Netherlands is also a large exporter of agricultural products. The country was a founding member of NATO and the EEC (now the EU) and participated in the introduction of the euro in 1999. In October 2010, the former Netherlands Antilles was dissolved and the three smallest islands - Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba - became special municipalities in the Netherlands administrative structure. The larger islands of Sint Maarten and Curacao joined the Netherlands and Aruba as constituent countries forming the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
In February 2018, the Sint Eustatius island council (governing body) was dissolved and replaced by a government commissioner to restore the integrity of public administration. According to the Dutch Government, the intervention will be as "short as possible and as long as needed."
The first humans settled in New Caledonia around 1600 B.C. The Lapita were skilled navigators and evidence of their pottery around the Pacific has served as a guide for understanding human expansion in the region. Successive waves of migrants from other islands in Melanesia intermarried with the Lapita, giving rise to the Kanak ethnic group considered indigenous to New Caledonia. British explorer James COOK was the first European to visit New Caledonia in 1774, giving it the Latin name for Scotland. Missionaries first landed in New Caledonia in 1840. In 1853, France annexed New Caledonia to preclude any British attempt to claim the island. France declared it a penal colony in 1864 and sent more than 20,000 prisoners to New Caledonia in the ensuing three decades.
Nickel was discovered in 1864 and French prisoners were directed to mine it. France brought in indentured servants and enslaved labor from elsewhere in Southeast Asia to work the mines, blocking Kanaks from accessing the most profitable part of the local economy. In 1878, High Chief ATAI led a rebellion against French rule. The Kanaks were relegated to reservations, leading to periodic smaller uprisings and culminating in a large revolt in 1917 that was brutally suppressed by colonial authorities. During World War II, New Caledonia became an important base for Allied troops, and the US moved its South Pacific headquarters to the island in 1942. Following the war, New Caledonia was made an overseas territory and French citizenship was granted to all inhabitants in 1953, thereby permitting the Kanaks to move off the reservations.
The Kanak nationalist movement began in the 1950s, but most voters chose to remain a territory in an independence referendum in 1958. The European population of New Caledonia boomed in the 1970s with a renewed focus on nickel mining, reigniting Kanak nationalism. Key Kanak leaders were assassinated in the early 1980s, leading to escalating violence and dozens of fatalities. The Matignon Accords of 1988 provided for a 10-year transition period. The Noumea Accord of 1998 transferred increasing governing responsibility from France to New Caledonia over a 20-year period and provided for three independence referenda. In the first held in 2018, voters rejected independence by 57% to 43%; in the second held in 2020, voters rejected independence 53% to 47%. In the third referendum held in December 2021, voters rejected independence 96% to 4%; however, a boycott by key Kanak groups spurred challenges about the legitimacy of the vote. In February 2021, pro-independence parties gained a majority in the New Caledonian Government for the first time.
Polynesian settlers may have arrived in New Zealand in the late 1200s, with widespread settlement in the mid-1300s. They called the land Aotearoa, which legend holds is the name of the canoe that Kupe, the first Polynesian in New Zealand, used to sail to the country; the name Aotearoa is now in widespread use as the local Maori name for the country. Competition for land and resources led to intermittent fighting between different Maori iwi (tribes) by the 1500s as large game became extinct. Dutch explorer Abel TASMAN was the first European to see the islands in 1642 but after an encounter with local Maori, he sailed away. British captain James COOK was the next European to arrive in New Zealand in 1769, followed by whalers, sealers, and traders. The UK only nominally claimed New Zealand and included it as part of New South Wales in Australia. Concerns about increasing lawlessness led the UK to appoint its first British Resident in New Zealand in 1832, although he had few legal powers. In 1835, some Maori iwi from the North Island declared independence as the United Tribes of New Zealand. Fearing an impending French settlement and takeover, they asked the British for protection. In 1840, the British negotiated their protection in the Treaty of Waitangi, which was eventually signed by more than 500 different Maori chiefs, although many chiefs did not or were not asked to sign. In the English-language version of the treaty, the British thought the Maori ceded their land to the UK, but translations of the treaty appeared to give the British less authority, and land tenure issues stemming from the treaty are still present and being actively negotiated in New Zealand.
The UK declared New Zealand a separate colony in 1841 and gave it limited self-government in 1852. Different traditions of authority and land use led to a series of wars from the 1840s to the 1870s fought between Europeans and various Maori iwi. Along with disease, these conflicts halved the Maori population. In the 1890s, New Zealand initially expressed interest in joining independence talks with Australia but ultimately opted against it and changed its status to an independent dominion in 1907. New Zealand provided more than 100,000 troops during each World War, many of whom fought as part of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). New Zealand reaffirmed its independence in 1947, signed the Australia, New Zealand, and US (ANZUS) Treaty, and militarily supported the US in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Beginning in 1984, New Zealand began to adopt nuclear-free policies, contributing to a dispute with the US over naval ship visits that led the US to suspend its defense obligations to New Zealand in 1986.
In recent years, New Zealand has explored reducing some of its ties to the UK. There in an active, minority movement about changing New Zealand to a republic, and in 2015-16, a referendum on changing the New Zealand flag to remove the Union Jack failed 57% to 43%.
The Pacific coast of Nicaragua was settled as a Spanish colony from Panama in the early 16th century. Independence from Spain was declared in 1821 and the country became an independent republic in 1838. Britain occupied the Caribbean Coast in the first half of the 19th century, but gradually ceded control of the region in subsequent decades. Violent opposition to governmental manipulation and corruption spread to all classes by 1978 and resulted in a short-lived civil war that brought a civic-military coalition, spearheaded by the Marxist Sandinista guerrillas led by Daniel ORTEGA Saavedra to power in 1979. Nicaraguan aid to leftist rebels in El Salvador prompted the US to sponsor anti-Sandinista contra guerrillas through much of the 1980s. After losing free and fair elections in 1990, 1996, and 2001, former Sandinista President Daniel ORTEGA was elected president in 2006, 2011, 2016, and most recently in 2021. Municipal, regional, and national-level elections since 2008 have been marred by widespread irregularities. Democratic institutions have weakened under the ORTEGA regime as the president has garnered full control over all branches of government, especially after cracking down on a nationwide pro-democracy protest movement in 2018. In the lead-up to the 2021 presidential election, authorities arrested over 40 individuals linked to the political opposition, including presidential candidates, private sector leaders, NGO workers, human rights defenders, and journalists. Only five lesser-known presidential candidates of mostly small parties allied to ORTEGA's Sandinistas were allowed to run against ORTEGA in the November 2021 election.
Present-day Niger originated from the nomadic peoples of the Saharan north and the agriculturalists of the south. The Taureg kingdom of Takedda was one of the largest kingdoms in the north and played a prominent role in regional trade in the 14th century. In the south, the primary ethnic groups were the Songhai-Zarma in the west, the Hausa in the center, and the Kanuri in the east. When European colonizers arrived in the 19th century, the region was an assemblage of disparate local kingdoms.
In the late 19th century, the British and French agreed to partition the middle regions of the Niger River, and France began its conquest of what would become the colony of Niger. France experienced determined local resistance - particularly during the Tuareg uprising (1916-1917) - but established a colonial administration in 1922.
After achieving independence from France in 1960, Niger experienced single-party or military rule until 1991 when political pressure forced General Ali SAIBOU to allow multiparty elections. Political infighting and democratic backsliding led to coups in 1996 and 1999. In December of that year, military officers restored democratic rule and held elections that brought Mamadou TANDJA to power. TANDJA was reelected in 2004 and spearheaded a 2009 constitutional amendment allowing him to extend his presidential term. In February 2010, military officers led another coup that deposed TANDJA. ISSOUFOU Mahamadou was elected in April 2011 and reelected in early 2016. In February 2021, BAZOUM Mohammed won the presidential election, marking Niger’s first transition from one democratically elected president to another.
Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world with minimal government services and insufficient funds to develop its resource base. It is ranked last in the world on the UN Development Programme's Human Development Index. The largely agrarian and subsistence-based economy is frequently disrupted by extended droughts common to the Sahel region of Africa. The Nigerien Government continues its attempts to diversify the economy through increased oil production and mining projects. In addition, Niger is facing increased security concerns on its borders from various external threats including insecurity in Libya, spillover from the conflict and terrorism in Mali, and violent extremism in northeastern Nigeria.
In ancient and pre-colonial times, the area of present-day Nigeria was occupied by a great diversity of ethnic groups with different languages and traditions. These included Islamic empires in northern Nigeria and smaller organized political groupings in southern Nigeria. British influence and control over what would become Nigeria and Africa's most populous country grew through the 19th century. In 1914, the British amalgamated their separately administered northern and southern territories into modern-day Nigeria. A series of constitutions after World War II granted Nigeria greater autonomy. After independence in 1960, politics were marked by coups and mostly military rule, until the death of a military head of state in 1998 allowed for a political transition. In 1999, a new constitution was adopted and a peaceful transition to civilian government was completed. The government continues to face the daunting task of institutionalizing democracy and reforming a petroleum-based economy, whose revenues have been squandered through decades of corruption and mismanagement. In addition, Nigeria continues to experience longstanding ethnic and religious tensions. Although both the 2003 and 2007 presidential elections were marred by significant irregularities and violence, Nigeria is currently experiencing its longest period of civilian rule since independence. The general elections of 2007 marked the first civilian-to-civilian transfer of power in the country's history. National and state elections in 2011 and 2015 were generally regarded as credible. The 2015 election was also heralded for the fact that the then-umbrella opposition party, the All Progressives Congress, defeated the long-ruling People's Democratic Party that had governed since 1999, and assumed the presidency, marking the first peaceful transfer of power from one party to another. Presidential and legislative elections were held in early 2019 and deemed broadly free and fair despite voting irregularities, intimidation, and violence.
Voyagers from Samoa first settled on Niue around A.D. 900 and a second main group of settlers came from Tonga around 1500. With only one reliable source of fresh water, conflict was high on the island. There was continued contact with both Samoa and Tonga, and customs from those islands heavily influenced Niuean culture, including the formation of an island-wide kingship system in the early 1700s. These kings, or patu-iki, were elected by Niueans. In 1774, British explorer James COOK abandoned attempts to land on the island after several unsuccessful tries, and he named it Savage Island because of the warlike appearance of the Niueans. Missionaries arrived in 1830 but were also largely unsuccessful at staying on the island until 1846, when a Niuean trained as a Samoan missionary returned to the island and provided a space from which the missionaries could work. In addition to converting the population, the missionaries worked to stop the violent conflicts between Niueans and helped establish the first parliament in 1849.
In 1889, King FATAAIKI and other chiefs asked the UK for protectorate status, a request that was repeated in 1895. The UK finally agreed in 1900 and King TOGIA-PULU-TOAKI formally ceded Niue that year. In 1901, Niue was annexed to New Zealand and included as part of the Cook Islands. Niue’s remoteness and cultural and linguistic differences with the Cook Islands led New Zealand to separate Niue into its own administration in 1904. The island became internally self-governing in 1974; it is an independent member of international organizations but is in free association with New Zealand, which is responsible for defense and foreign affairs.
Economic opportunities in Niue are sparse. The population has trended downwards over recent decades, with substantial emigration to New Zealand. In 2004, a cyclone destroyed much of the southern part of the capital, Alofi, and left about 15% of the population homeless. Many chose not to rebuild and instead moved to New Zealand (2,400 km to the southwest), where approximately 90% of all ethnic Niueans live.
Polynesians lived on Norfolk Island between 1200 and 1500 but the remote island was uninhabited by the time British explorer James COOK landed on the island in 1774. Two British attempts at establishing the island as a penal colony (1788-1814 and 1825-55) were ultimately abandoned.
In 1856, almost 200 Pitcairn Islanders - descendants of the Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian companions - were relocated to Norfolk Island because of overcrowding on the Pitcairn Islands. Some returned to the Pitcairn Islands over the next few years but most settled permanently on Norfolk Island and recreated the land tenure and governance structures they previously had. Norfolk Island retained a great degree of local control until 1897, when it became a dependency of New South Wales. During World War II, Norfolk Island was an airbase and an important refueling stop in the South Pacific. In 1976, an Australian judge recommended Norfolk Island be incorporated fully into Australia, which Norfolk Islanders rejected. Following an appeal to the UN, Australia granted limited self-government to Norfolk Island in 1979.
With growing financial troubles during the 2000s, Australia abolished the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly in 2015, reduced Norfolk Island’s autonomy in 2016, and suspended the local council in 2020. Most services are provided by a mix of the Australian Capital Territory and the states of New South Wales and Queensland. These moves were unpopular on Norfolk Island, which has sought to have its self-government restored.
North Macedonia gained its independence peacefully from Yugoslavia in 1991 under the name of "Macedonia." Greek objection to the new country’s name, insisting it implied territorial pretensions to the northern Greek province of Macedonia, and democratic backsliding for several years stalled the country’s movement toward Euro-Atlantic integration. Immediately after Macedonia declared independence, Greece sought to block Macedonian efforts to gain UN membership if the name "Macedonia" was used. The country was eventually admitted to the UN in 1993 as "The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia," and at the same time it agreed to UN-sponsored negotiations on the name dispute. In 1995, Greece lifted a 20-month trade embargo and the two countries agreed to normalize relations, but the issue of the name remained unresolved and negotiations for a solution continued. Over time, the US and over 130 other nations recognized Macedonia by its constitutional name, Republic of Macedonia. Ethnic Albanian grievances over perceived political and economic inequities escalated into a conflict in 2001 that eventually led to the internationally brokered Ohrid Framework Agreement, which ended the fighting and established guidelines for constitutional amendments and the creation of new laws that enhanced the rights of minorities. In January 2018, the government adopted a new law on languages, which elevated the Albanian language to an official language at the national level, with the Macedonian language remaining the sole official language in international relations. Relations between ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians remain complicated, however.
North Macedonia's pro-Western government has used its time in office since 2017 to sign a historic deal with Greece in June 2018 to end the name dispute and revive Skopje's NATO and EU membership prospects. This followed a nearly three-year political crisis that engulfed the country but ended in June 2017 following a six-month-long government formation period after a closely contested election in December 2016. The crisis began after the 2014 legislative and presidential election, and escalated in 2015 when the opposition party began releasing wiretapped material that revealed alleged widespread government corruption and abuse. Although an EU candidate since 2005, North Macedonia has yet to open EU accession negotiations. The country still faces challenges, including fully implementing reforms to overcome years of democratic backsliding and stimulating economic growth and development. In June 2018, Macedonia and Greece signed the Prespa Accord whereby the Republic of Macedonia agreed to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia. Following ratification by both countries, the agreement went in to force on 12 February 2019. North Macedonia signed an accession protocol to become a NATO member state in February 2019.
The Northern Mariana Islands were settled by Austronesian people around 1500 B.C. These people became the indigenous Chamorro and were influenced by later migrations, including of Micronesians in the first century A.D., and island Southeast Asians around 900. Spanish explorer Ferdinand MAGELLAN sailed through the Mariana Islands in 1521 and Spain claimed them in 1565. Spain formally colonized the Mariana Islands in 1668 and administered the archipelago from Guam. Spain’s brutal repression of the Chamorro, along with new diseases and intermittent warfare, reduced the indigenous population by about 90% in the 1700s. With a similar dynamic occurring on Guam, Spain forced the Chamorro from the Northern Mariana Islands to resettle on Guam and prevented them from returning to their home islands. By the time the Northern Mariana Islands’ Chamorro returned, many other Micronesians, including Chuukese and Yapese, had already settled on their islands.
In 1898, Spain ceded Guam to the US following the Spanish-American War but sold the Northern Mariana Islands to Germany under the German-Spanish Treaty of 1899. Germany administered the territory from German New Guinea but took a hands-off approach to day-to-day life. Following World War I, Japan administered the islands under a League of Nations mandate. Japan focused on sugar production and brought in thousands of Japanese laborers, who quickly outnumbered the Chamorro on the islands. During World War II, Japan invaded Guam from the Northern Mariana Islands and used Marianan Chamorro as translators with Guamanian Chamorro, creating friction between the two Chamorro communities that continues to this day. The US captured the Northern Mariana Islands in 1944 after the Battle of Saipan and administered them post-World War II as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI).
On four occasions in the 1950s and 1960s, voters opted for integration with Guam, although Guam rejected it in 1969. In 1978, the Northern Mariana Islands was granted self-government separate from the rest of the TTPI and in 1986, islanders were granted US citizenship and the territory came under US sovereignty as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). In 2009, the CNMI became the final US territory to elect a nonvoting delegate to the US Congress.
Two centuries of Viking raids into Europe tapered off following the adoption of Christianity by King Olav TRYGGVASON in 994; conversion of the Norwegian kingdom occurred over the next several decades. In 1397, Norway was absorbed into a union with Denmark that lasted more than four centuries. In 1814, Norwegians resisted the cession of their country to Sweden and adopted a new constitution. Sweden then invaded Norway but agreed to let Norway keep its constitution in return for accepting the union under a Swedish king. Rising nationalism throughout the 19th century led to a 1905 referendum granting Norway independence. Although Norway remained neutral in World War I, it suffered heavy losses to its shipping. Norway proclaimed its neutrality at the outset of World War II but was nonetheless occupied for five years by Nazi Germany (1940-45). In 1949, Norway abandoned neutrality and became a member of NATO. Discovery of oil and gas in adjacent waters in the late 1960s boosted Norway's economic fortunes. In referenda held in 1972 and 1994, Norway rejected joining the EU. Key domestic issues include immigration and integration of ethnic minorities, maintaining the country's extensive social safety net with an aging population, and preserving economic competitiveness.
The inhabitants of the area of Oman have long prospered from Indian Ocean trade. In the late 18th century, the nascent sultanate in Muscat signed the first in a series of friendship treaties with Britain. Over time, Oman's dependence on British political and military advisors increased, although the sultanate never became a British colony. In 1970, QABOOS bin Said Al-Said overthrew his father, and ruled as sultan for the next five decades. His extensive modernization program opened the country to the outside world. He prioritized strategic ties with the UK and US, and his moderate, independent foreign policy allowed Oman to maintain good relations with its neighbors and to avoid external entanglements.
Inspired by the popular uprisings that swept the Middle East and North Africa beginning in January 2011, some Omanis staged demonstrations, calling for more jobs and economic benefits and an end to corruption. In response to those protester demands, QABOOS in 2011 pledged to implement economic and political reforms, such as granting Oman’s bicameral legislative body more power and authorizing direct elections for its lower house, which took place in November 2011. Additionally, the sultan increased unemployment benefits, and, in August 2012, issued a royal directive mandating the speedy implementation of a national job creation plan for thousands of public and private sector Omani jobs. As part of the government's efforts to decentralize authority and allow greater citizen participation in local governance, Oman successfully conducted its first municipal council elections in December 2012. Announced by the sultan in 2011, the municipal councils have the power to advise the Royal Court on the needs of local districts across Oman's 11 governorates. Sultan QABOOS, Oman's longest reigning monarch, died on 11 January 2020. His cousin, HAYTHAM bin Tariq bin Taimur Al-Said, former Minister of Heritage and Culture, was sworn in as Oman's new sultan the same day.
The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the world's five oceans (followed by the Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Southern Ocean, and Arctic Ocean). Strategically important access waterways include the La Perouse, Tsugaru, Tsushima, Taiwan, Singapore, and Torres Straits.The decision by the International Hydrographic Organization in the spring of 2000 to delimit a fifth ocean, the Southern Ocean, removed the portion of the Pacific Ocean south of 60 degrees south.
The Indus Valley civilization, one of the oldest in the world and dating back at least 5,000 years, spread over much of what is presently Pakistan. During the second millennium B.C., remnants of this culture fused with the migrating Indo-Aryan peoples. The area underwent successive invasions in subsequent centuries from the Persians, Greeks, Scythians, Arabs (who brought Islam), Afghans, and Turks. The Mughal Empire flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries; the British came to dominate the region in the 18th century. The separation in 1947 of British India into the Muslim state of Pakistan (with West and East sections) and largely Hindu India was never satisfactorily resolved, and India and Pakistan fought two wars and a limited conflict - in 1947-48, 1965, and 1999 respectively - over the disputed Kashmir territory. A third war between these countries in 1971 - in which India assisted an indigenous movement reacting to the marginalization of Bengalis in Pakistani politics - resulted in East Pakistan becoming the separate nation of Bangladesh.
In response to Indian nuclear weapons testing, Pakistan conducted its own tests in mid-1998. India-Pakistan relations improved in the mid-2000s but have been rocky since the November 2008 Mumbai attacks and have been further strained by Indian reports of cross-border militancy. Imran KHAN took office as prime minister in 2018 after the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party won a plurality of seats in the July 2018 general elections. Pakistan has been engaged in a decades-long armed conflict with militant groups that target government institutions and civilians, including the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other militant networks.
Humans arrived in the Palauan archipelago around 1000 B.C. from Southeast Asia and developed a complex, highly organized matrilineal society where high-ranking women picked the chiefs. The islands were the westernmost part of the widely scattered Pacific islands north of New Guinea that Spanish explorers named the Caroline Islands in the 17th century. There were several failed attempts by Spanish Jesuit missionaries to visit the islands in the early 1700s. Spain gained some influence in the islands and administered it from the Philippines but sold Palau to Germany in 1899 after it lost the Philippines in the Spanish-American War.
Japan seized Palau in 1914, was granted a League of Nations mandate to administer the islands in 1920, and made Koror the capital of its South Seas Mandate in 1922. By the outbreak of World War II, there were four times as many Japanese living in Koror as Palauans. In 1944, the Battle of Peleliu between US and Japanese forces resulted in more than 15,000 deaths. Following the war, Palau became part of the US-administered Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.
Palau voted against joining the Federated States of Micronesia in 1978 and adopted its own constitution in 1981, which stated that Palau was a nuclear-free country. In 1982, Palau signed a Compact of Free Association (COFA) with the US, which granted Palau financial assistance and access to many US domestic programs in exchange for exclusive US military access and defense responsibilities. However, many Palauans saw the COFA as incompatible with the Palauan Constitution because of the US military’s nuclear arsenal, and seven referenda failed to achieve ratification. Following a constitutional amendment and eighth referendum in 1993, the COFA was ratified and entered into force in 1994 when the islands gained their independence. Its funding was renewed in 2010.
Palau has been on the frontlines of combatting climate change and protecting marine resources. In 2011, Palau banned commercial shark fishing and created the world’s first shark sanctuary. In 2017, Palau began stamping the Palau Pledge into passports, reminding visitors to act in ecologically and culturally responsible ways. In 2020, Palau banned coral reef-toxic sunscreens and expanded its fishing prohibition to include 80% of its exclusive economic zone.
Explored and settled by the Spanish in the 16th century, Panama broke with Spain in 1821 and joined a union of Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela - named the Republic of Gran Colombia. When the latter dissolved in 1830, Panama remained part of Colombia. With US backing, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903 and promptly signed a treaty with the US allowing for the construction of a canal and US sovereignty over a strip of land on either side of the structure (the Panama Canal Zone). The Panama Canal was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914. In 1977, an agreement was signed for the complete transfer of the Canal from the US to Panama by the end of the century. Certain portions of the Zone and increasing responsibility over the Canal were turned over in the subsequent decades. With US help, dictator Manuel NORIEGA was deposed in 1989. The entire Panama Canal, the area supporting the Canal, and remaining US military bases were transferred to Panama by the end of 1999. An ambitious expansion project to more than double the Canal's capacity - by allowing for more Canal transits and larger ships - was carried out between 2007 and 2016.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) was first settled between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago. PNG’s harsh geography consisting of mountains, jungles, and numerous river valleys, kept many of the arriving groups isolated, giving rise to PNG’s incredible ethnic and linguistic diversity. Agriculture was independently developed by some of these groups. Around 500 B.C., Austronesian voyagers settled along the coast. Spanish and Portuguese explorers periodically visited the island starting in the 1500s, but none made it into the country’s interior. American and British whaling ships frequented the islands off the coast of New Guinea in the mid-1800s. In 1884, Germany declared a protectorate - and eventually a colony - over the northern part of what would become PNG and named it German New Guinea; days later the UK followed suit on the southern part and nearby islands and called it Papua. Most of their focus was on the coastal regions, leaving the highlands largely unexplored.
The UK put its colony under Australian administration in 1902 and formalized the act in 1906. At the outbreak of World War I, Australia occupied German New Guinea and continued to rule it after the war as a League of Nations Mandate. The discovery of gold along the Bulolo River in the 1920s, led prospectors to venture into the highlands, where they found about 1 million people living in isolated communities. Japan invaded New Guinea in 1941 and reached Papua the following year. Allied victories during the New Guinea campaign pushed out the Japanese, and after the end of the war, Australia combined the two territories into one administration. Sir Michael SOMARE won elections in 1972 on the promise of achieving independence, which was realized in 1975.
A secessionist movement in Bougainville, an island well endowed in copper and gold resources, reignited in 1988 with debates about land use, profits, and an influx of outsiders at the Panguna Copper Mine. Following elections in 1992, the PNG Government took a hardline stance against Bougainville rebels and the resulting civil war led to about 20,000 deaths. In 1997, the PNG Government hired mercenaries to support its troops in Bougainville, sparking an army mutiny and forcing the prime minister to resign. PNG and Bougainville signed a truce in 1997 and a peace agreement in 2001, which granted Bougainville autonomy. An internationally-monitored nonbinding referendum asking Bougainvilleans to chose independence or greater self-rule occurred in November 2019, with 98% of voters opting for independence.
The Paracel Islands are surrounded by productive fishing grounds and by potential oil and gas reserves. In 1932, French Indochina annexed the islands and set up a weather station on Pattle Island; maintenance was continued by its successor, Vietnam. China has occupied all the Paracel Islands since 1974, when its troops seized a South Vietnamese garrison occupying the western islands. China built a military installation on Woody Island with an airfield and artificial harbor, and has scattered garrisons on some of the other islands. The Paracel islands also are claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.
Several Indigenous groups, principally belonging to the Guarani language family, inhabited the area of modern Paraguay before the arrival of the Spanish in the early 16th century, when the territory was incorporated into the Viceroyalty of Peru. Paraguay achieved its independence from Spain in 1811 with the help of neighboring states. In the aftermath of independence, a series of military dictators ruled the country until 1870. During the disastrous War of the Triple Alliance (1864-70) - fought against Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay - Paraguay lost two thirds of its adult males and much of its territory. The country stagnated economically for the next half century and experienced a tumultuous series of political regimes. Following the Chaco War of 1932-35 with Bolivia, Paraguay gained a large part of the Chaco lowland region. The 35-year military dictatorship of Alfredo STROESSNER ended in 1989, and Paraguay has held relatively free and regular presidential elections since the country's return to democracy.
Ancient Peru was the seat of several prominent Andean civilizations, most notably that of the Incas whose empire was captured by Spanish conquistadors in 1533. Peru declared its independence in 1821, and remaining Spanish forces were defeated in 1824. After a dozen years of military rule, Peru returned to democratic leadership in 1980 but experienced economic problems and the growth of a violent insurgency. President Alberto FUJIMORI's election in 1990 ushered in a decade that saw a dramatic turnaround in the economy and significant progress in curtailing guerrilla activity. Nevertheless, the president's increasing reliance on authoritarian measures and an economic slump in the late 1990s generated mounting dissatisfaction with his regime, which led to his resignation in 2000. A caretaker government oversaw a new election in the spring of 2001, which installed Alejandro TOLEDO Manrique as the new head of government - Peru's first democratically elected president of indigenous ethnicity. The presidential election of 2006 saw the return of Alan GARCIA Perez who, after a disappointing presidential term from 1985 to 1990, oversaw a robust economic rebound. Former army officer Ollanta HUMALA Tasso was elected president in June 2011, and carried on the sound, market-oriented economic policies of the three preceding administrations. Poverty and unemployment levels have fallen dramatically in the last decade, and today Peru boasts one of the best performing economies in Latin America. Pedro Pablo KUCZYNSKI Godard won a very narrow presidential runoff election in June 2016. Facing impeachment after evidence surfaced of his involvement in a vote-buying scandal, President KUCZYNSKI offered his resignation on 21 March 2018. Two days later, First Vice President Martin Alberto VIZCARRA Cornejo was sworn in as president. On 30 September 2019, President VIZCARRA invoked his constitutional authority to dissolve Peru's Congress after months of battling with the body over anticorruption reforms. New congressional elections took place on 26 January 2020 resulting in the return of an opposition-led legislature. President VIZCARRA was impeached by Congress on 9 November 2020 for a second time and removed from office after being accused of corruption and mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of vacancies in the vice-presidential positions, constitutional succession led to the President of the Peruvian Congress, Manuel MERINO, becoming the next president of Peru. His ascension to office was not well received by the population, and large protests forced his resignation on 15 November 2020. On 17 November, Francisco SAGASTI assumed the position of President of Peru after being appointed President of the Congress the previous day. Jose Pedro CASTILLO Terrones won the second round of presidential elections on 6 June 2021 and was inaugurated on 28 July.
The Philippine Islands became a Spanish colony during the 16th century; they were ceded to the US in 1898 following the Spanish-American War. In 1935 the Philippines became a self-governing commonwealth. Manuel QUEZON was elected president and was tasked with preparing the country for independence after a 10-year transition. In 1942 the islands fell under Japanese occupation during World War II, and US forces and Filipinos fought together during 1944-45 to regain control. On 4 July 1946 the Republic of the Philippines attained its independence. A 21-year rule by Ferdinand MARCOS ended in 1986, when a "people power" movement in Manila ("EDSA 1") forced him into exile and installed Corazon AQUINO as president. Her presidency was hampered by several coup attempts that prevented a return to full political stability and economic development. Fidel RAMOS was elected president in 1992. His administration was marked by increased stability and by progress on economic reforms. In 1992, the US closed its last military bases on the islands. Joseph ESTRADA was elected president in 1998. He was succeeded by his vice-president, Gloria MACAPAGAL-ARROYO, in January 2001 after ESTRADA's stormy impeachment trial on corruption charges broke down and another "people power" movement ("EDSA 2") demanded his resignation. MACAPAGAL-ARROYO was elected to a six-year term as president in May 2004. Her presidency was marred by several corruption allegations, but the Philippine economy was one of the few to avoid contraction following the 2008 global financial crisis, expanding each year of her administration. Benigno AQUINO III was elected to a six-year term as president in May 2010 and was succeeded by Rodrigo DUTERTE in May 2016.
The Philippine Government faces threats from several groups, some of which are on the US Government's Foreign Terrorist Organization list. Manila has waged a decades-long struggle against ethnic Moro insurgencies in the southern Philippines, which led to a peace accord with the Moro National Liberation Front and a separate agreement with a break away faction, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The decades-long Maoist-inspired New People's Army insurgency also operates through much of the country. In 2017, Philippine armed forces battled an ISIS-East Asia siege in Marawi City, driving DUTERTE to declare martial law in the region. The Philippines faces increased tension with China over disputed territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea.
Polynesians were the first inhabitants of the Pitcairn Islands, but the islands were uninhabited by the time they were discovered by Europeans in 1606. Pitcairn Island was rediscovered by British explorer Philip CARTERET in 1767, although he incorrectly plotted the coordinates. In 1789, Fletcher CHRISTIAN led a mutiny on the HMS Bounty and after several months of searching for Pitcairn Island, he landed on it with eight other mutineers and their Tahitian companions. They lived in isolation and evaded detection by English authorities until 1808, by which point only one man, 10 women, and 23 children remained. In 1831, with the population growing too big for the island - there were 87 people - the British attempted to move all the islanders to Tahiti, but they were soon returned to Pitcairn Island. The island became an official British colony in 1838 and in 1856, the British again determined that the population of 193 was too high and relocated all of the residents to Norfolk Island. Several families returned in 1858 and 1864, bringing the island’s population to 43, and almost all of the island’s current population are descendants of these returnees. In 1887, the entire population converted to the Seventh Day Adventist faith.
The UK annexed the nearby islands of Henderson, Oeno, and Ducie in 1902 and incorporated them into the Pitcairn Islands colony in 1938, although all three are uninhabited. The population peaked at 233 in 1937 as outmigration, primarily to New Zealand, has thinned the population. Only two children were born between 1986 and 2012, and in 2005, a couple became the first new outsiders to obtain citizenship in more than a century. (The current population is below 50.) Since 2013, the Pitcairn Islands has tried to attract new migrants but has had no applicants because it requires prospective migrants to front significant sums of money and prohibits employment during a two-year trial period, at which point the local council can deny long-term resident status.
Poland's history as a state began near the middle of the 10th century. By the mid-16th century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth ruled a vast tract of land in Central and Eastern Europe. During the 18th century, internal disorders weakened the nation, and in a series of agreements between 1772 and 1795, Russia, Prussia, and Austria partitioned Poland among themselves. Poland regained its independence in 1918 only to be overrun by Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II. It became a Soviet satellite state following the war. Labor turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union "Solidarity" that over time became a political force with over 10 million members. Free elections in 1989 and 1990 won Solidarity control of the parliament and the presidency, bringing the communist era to a close. A "shock therapy" program during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into one of the most robust in Central Europe. Poland joined NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004.
Following its heyday as a global maritime power during the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal lost much of its wealth and status with the destruction of Lisbon in a 1755 earthquake, occupation during the Napoleonic Wars, and the independence of Brazil, its wealthiest colony, in 1822. A 1910 revolution deposed the monarchy, and for most of the next six decades, repressive governments ran the country. In 1974, a left-wing military coup installed broad democratic reforms. The following year, Portugal granted independence to all of its African colonies. Portugal is a founding member of NATO and entered the EC (now the EU) in 1986.
Populated for centuries by aboriginal peoples, the island was claimed by the Spanish Crown in 1493 following Christopher COLUMBUS' second voyage to the Americas. In 1898, after 400 years of colonial rule that saw the indigenous population nearly exterminated and African slave labor introduced, Puerto Rico was ceded to the US as a result of the Spanish-American War. Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship in 1917. Popularly elected governors have served since 1948. In 1952, a constitution was enacted providing for internal self-government. In plebiscites held in 1967, 1993, and 1998, voters chose not to alter the existing political status with the US, but the results of a 2012 vote left open the possibility of American statehood. Economic recession on the island has led to a net population loss since about 2005, as large numbers of residents moved to the US mainland. The trend has accelerated since 2010; in 2014, Puerto Rico experienced a net population loss to the mainland of 64,000, more than double the net loss of 26,000 in 2010. Hurricane Maria struck the island on 20 September 2017 causing catastrophic damage, including destruction of the electrical grid that had been crippled by Hurricane Irma just two weeks before. It was the worst storm to hit the island in eight decades, and damage is estimated in the tens of billions of dollars. A referendum held in late 2020 showed a narrow preference for American statehood.
Ruled by the Al Thani family since the mid-1800s, Qatar within the last 60 years transformed itself from a poor British protectorate noted mainly for pearling into an independent state with significant oil and natural gas revenues. Former Amir HAMAD bin Khalifa Al Thani, who overthrew his father in a bloodless coup in 1995, ushered in wide-sweeping political and media reforms, unprecedented economic investment, and a growing Qatari regional leadership role, in part through the creation of the pan-Arab satellite news network Al-Jazeera and Qatar's mediation of some regional conflicts. In the 2000s, Qatar resolved its longstanding border disputes with both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and by 2007 had attained the highest per capita income in the world. Qatar did not experience domestic unrest or violence like that seen in other Near Eastern and North African countries in 2011, due in part to its immense wealth and patronage network. In mid-2013, HAMAD peacefully abdicated, transferring power to his son, the current Amir TAMIM bin Hamad. TAMIM is popular with the Qatari public, for his role in shepherding the country through an economic embargo by some other regional countries, for his efforts to improve the country's healthcare and education systems, and for his expansion of the country's infrastructure in anticipation of Doha's hosting of the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup.Following the outbreak of regional unrest in 2011, Doha prided itself on its support for many popular revolutions, particularly in Libya and Syria. This stance was to the detriment of Qatar’s relations with Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which temporarily recalled their respective ambassadors from Doha in March 2014. TAMIM later oversaw a warming of Qatar’s relations with Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE in November 2014 following Kuwaiti mediation and signing of the Riyadh Agreement. This reconciliation, however, was short-lived. In June 2017, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE (the "Quartet") cut diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar in response to alleged violations of the agreement, among other complaints. They restored ties in January 2021 after signing a declaration at the Gulf Cooperation Council Summit in Al Ula, Saudi Arabia.
The principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia - for centuries under the suzerainty of the Turkish Ottoman Empire - secured their autonomy in 1856; they were de facto linked in 1859 and formally united in 1862 under the new name of Romania. The country gained recognition of its independence in 1878. It joined the Allied Powers in World War I and acquired new territories - most notably Transylvania - following the conflict. In 1940, Romania allied with the Axis powers and participated in the 1941 German invasion of the USSR. Three years later, overrun by the Soviets, Romania signed an armistice. The post-war Soviet occupation led to the formation of a communist "people's republic" in 1947 and the abdication of the king. The decades-long rule of dictator Nicolae CEAUSESCU, who took power in 1965, and his Securitate police state became increasingly oppressive and draconian through the 1980s. CEAUSESCU was overthrown and executed in late 1989. Former communists dominated the government until 1996 when they were swept from power. Romania joined NATO in 2004 and the EU in 2007.
Founded in the 12th century, the Principality of Muscovy was able to emerge from over 200 years of Mongol domination (13th-15th centuries) and to gradually conquer and absorb surrounding principalities. In the early 17th century, a new ROMANOV Dynasty continued this policy of expansion across Siberia to the Pacific. Under PETER I (ruled 1682-1725), hegemony was extended to the Baltic Sea and the country was renamed the Russian Empire. During the 19th century, more territorial acquisitions were made in Europe and Asia. Defeat in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 contributed to the Revolution of 1905, which resulted in the formation of a parliament and other reforms. Devastating defeats and food shortages in World War I led to widespread rioting in the major cities of the Russian Empire and to the overthrow in 1917 of the ROMANOV Dynasty. The communists under Vladimir LENIN seized power soon after and formed the USSR. The brutal rule of Iosif STALIN (1928-53) strengthened communist rule and Russian dominance of the Soviet Union at a cost of tens of millions of lives. After defeating Germany in World War II as part of an alliance with the US (1939-1945), the USSR expanded its territory and influence in Eastern Europe and emerged as a global power. The USSR was the principal adversary of the US during the Cold War (1947-1991). The Soviet economy and society stagnated in the decades following Stalin's rule, until General Secretary Mikhail GORBACHEV (1985-91) introduced glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in an attempt to modernize communism, but his initiatives inadvertently released forces that by December 1991 led to the dissolution of the USSR into Russia and 14 other independent states.
Following economic and political turmoil during President Boris YELTSIN's term (1991-99), Russia shifted toward a centralized authoritarian state under President Vladimir PUTIN (2000-2008, 2012-present) in which the regime seeks to legitimize its rule through managed elections, populist appeals, a foreign policy focused on enhancing the country's geopolitical influence, and commodity-based economic growth.
In 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula as well as large portions of two eastern Ukrainian oblasts. In desultory fighting over the next eight years, more than 14,000 civilians were killed or wounded as a result of the Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine. On 24 February 2022, Russia escalated its conflict with Ukraine by invading the country on several fronts in what has become the largest conventional military attack on a sovereign state in Europe since World War II. The invasion has received near universal international condemnation, and many countries have imposed sanctions on Russia and supplied humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine. Russia made substantial gains in the early weeks of the invasion but underestimated Ukrainian resolve and combat capabilities. By the end of 2022, Ukrainian forces had regained all territories in the north and northeast of their country and made some advances in the east and south. Nonetheless, Russia in late September 2022 unilaterally declared its annexation of four Ukrainian oblasts - Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia - even though none was fully under Russian control. The annexations remain unrecognized by the international community.
Rwanda - a small and centralized country dominated by rugged hills and fertile volcanic soil - has exerted disproportionate influence over the African Great Lakes region for centuries. A Rwandan kingdom increasingly dominated the region from the mid-18th century onward, with the Tutsi monarchs gradually extending the power of the royal court into peripheral areas and expanding their borders through military conquest. While the current ethnic labels Hutu and Tutsi predate colonial rule, their flexibility and importance have varied significantly over time. The majority Hutu and minority Tutsi have long shared a common language and culture, and intermarriage was not rare. The Rwandan royal court centered on the Tutsi king (mwami), who relied on an extensive hierarchy of political, cultural, and economic relationships that intertwined Rwanda’s ethnic and social groups. Social categories became more rigid during the reign of RWABUGIRI (1860-1895), who focused on aggressive expansion and solidifying Rwanda’s bureaucratic structures. German colonial rule began in 1898, but Belgian forces captured Rwanda in 1916 during World War I. Both European nations quickly realized the benefits of ruling through the already centralized Rwandan kingdom. Colonial rule reinforced existing trends toward autocratic and exclusionary rule, leading to the elimination of traditional positions of authority for Hutus and a calcification of ethnic identities. Belgian administrators significantly increased requirements for communal labor and instituted harsh taxes, increasing frustration and inequality. Changing political attitudes in Belgium contributed to colonial and Catholic officials shifting their support from Tutsi to Hutu leaders in the years leading up to independence.
Newly mobilized political parties and simmering resentment of minority rule exploded in 1959, three years before independence from Belgium, when Hutus overthrew the Tutsi king. Thousands of Tutsis were killed over the next several years, and some 150,000 were driven into exile in neighboring countries. Army Chief of Staff Juvenal HABYARIMANA seized power in a coup in 1973 and ruled Rwanda as a single-party state for two decades. HABYARIMANA increasingly discriminated against Tutsi and extremist Hutu factions that gained prominence after multiple parties were introduced in the early 1990s. The children of Tutsi exiles later formed a rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and began a civil war in 1990. The civil war exacerbated ethnic tensions and culminated in the shooting down of HABYARIMANA’s private jet in April 1994. The event sparked a state-orchestrated genocide in which Rwandans killed approximately 800,000 of their fellow citizens, including approximately three-quarters of the Tutsi population. The genocide ended later that same year when the predominantly Tutsi RPF, operating out of Uganda and northern Rwanda, defeated the national army and Hutu militias and established an RPF-led government of national unity. Rwanda held its first local elections in 1999 and its first post-genocide presidential and legislative elections in 2003, formalizing President Paul KAGAME’s de facto role as head of government. KAGAME won reelection in 2010, and again in 2017 after changing the constitution to allow him to run for a third term.
Discovered in 1493 by Christopher COLUMBUS who named it for his brother Bartolomeo, Saint Barthelemy was first settled by the French in 1648. In 1784, the French sold the island to Sweden, which renamed the largest town Gustavia, after the Swedish King GUSTAV III, and made it a free port; the island prospered as a trade and supply center during the colonial wars of the 18th century. France repurchased the island in 1877 and took control the following year. It was placed under the administration of Guadeloupe. Saint Barthelemy retained its free port status along with various Swedish appellations such as Swedish street and town names, and the three-crown symbol on the coat of arms. In 2003, the islanders voted to secede from Guadeloupe, and in 2007, the island became a French overseas collectivity. In 2012, it became an overseas territory of the EU, allowing it to exert local control over the permanent and temporary immigration of foreign workers including non-French European citizens. Hurricane Irma hit the island in September 2017 causing extensive damage, but Saint Barthelemy recovered by early 2018.
Saint Helena is a British Overseas Territory consisting of Saint Helena and Ascension Islands, and the island group of Tristan da Cunha.
Saint Helena: Uninhabited when first discovered by the Portuguese in 1502, Saint Helena was garrisoned by the British during the 17th century. It acquired fame as the place of Napoleon BONAPARTE's exile from 1815 until his death in 1821, but its importance as a port of call declined after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. During the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa, several thousand Boer prisoners were confined on the island between 1900 and 1903.
Saint Helena is one of the most remote populated places in the world. The British Government committed to building an airport on Saint Helena in 2005. After more than a decade of delays and construction, a commercial air service to South Africa via Namibia was inaugurated in October of 2017. The weekly service to Saint Helena from Johannesburg via Windhoek in Namibia takes just over six hours (including the refueling stop in Windhoek) and replaces the mail ship that had made a five-day journey to the island every three weeks.
Ascension Island: This barren and uninhabited island was discovered and named by the Portuguese in 1503. The British garrisoned the island in 1815 to prevent a rescue of NAPOLEON from Saint Helena. It served as a provisioning station for the Royal Navy's West Africa Squadron on anti-slavery patrol. The island remained under Admiralty control until 1922, when it became a dependency of Saint Helena. During World War II, the UK permitted the US to construct an airfield on Ascension in support of transatlantic flights to Africa and anti-submarine operations in the South Atlantic. In the 1960s the island became an important space tracking station for the US. In 1982, Ascension was an essential staging area for British forces during the Falklands War. It remains a critical refueling point in the air-bridge from the UK to the South Atlantic.
The island hosts one of four dedicated ground antennas that assist in the operation of the Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation system (the others are on Diego Garcia (British Indian Ocean Territory), Kwajalein (Marshall Islands), and at Cape Canaveral, Florida (US)). NASA and the US Air Force also operate a Meter-Class Autonomous Telescope (MCAT) on Ascension as part of the deep space surveillance system for tracking orbital debris, which can be a hazard to spacecraft and astronauts.
Tristan da Cunha: The island group consists of Tristan da Cunha, Nightingale, Inaccessible, and Gough Islands. Tristan da Cunha, named after its Portuguese discoverer (1506), was garrisoned by the British in 1816 to prevent any attempt to rescue NAPOLEON from Saint Helena. Gough and Inaccessible Islands have been designated World Heritage Sites. South Africa leases a site for a meteorological station on Gough Island.
Carib Indians occupied the islands of the West Indies for hundreds of years before the British and French began settlement in 1623. During the course of the 17th century, Saint Kitts became the premier base for English and French expansion into the Caribbean. The French ceded the territory to the UK in 1713. At the turn of the 18th century, Saint Kitts was the richest British Crown Colony per capita in the Caribbean, a result of the sugar trade. Although small in size and separated by only 3 km (2 mi) of water, Saint Kitts and Nevis were viewed and governed as different states until the late-19th century, when the British forcibly unified them along with the island of Anguilla. In 1967, the island territory of Saint Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla became an associated state of the UK with full internal autonomy. The island of Anguilla rebelled and was allowed to secede in 1971. The remaining islands achieved independence in 1983 as Saint Kitts and Nevis. In 1998, a referendum on Nevis to separate from Saint Kitts fell short of the two-thirds majority vote needed.
The island, with its fine natural harbor at Castries and burgeoning sugar industry, was contested by England and France throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries (changing possession 14 times); it was finally ceded to the UK in 1814 and became part of the British Windward Islands colony. Even after the abolition of slavery on its plantations in 1834, Saint Lucia remained an agricultural island, dedicated to producing tropical commodity crops. In the mid-20th century, Saint Lucia joined the West Indies Federation (1958–1962) and in 1967 became one of the six members of the West Indies Associated States, with internal self-government. In 1979, Saint Lucia gained full independence.
Although sighted by Christopher COLUMBUS in 1493 and claimed for Spain, it was the Dutch who occupied the island in 1631 to exploit its salt deposits. The Spanish retook the island in 1633 but continued to be harassed by the Dutch. The Spanish finally relinquished Saint Martin to the French and Dutch, who divided it between themselves in 1648. Friction between the two sides caused the border to frequently fluctuate over the next two centuries, with the French eventually holding the greater portion of the island (about 61%). The cultivation of sugarcane introduced African slavery to the island in the late 18th century; the practice was not abolished until 1848. The island became a free port in 1939; the tourism industry was dramatically expanded during the 1970s and 1980s. In 2003, the populace of Saint Martin voted to secede from Guadeloupe and in 2007, the northern portion of the island became a French overseas collectivity. In 2010, the southern Dutch portion of the island became the independent nation of Sint Maarten within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. On 6 September 2017, Hurricane Irma passed over the island of Saint Martin causing extensive damage to roads, communications, electrical power, and housing; the UN estimated that 90% of the buildings were damaged or destroyed.
First settled by the French in the early 17th century, the islands represent the sole remaining vestige of France's once vast North American possessions. They attained the status of an overseas collectivity in 2003.
Resistance by native Caribs prevented colonization on Saint Vincent until 1719. Disputed by France and the UK for most of the 18th century, the island was ceded to the latter in 1783. The British prized Saint Vincent due to its fertile soil, which allowed for thriving slave-run plantations of sugar, coffee, indigo, tobacco, cotton, and cocoa. In 1834, the British abolished slavery. Immigration of indentured servants eased the ensuing labor shortage, as did subsequent Portuguese immigrants from Madeira and East Indian laborers. Conditions remained harsh for both former slaves and immigrant agricultural workers, however, as depressed world sugar prices kept the economy stagnant until the early 1900s. The economy then went into a period of decline with many landowners abandoning their estates and leaving the land to be cultivated by liberated slaves. Between 1960 and 1962, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was a separate administrative unit of the Federation of the West Indies. Autonomy was granted in 1969 and independence in 1979. In April 2021, the explosive eruption of the La Soufrière volcano in the north of Saint Vincent destroyed much of Saint Vincent’s most productive agricultural lands. Unlike most of its tourism-dependent neighbors, the Vincentian economy is primarily agricultural. The US provided $4.7 million in humanitarian support after the eruption.
The first Austronesian settlers arrived in Samoa around 1000 B.C., and early Samoans traded and intermarried with Fijian and Tongan nobility. The fa’amatai system of titles and nobility developed, which dominates Samoan politics to this day; all but two seats in the legislature are reserved for matai, or heads of families. Dutch explorer Jacob ROGGEVEEN was the first European to spot the islands in 1722. Christian missionaries arrived in the 1830s, converting most of the population. In the 1850s, Apia became a center for Pacific trading and hosted an American commercial agent and British and German consuls. In 1892, American traders convinced the Samoan king to align his country’s date with the US, moving to the east of the International Date Line.
Following the death of the Samoan king in 1841, rival families competed for his titles, devolving into civil war in 1886 with factions getting support from either Germany, the UK, or the US. All three countries sent warships to Apia in 1889, presaging a larger war, but a cyclone destroyed the ships and Malietoa LAUPEPA was installed as king. Upon LAUPEPA’s death in 1898, a second civil war over succession broke out. The war ended in 1899 and the Western powers abolished the monarchy, giving the western Samoan islands to Germany and the eastern Samoan islands to the US. The UK abandoned claims in Samoa and received former German territory in the Solomon Islands.
The Mau, a non-violent popular movement to advocate for Samoan independence, formed in 1908. New Zealand annexed Samoa in 1914 after the outbreak of World War I. Opposition to New Zealand’s rule quickly grew. In 1918, a New Zealand ship introduced the Spanish flu, infecting 90% of the population and killing more than 20%. In 1929, New Zealand police shot into a crowd of peaceful protestors, killing 11, in an event known as Black Sunday. In 1962, Samoa became the first Polynesian nation to reestablish its independence as Western Samoa but dropped the “Western” from its name in 1997. The Human Rights Protection Party has dominated politics since 1982, especially under Prime Minister Sailele TUILAEPA, who has been in power since 1998.
In the late 2000s, Samoa began making efforts to align more closely with Australia and New Zealand. In 2009, Samoa changed its driving orientation to the left side of the road, in line with other Commonwealth countries. In 2011, Samoa jumped forward one day - skipping December 30 - by moving to the west side of the International Date Line so that it was one hour ahead of New Zealand and three hours ahead of the east coast of Australia, rather than 23 and 21 hours behind, respectively.
Geographically the third-smallest state in Europe (after the Holy See and Monaco), San Marino also claims to be the world's oldest republic. According to tradition, it was founded by a Christian stonemason named MARINUS in A.D. 301. San Marino's foreign policy is aligned with that of the EU, although it is not a member; social and political trends in the republic track closely with those of its larger neighbor, Italy.
Portugal discovered and colonized the uninhabited islands in the late 15th century, setting up a sugar-based economy that gave way to coffee and cocoa in the 19th century - all grown with African plantation slave labor, a form of which lingered into the 20th century. While independence was achieved in 1975, democratic reforms were not instituted until the late 1980s. The country held its first free elections in 1991, but frequent internal wrangling between the various political parties precipitated repeated changes in leadership and four failed, non-violent coup attempts in 1995, 1998, 2003, and 2009. In 2012, three opposition parties combined in a no confidence vote to bring down the majority government of former Prime Minister Patrice TROVOADA, but in 2014, legislative elections returned him to the office. President Evaristo CARVALHO, of the same political party as Prime Minister TROVOADA, was elected in September 2016, marking a rare instance in which the positions of president and prime minister were held by the same party. Prime Minister TROVOADA resigned at the end of 2018 and was replaced by Jorge BOM JESUS. Carlos Vila NOVA was elected president in early September 2021 and was inaugurated 2 October 2021. New oil discoveries in the Gulf of Guinea may attract increased attention to the small island nation.
Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and home to Islam's two holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina. The king's official title is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. The modern Saudi state was founded in 1932 by ABD AL-AZIZ bin Abd al-Rahman AL SAUD (Ibn Saud) after a 30-year campaign to unify most of the Arabian Peninsula. One of his male descendants rules the country today, as required by the country's 1992 Basic Law. Following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Saudi Arabia accepted the Kuwaiti royal family and 400,000 refugees while allowing Western and Arab troops to deploy on its soil for the liberation of Kuwait the following year. The continuing presence of foreign troops on Saudi soil after the liberation of Kuwait became a source of tension between the royal family and the public until all operational US troops left the country in 2003. Major terrorist attacks in May and November 2003 spurred a strong ongoing campaign against domestic terrorism and extremism. US troops returned to the Kingdom in October 2019 after attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure.
From 2005 to 2015, King ABDALLAH bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud incrementally modernized the Kingdom. Driven by personal ideology and political pragmatism, he introduced a series of social and economic initiatives, including expanding employment and social opportunities for women, attracting foreign investment, increasing the role of the private sector in the economy, and discouraging businesses from hiring foreign workers. These reforms have accelerated under King SALMAN bin Abd al-Aziz, who ascended to the throne in 2015, and has since lifted the Kingdom's ban on women driving, implemented education reforms, funded green initiatives, and allowed cinemas to operate for the first time in decades. Saudi Arabia saw some protests during the 2011 Arab Spring but not the level of bloodshed seen in protests elsewhere in the region. Shia Muslims in the Eastern Province protested primarily against the detention of political prisoners, endemic discrimination, and Bahraini and Saudi Government actions in Bahrain. Riyadh took a cautious but firm approach by arresting some protesters but releasing most of them quickly and by using its state-sponsored clerics to counter political and Islamist activism.
The government held its first-ever elections in 2005 and 2011, when Saudis went to the polls to elect municipal councilors. In December 2015, women were allowed to vote and stand as candidates for the first time in municipal council elections, with 19 women winning seats. After King SALMAN ascended to the throne in 2015, he placed the first next-generation prince, MUHAMMAD BIN NAYIF bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud, in the line of succession as Crown Prince. He designated his son, MUHAMMAD BIN SALMAN bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud, as the Deputy Crown Prince. In March 2015, Saudi Arabia led a coalition of 10 countries in a military campaign to restore the legitimate government of Yemen, which had been ousted by Huthi forces allied with former president ALI ABDULLAH al-Salih. The war in Yemen has drawn international criticism for civilian casualties and its effect on the country’s dire humanitarian situation. In December 2015, then Deputy Crown Prince MUHAMMAD BIN SALMAN announced Saudi Arabia would lead a 34-nation Islamic Coalition to fight terrorism (it has since grown to 41 nations). In May 2017, Saudi Arabia inaugurated the Global Center for Combatting Extremist Ideology (also known as "Etidal") as part of its ongoing efforts to counter violent extremism. In June 2017, King SALMAN elevated MUHAMMAD BIN SALMAN to Crown Prince. Since then, he has jockeyed for influence with neighboring countries in a bid to be the region’s main power broker.
The country remains a leading producer of oil and natural gas and holds about 17% of the world's proven oil reserves as of 2020. The government continues to pursue economic reform and diversification, particularly since Saudi Arabia's accession to the WTO in 2005, and promotes foreign investment in the Kingdom. In April 2016, the Saudi Government announced a broad set of socio-economic reforms, known as Vision 2030. Low global oil prices throughout 2015 and 2016 significantly lowered Saudi Arabia’s governmental revenue. In response, the government cut subsidies on water, electricity, and gasoline; reduced government employee compensation packages; and announced limited new land taxes. In coordination with OPEC and some key non-OPEC countries, Saudi Arabia agreed to cut oil output in early 2017 to regulate supply and help elevate global prices. In early 2020, this agreement by the so-called OPEC+ coalition collapsed. Saudi Arabia launched a price war by flooding the market with low-priced oil before returning to the negotiating table to agree to OPEC+’s largest and longest-lasting output cut. This cut helped to buoy prices that had collapsed as a result of the price war and the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senegal is one of the few countries in the world with evidence of continuous human life from the Paleolithic era to present. Between the 14th and 16th centuries, the Jolof Empire ruled most of Senegal. Starting in the 15th century, Portugal, the Netherlands, France, and Great Britain traded along the Senegalese coast. Senegal’s location on the western tip of Africa made it a favorable base for the European slave trade. European powers used the Senegalese island of Goree as a base to purchase slaves from the warring chiefdoms on the mainland, and at the height of the slave trade in Senegal, over one-third of the Senegalese population was enslaved. In 1815, France abolished slavery and began expanding inland. During the second half of the 19th century, France took possession of Senegal as a French colony. In 1959, the French colonies of Senegal and French Sudan were merged and granted independence in 1960 as the Mali Federation. The union broke up after only a few months. In 1982, Senegal joined with The Gambia to form the nominal confederation of Senegambia. The envisaged integration of the two countries was never implemented, and the union dissolved in 1989.
Since the 1980s, the Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance - a separatist movement based in southern Senegal - has led a low-level insurgency. Several attempts at reaching a comprehensive peace agreement have failed. Since 2012, despite sporadic incidents of violence, an unofficial cease-fire has remained largely in effect. Senegal is one of the most stable democracies in Africa and has a long history of participating in international peacekeeping and regional mediation. The Socialist Party of Senegal ruled for 40 years until Abdoulaye WADE was elected president in 2000 and re-elected in 2007. WADE amended Senegal's constitution over a dozen times to increase executive power and weaken the opposition. In 2012, WADE’s decision to run for a third presidential term sparked public backlash that led to his defeat to current President Macky SALL. A 2016 constitutional referendum limited future presidents to two consecutive five-year terms. The change, however, does not apply to SALL's first term. In February 2019, SALL won his bid for reelection; his second term will end in 2024.
The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was formed in 1918; its name was changed to Yugoslavia in 1929. Communist Partisans resisted the Axis occupation and division of Yugoslavia from 1941 to 1945 and fought nationalist opponents and collaborators as well. The military and political movement headed by Josip Broz "TITO" (Partisans) took full control of Yugoslavia when their domestic rivals and the occupiers were defeated in 1945. Although communists, TITO and his successors (Tito died in 1980) managed to steer their own path between the Warsaw Pact nations and the West for the next four and a half decades. In 1989, Slobodan MILOSEVIC became president of the Republic of Serbia and his ultranationalist calls for Serbian domination led to the violent breakup of Yugoslavia along ethnic lines. In 1991, Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia declared independence, followed by Bosnia in 1992. The remaining republics of Serbia and Montenegro declared a new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) in April 1992 and under MILOSEVIC's leadership, Serbia led various military campaigns to unite ethnic Serbs in neighboring republics into a "Greater Serbia." These actions ultimately failed and, after international intervention, led to the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995.
MILOSEVIC retained control over Serbia and eventually became president of the FRY in 1997. In 1998, an ethnic Albanian insurgency in the formerly autonomous Serbian province of Kosovo provoked a Serbian counterinsurgency campaign that resulted in massacres and massive expulsions of ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo. The MILOSEVIC government's rejection of a proposed international settlement led to NATO's bombing of Serbia in the spring of 1999. Serbian military and police forces withdrew from Kosovo in June 1999, and the UN Security Council authorized an interim UN administration and a NATO-led security force in Kosovo. FRY elections in late 2000 led to the ouster of MILOSEVIC and the installation of democratic government. In 2003, the FRY became the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, a loose federation of the two republics. Widespread violence predominantly targeting ethnic Serbs in Kosovo in March 2004 led to more intense calls to address Kosovo's status, and the UN began facilitating status talks in 2006. In June 2006, Montenegro seceded from the federation and declared itself an independent nation. Serbia subsequently gave notice that it was the successor state to the union of Serbia and Montenegro.
In February 2008, after nearly two years of inconclusive negotiations, Kosovo declared itself independent of Serbia - an action Serbia refuses to recognize. At Serbia's request, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in October 2008 sought an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on whether Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence was in accordance with international law. In a ruling considered unfavorable to Serbia, the ICJ issued an advisory opinion in July 2010 stating that international law did not prohibit declarations of independence. In late 2010, Serbia agreed to an EU-drafted UNGA Resolution acknowledging the ICJ's decision and calling for a new round of talks between Serbia and Kosovo, this time on practical issues rather than Kosovo's status. Serbia and Kosovo signed the first agreement of principles governing the normalization of relations between the two countries in April 2013 and are in the process of implementing its provisions. In 2015, Serbia and Kosovo reached four additional agreements within the EU-led Brussels Dialogue framework. These included agreements on the Community of Serb-Majority Municipalities; telecommunications; energy production and distribution; and freedom of movement. President Aleksandar VUCIC has promoted an ambitious goal of Serbia joining the EU by 2025. Under his leadership as prime minister, in 2014 Serbia opened formal negotiations for accession.
Seychelles was uninhabited prior to being discovered by Europeans early in the 16th century. A lengthy struggle between France and Great Britain for the islands ended in 1814, when they were ceded to the latter. During colonial rule, a plantation-based economy developed that relied on imported labor, primarily from European colonies in Africa. Independence came in 1976. Following a coup d’etat in 1977, the country was a socialist one-party state until adopting a new constitution and holding free elections in 1993. President France-Albert RENE, who had served since 1977, was reelected in 2001, but stepped down in 2004. Vice President James Alix MICHEL took over the presidency and in 2006 was elected to a new five-year term; he was reelected in 2011 and again in 2015. In 2016, James MICHEL resigned and handed over the presidency to his vice-president, Danny FAURE. In 2020, Wavel RAMKALAWAN was elected president, the first time an opposition candidate has won the presidency since independence.
Continuously populated for at least 2,500 years, the dense jungle in the area of Sierra Leone allowed the region to remain relatively protected from invaders from empires in West Africa. Traders introduced Sierra Leone to Islam, which occupies a central role in Sierra Leonean culture and history. In the 17th century, the British set up a trading post near present-day Freetown. The trade originally involved timber and ivory but later expanded to enslaved people. In 1787, following the American Revolution, Sierra Leone became a destination for Black British loyalists from the new United States. After the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, British ships delivered thousands of liberated Africans to Sierra Leone. During the 19th century, the colony gradually expanded inland.
In 1961, Sierra Leone became independent of the UK. While Sierra Leone held free and fair elections in 1962 and 1967, Siaka STEVENS - Sierra Leone’s second prime minister - quickly reverted to authoritarian tendencies, outlawing most political parties and ruling from 1967 to 1985. In 1991, Sierra Leonean soldiers launched a civil war against STEVENS’ ruling party. The war caused tens of thousands of deaths and displaced more than 2 million people (about one third of the population). In 1998, a Nigerian-led West African coalition military force intervened, installing Tejan KABBAH - who was originally elected in 1996 - as prime minister. In 2002, KABBAH officially announced the end of the war. Since 1998, Sierra Leone has conducted uninterrupted democratic elections, dominated by the two main political parties. In 2018, Julius Maada BIO of the Sierra Leone People’s Party won the presidential election that saw a high voter turnout despite some allegations of voter intimidation. The next presidential election is scheduled for March 2023.
A Malay trading port known as Temasek existed on the island of Singapore by the 14th century. The settlement changed hands several times in the ensuing centuries and was eventually burned in the 17th century and fell into obscurity. The British founded modern Singapore as a trading colony on the site in 1819. It joined the Malaysian Federation in 1963 but was ousted two years later and became independent. Singapore subsequently became one of the world's most prosperous countries with strong international trading links (its port is one of the world's busiest in terms of tonnage handled) and with per capita GDP equal to that of the leading nations of Western Europe.
Although sighted by Christopher COLUMBUS in 1493 and claimed for Spain, it was the Dutch who occupied the island in 1631 and began exploiting its salt deposits. The Spanish retook the island in 1633, but the Dutch continued to assert their claims. The Spanish finally relinquished the island of Saint Martin to the French and Dutch, who divided it between themselves in 1648. The establishment of cotton, tobacco, and sugar plantations dramatically expanded African slavery on the island in the 18th and 19th centuries; the practice was not abolished in the Dutch half until 1863. The island's economy declined until 1939 when it became a free port; the tourism industry was dramatically expanded beginning in the 1950s. In 1954, Sint Maarten and several other Dutch Caribbean possessions became part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands as the Netherlands Antilles. In a 2000 referendum, the citizens of Sint Maarten voted to become a self-governing country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, effective October 2010. On 6 September 2017, Hurricane Irma hit Saint Martin/Sint Maarten, causing extensive damage to roads, communications, electrical power, and housing. The UN estimated the storm destroyed or damaged 90% of the buildings, and Princess Juliana International Airport was heavily damaged and closed to commercial air traffic for five weeks.
Slovakia traces its roots to the 9th century state of Great Moravia. Subsequently, the Slovaks became part of the Hungarian Kingdom, where they remained for the next 1,000 years. After the formation of the dual Austro-Hungarian monarchy in 1867, backlash to language and education policies favoring the use of Hungarian (Magyarization) encouraged the strengthening of Slovak nationalism and a cultivation of cultural ties with the closely related Czechs, who fell administratively under the Austrian half of the empire. After the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the close of World War I, the Slovaks joined the Czechs to form Czechoslovakia. The new state was envisioned as a nation with Czech and Slovak branches. During the interwar period, Slovak nationalist leaders pushed for autonomy within Czechoslovakia, and in 1939 Slovakia became an independent state created by and allied with Nazi Germany. Following World War II, Czechoslovakia was reconstituted and came under communist rule within Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe. In 1968, an invasion by Warsaw Pact troops ended the efforts of Czechoslovakia's leaders to liberalize communist rule and create "socialism with a human face," ushering in a period of repression known as "normalization." The peaceful "Velvet Revolution" swept the Communist Party from power at the end of 1989 and inaugurated a return to democratic rule and a market economy. On 1 January 1993, Czechoslovakia underwent a nonviolent "velvet divorce" into its two national components, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Slovakia joined both NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004 and the euro zone on 1 January 2009.
The Slovene lands were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the latter's dissolution at the end of World War I. In 1918, the Slovenes joined the Serbs and Croats in forming a new multinational state, which was named Yugoslavia in 1929. After World War II, Slovenia was one of the republics in the restored Yugoslavia, which, though communist, soon distanced itself from the Soviet Union and spearheaded the Non-Aligned Movement. Dissatisfied with the exercise of power by the majority Serbs, the Slovenes succeeded in establishing their independence in 1991 after a short 10-day war. Historical ties to Western Europe, a growing economy, and a stable democracy have assisted in Slovenia's postcommunist transition. Slovenia acceded to both NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004; it joined the euro zone and the Schengen Area in 2007.
Settlers from Papua arrived on Solomon Islands around 30,000 years ago. About 6,000 years ago, Austronesian settlers came to Solomon Islands and the two groups mixed extensively. Despite significant inter-island trade, no attempts were made to unite the islands into a single political entity. In 1568, Spanish explorer Alvaro de MENDANA became the first European to spot the islands. After a failed Spanish attempt at creating a permanent European settlement on the islands in the late 1500s, Solomon Islands remained free of European contact until 1767 when British explorer Philip CARTERET sailed by the islands. The islands were regularly visited by European explorers and American and British whaling ships into the 1800s, followed by missionaries in the 1850s.
Germany declared a protectorate over the northern Solomon Islands in 1885, and the UK established a protectorate over the southern islands in 1893. In 1899, Germany transferred its Solomon Islands to the UK in exchange for the UK relinquishing all claims in Samoa. The UK tried to encourage plantation farming, but few Europeans were willing to go to Solomon Islands and the UK left most services - such as education and medical services - to missionaries. In 1942, Japan invaded Solomon Islands and significant battles against Allied forces during the Guadalcanal Campaign proved a turning point in the Pacific war. World War II destroyed large parts of Solomon Islands and a nationalism movement emerged near the end of the war. By 1960, the British relented to allow for some local autonomy. The islands were granted self-government in 1976 and independence two years later under Prime Minister Sir Peter KENILOREA.
In 1999, longstanding ethnic tensions between ethnic Guale in Honiara and ethnic Malaitans in Honiara’s suburbs erupted in civil war, leading thousands of Malaitans to take refuge in Honiara and Guale to flee the city. In 2000, newly-elected Prime Minister Manasseh SOGAVARE focused on peace agreements and distributing resources equally among groups, but his actions bankrupted the government in 2001 and led to SOGAVARE’s ouster. In 2003, Solomon Islands requested international assistance to reestablish law and order. The Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, which ended in 2017, was generally effective in improving the security situation. In 2006, riots broke out in Honiara and the city’s Chinatown burned over allegations that the prime minister took money from China. SOGAVARE was reelected prime minister for a fourth time following elections in 2019 and that same year announced Solomon Islands would switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China. In late November 2021, protestors, mostly from the island of Malaita, calling for SOGAVARE’s removal and more development in Malaita, sparked rioting in Honiara.
Ancient Egypt trade expeditions along the northeastern coast of Africa - including today's Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia - occurred at various times between the 25th and 12th centuries B.C. Between A.D. 800 and 1100, immigrant Muslim Arabs and Persians set up coastal trading posts along the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, solidifying Somalia’s close trading relationship with the Arab Peninsula. In the late 19th century, Britain and Italy established colonies in the Somali Peninsula, where they remained until 1960, when British Somaliland gained independence and joined with Italian Somaliland to form the Republic of Somalia. The country functioned as a parliamentary democracy until 1969, when General Mohamed SIAD Barre took control in a coup, beginning a 22-year authoritarian socialist dictatorship. In an effort to centralize power, SIAD called for the eradication of the clan, the key cultural and social organizing principle in Somali society. Resistance to SIAD’s socialist leadership, which was causing a rapid deterioration of the country, prompted allied clan militias to overthrow SIAD in early 1991, resulting in state collapse. Subsequent fighting between rival clans for resources and territory overwhelmed the country, resulting in a manmade famine and prompting international intervention. Beginning in 1993, the UN spearheaded a humanitarian mission supported by international forces, but the international community largely withdrew by 1995 following an incident that became known as Black Hawk Down in which two American Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters were shot down in Mogadishu. The fighting and subsequent siege and rescue resulted in 21 deaths and 82 wounded among the international forces.
International peace conferences in the 2000s resulted in a number of transitional governments that operated outside of Somalia. Left largely to themselves, Somalis in the country established alternative governance structures; some areas formed their own administrations, such as Somaliland and Puntland, while others developed localized institutions. Many local populations turned to using sharia courts, an Islamic judicial system that implements religious law. Several of these courts came together in 2006 to form the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). The ICU established order in many areas of central and southern Somalia, including Mogadishu, but was forced out when Ethiopia intervened militarily in December 2006 on behalf of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG). While the TFG settled in the capital, the ICU fled to rural areas or from Somalia altogether, reemerging less than a year later as the Islamic insurgent and terrorist movement al-Shabaab, which is still active today. In January 2007, the African Union (AU) established the AU Mission in Somalia peacekeeping force, which allowed Ethiopia to withdraw its forces, took over security responsibility for the country, and gave the TFG space to develop Somalia’s new government. By 2012, Somali powerbrokers agreed on a provisional constitution with a loose federal structure and established a central government in Mogadishu termed the Somali Federal Government (SFG). Since then, several interim regional administrations have been established and there have been two presidential elections. However, significant and fundamental governance and security problems remain for the SFG since al-Shabaab controls large portions of the country.
Some of the earliest human remains in the fossil record are found in South Africa. By about A.D. 500, Bantu speaking groups began settling into what is now northeastern South Africa displacing Khoisan speaking groups to the southwest. Dutch traders landed at the southern tip of present-day South Africa in 1652 and established a stopover point on the spice route between the Netherlands and the Far East, founding the city of Cape Town. After the British seized the Cape of Good Hope area in 1806, many of the settlers of Dutch descent (Afrikaners, also called "Boers" (farmers) at the time) trekked north to found their own republics, Transvaal and Orange Free State. In the 1820s, several decades of wars began as the Zulus expanded their territory, moving out of what is today southeastern South Africa and clashing with other indigenous peoples and with expanding European settlements. The discovery of diamonds (1867) and gold (1886) spurred wealth and immigration from Europe.
The Anglo-Zulu War (1879) resulted in the incorporation of the Zulu kingdom's territory into the British Empire. Subsequently, the Afrikaner republics were incorporated into the British Empire after their defeat in the Second South African War (1899-1902). However, the British and the Afrikaners ruled together beginning in 1910 under the Union of South Africa, which became a republic in 1961 after a Whites-only referendum. In 1948, the National Party was voted into power and instituted a policy of apartheid – billed as "separate development" of the races - which favored the White minority at the expense of the Black majority and other non-White groups. The African National Congress (ANC) led the opposition to apartheid and many top ANC leaders, such as Nelson MANDELA, spent decades in South Africa's prisons. Internal protests and insurgency, as well as boycotts by some Western nations and institutions, led to the regime's eventual willingness to negotiate a peaceful transition to majority rule.
The first multi-racial elections in 1994 following the end of apartheid ushered in majority rule under an ANC-led government. South Africa has since struggled to address apartheid-era imbalances in wealth, housing, education, and health care. Jacob ZUMA became president in 2009 and was reelected in 2014, but resigned in February 2018 after numerous corruption scandals and gains by opposition parties in municipal elections in 2016. His successor, Cyril RAMAPHOSA, has made some progress in reigning in corruption, though many challenges persist. In May 2019 national elections, the country’s sixth since the end of apartheid, the ANC won a majority of parliamentary seats, delivering RAMAPHOSA a five-year term.
The islands, with large bird and seal populations, lie approximately 1,000 km east of the Falkland Islands and have been under British administration since 1908 - except for a brief period in 1982 when Argentina occupied them. Grytviken, on South Georgia, was a 19th and early 20th century whaling station. Famed explorer Ernest SHACKLETON stopped there in 1914 en route to his ill-fated attempt to cross Antarctica on foot. He returned some 20 months later with a few companions in a small boat and arranged a successful rescue for the rest of his crew, stranded off the Antarctic Peninsula. He died in 1922 on a subsequent expedition and is buried in Grytviken. Today, the station houses scientists from the British Antarctic Survey. Recognizing the importance of preserving the marine stocks in adjacent waters, the UK, in 1993, extended the exclusive fishing zone from 12 nm to 200 nm around each island.
South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan on 9 July 2011, is the world’s newest country. Home to a diverse array of mainly Nilotic ethnolinguistic groups that settled in the territory in the 15th through 19th centuries, South Sudanese society is heavily dependent on seasonal fluctuations in precipitation and seasonal migration. The land comprising modern-day South Sudan was conquered first by Egypt and later ruled jointly by Egyptian-British colonial administrators in the late 19th century. Christian missionaries propagated the spread of English and Christianity, rather than Arabic and Islam, leading to significant cultural differences between the northern and southern parts of Sudan. When Sudan gained its independence in 1956, the Southern region received assurances that it would participate fully in the political system. However, the Arab government in Khartoum reneged on its promises, prompting two periods of civil war (1955-1972 and 1983-2005) in which as many as 2.5 million people died - mostly civilians - due largely to starvation and drought. The Second Sudanese civil war was one of the deadliest since WWII and left Southern Sudanese society devastated by humanitarian crises and economic deterioration. Peace talks resulted in a US-backed Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed in January 2005, which granted the South a six-year period of autonomy followed by a referendum on final status. The result of this referendum, held in January 2011, was a vote of 98% in favor of secession.
Since independence, South Sudan has struggled to form a viable governing system and has been plagued by widespread corruption, political conflict, and communal violence. In December 2013, conflict erupted between forces loyal to President Salva KIIR, a Dinka, and forces loyal to Vice President Riek MACHAR, a Nuer. The conflict quickly spread throughout the country and unfolded along ethnic lines, killing tens of thousands and creating a dire humanitarian crisis, with millions of South Sudanese displaced and food insecure. KIIR and MACHAR signed a peace agreement in August 2015 that created a Transitional Government of National Unity in April 2016. However, in July 2016, renewed fighting broke out in Juba between KIIR and MACHAR’s forces, plunging the country back into conflict and drawing in additional armed opposition groups, including those in the southern Equatoria region that had largely stayed out of the first round of civil war. A "revitalized" peace agreement was signed in September 2018, which mostly ended the fighting. The government and most armed opposition groups agreed that they would form a unified national army, create a transitional government by May 2019, and prepare for elections in December 2022. Subsequent extensions pushed elections to late 2023, and the transitional government was formed in February 2020, when MACHAR returned to Juba as first vice president. Since 2020, implementation of the peace agreement has been stalled as the parties wrangle over power-sharing arrangements, contributing to an uptick in communal violence and the country’s worst food security crisis since independence, with 7 of 11 million South Sudanese citizens in need of humanitarian assistance.
A large body of recent oceanographic research has shown that the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), an ocean current that flows from west to east around Antarctica, plays a crucial role in global ocean circulation. The region where the cold waters of the ACC meet and mingle with the warmer waters of the north defines a distinct border - the Antarctic Convergence - which fluctuates with the seasons, but which encompasses a discrete body of water and a unique ecologic region. The Convergence concentrates nutrients, which promotes marine plant life, and which, in turn, allows for a greater abundance of animal life. In 2000, the International Hydrographic Organization delimited the waters within the Convergence as a fifth world ocean - the Southern Ocean - by combining the southern portions of the Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, and Pacific Ocean. The Southern Ocean extends from the coast of Antarctica north to 60 degrees south latitude, which coincides with the Antarctic Treaty region and which approximates the extent of the Antarctic Convergence. As such, the Southern Ocean is now the fourth largest of the world's five oceans (after the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, and Indian Ocean, but larger than the Arctic Ocean). It should be noted that inclusion of the Southern Ocean does not imply recognition of this feature as one of the world's primary oceans by the US Government.
Spain's powerful world empire of the 16th and 17th centuries ultimately yielded command of the seas to England. Subsequent failure to embrace the mercantile and industrial revolutions caused the country to fall behind Britain, France, and Germany in economic and political power. Spain remained neutral in World War I and II but suffered through a devastating civil war (1936-39). A peaceful transition to democracy following the death of dictator Francisco FRANCO in 1975, and rapid economic modernization (Spain joined the EU in 1986) gave Spain a dynamic and rapidly growing economy, and made it a global champion of freedom and human rights. More recently, Spain has emerged from a severe economic recession that began in mid-2008, posting solid years of GDP growth above the EU average. Unemployment has fallen but remains high, especially among youth. Spain is the euro-zone's fourth-largest economy. The country has faced increased domestic turmoil in recent years due to the independence movement in its restive Catalonia region.
The Spratly Islands consist of more than 100 small islands or reefs surrounded by rich fishing grounds - and potentially by gas and oil deposits. They are claimed in their entirety by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, while portions are claimed by Malaysia and the Philippines. About 45 islands are occupied by relatively small numbers of military forces from China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Since 1985, Brunei has claimed a continental shelf that overlaps a southern reef but has not made any formal claim to the reef. Brunei claims an exclusive economic zone over this area.
The first Sinhalese arrived in Sri Lanka late in the 6th century B.C., probably from northern India. Buddhism was introduced circa 250 B.C., and the first kingdoms developed at the cities of Anuradhapura (from circa 200 B.C. to circa A.D. 1000) and Polonnaruwa (from about 1070 to 1200). In the 14th century, a south Indian dynasty established a Tamil kingdom in northern Sri Lanka. The Portuguese controlled the coastal areas of the island in the 16th century followed by the Dutch in the 17th century. The island was ceded to the British in 1796, became a crown colony in 1802, and was formally united under British rule by 1815. As Ceylon, it became independent in 1948; its name was changed to Sri Lanka in 1972. Prevailing tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists erupted into war in July 1983. Fighting between the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) continued for over a quarter century. Although Norway brokered peace negotiations that led to a cease-fire in 2002, the fighting slowly resumed and was again in full force by 2006. The government defeated the LTTE in May 2009.
During the post-conflict years under President Mahinda RAJAPAKSA, the government initiated infrastructure development projects, many of which were financed by loans from China. His regime faced significant allegations of human rights violations and a shrinking democratic space for civil society. In 2015, a new coalition government headed by President Maithripala SIRISENA of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and Prime Minister Ranil WICKREMESINGHE of the United National Party came to power with pledges to advance economic, governance, anti-corruption, reconciliation, justice, and accountability reforms. However, implementation of these reforms has been uneven. In October 2018, President SIRISENA attempted to oust Prime Minister WICKREMESINGHE, swearing in former President RAJAPAKSA as the new prime minister and issuing an order to dissolve the Parliament and hold elections. This sparked a seven-week constitutional crisis that ended when the Supreme Court ruled SIRISENA’s actions unconstitutional, RAJAPAKSA resigned, and WICKREMESINGHE was reinstated. In November 2019, Gotabaya RAJAPAKSA won the presidential election and appointed his brother, Mahinda, prime minister. Since Gotabaya RAJAPAKSA’s election, there have been concerns about his administration’s commitment to pursuing justice, human rights, and accountability reforms, as well as the risks to foreign creditors that Sri Lanka faces given its ongoing economic crisis. A combination of factors including the impact of the worldwide COVID pandemic; severe shortages of food, medicine, and fuel; and power outages have triggered increasingly violent protests in Columbo. Longtime parliamentarian and former five-time prime minister, Ranil WICKREMESINGHE replaced Mahinda RAJAPASKA as prime-minister in mid-May 2022, with a mandate to resolve the country's economic problems.
Long referred to as Nubia, modern-day Sudan was the site of the Kingdom of Kerma (ca. 2500-1500 B.C.) until it was absorbed into the New Kingdom of Egypt. By the 11th century B.C., the Kingdom of Kush gained independence from Egypt; it lasted in various forms until the middle of the 4th century A.D. After the fall of Kush, the Nubians formed three Christian kingdoms of Nobatia, Makuria, and Alodia. The latter two endured until around 1500. Between the 14th and 15th centuries much of Sudan was settled by Arab nomads, and between the 16th–19th centuries it underwent extensive Islamization. Following Egyptian occupation early in the 19th century, the British established an Anglo-Egyptian Sudan - nominally a condominium, but in effect a British colony.
Military regimes favoring Islamic-oriented governments have dominated national politics since Sudan gained independence from Anglo-Egyptian co-rule in 1956. The 30-year reign of President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-BASHIR, following months of nationwide protests, ended with the military forcing him out in April 2019. In July 2019, the country’s Transitional Military Council signed an agreement with the Forces for Freedom and Change (an umbrella group of civilian actors) to form a transitional government under a Constitutional Declaration. Economist and former international civil servant Abdalla HAMDOUK al-Kinani was selected to serve as prime minister of a civilian-led transitional government, which was to have guided the country to credible democratic elections in late 2022. In October 2021, the Sudanese military organized a takeover that ousted Prime Minister HAMDOUK and his government and replaced civilian members of the Sovereign Council (Sudan’s collective Head of State) with individuals selected by the military. HAMDOUK was briefly reinstated in November 2021 but resigned in January 2022.
As of March 2022, General Abd-al-Fatah al-BURHAN Abd-al-Rahman, the Chair of Sudan’s Sovereign Council and Commander-in-Chief of the Sudanese Armed Forces, serves as de facto head of state and government. He presides over a Sovereign Council consisting of military leaders, former armed opposition group representatives, and civilians appointed by the military. A cabinet of acting ministers handles day-to-day administration. These acting ministers are either senior civil servants (some appointed by former Prime Minister HAMDOUK and some selected by the military) or holdover ministers from Prime Minister HAMDOUK’s former cabinet who were appointed by former armed opposition groups that the military allowed to remain in their positions. The UN, the African Union, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development are currently facilitating a Sudanese-led political process intended to enable Sudanese civilian and military stakeholders to agree on the framework for a new civilian-led transitional government.
During most of the second half of the 20th century, Sudan was embroiled in two prolonged civil wars rooted in northern economic, political, and social domination of the largely non-Muslim, non-Arab southern portion of the country. The first civil war ended in 1972, but another broke out in 1983. Peace talks gained momentum in 2002-04, and the final North/South Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed in January 2005, granted the southern rebels autonomy for six years followed by a referendum on independence for Southern Sudan. South Sudan became independent on 9 July 2011, but Sudan and South Sudan have yet to fully implement security and economic agreements relating to the normalization of relations between the two countries.
In the 21st century, Sudan faced conflict in Darfur, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile starting in 2003. Together, these conflicts displaced more than 3 million people; while some repatriation has taken place, about 3.04 million IDPs remained in Sudan as of February 2022. Sudan also faces refugee influxes from neighboring countries, primarily Central African Republic, Eritrea, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Syria.
First explored by the Spaniards in the 16th century and then settled by the English in the mid-17th century, Suriname became a Dutch colony in 1667. With the abolition of African slavery in 1863, workers were brought in from India and Java. The Netherlands granted the colony independence in 1975. Five years later, the civilian government was replaced by a military regime that soon declared Suriname a socialist republic. It continued to exert control through a succession of nominally civilian administrations until 1987, when international pressure finally forced a democratic election. In 1990, the military overthrew the civilian leadership, but a democratically elected government - a four-party coalition - returned to power in 1991. The coalition expanded to eight parties in 2005 and ruled until August 2010, when voters returned former military leader Desire BOUTERSE and his opposition coalition to power. President BOUTERSE was reelected unopposed in 2015. Opposition parties campaigned hard against BOUTERSE in the lead up to the May 2020 elections and, in July 2020, a coalition led by Chandrikapersad SANTOKHI’s VHP and Ronnie Brunswijk’s ABOP was installed. The SANTOKHI government promised to tackle COVID-19, the economic crisis it inherited, and corruption.
The archipelago may have been first discovered by Norse explorers in the 12th century; the islands served as an international whaling base during the 17th and 18th centuries. Norway's sovereignty was internationally recognized by treaty in 1920, and five years later it officially took over the territory. In the 20th century, coal mining started and today a Norwegian and a Russian company are still functioning. Travel between the settlements is accomplished with snowmobiles, aircraft, and boats.
A military power during the 17th century, Sweden has not participated in any war for two centuries. An armed neutrality was preserved in both World Wars. Since then, Sweden has pursued a successful economic formula consisting of a capitalist system intermixed with substantial welfare elements. Sweden joined the EU in 1995, but the public rejected the introduction of the euro in a 2003 referendum. The share of Sweden’s population born abroad increased from 11.3% in 2000 to 20% in 2021.
The Swiss Confederation was founded in 1291 as a defensive alliance among three cantons. In succeeding years, other localities joined the original three. The Swiss Confederation secured its independence from the Holy Roman Empire in 1499. A constitution of 1848, subsequently modified in 1874 to allow voters to introduce referenda on proposed laws, replaced the confederation with a centralized federal government. Switzerland's sovereignty and neutrality have long been honored by the major European powers, and the country was not involved in either of the two World Wars. The political and economic integration of Europe over the past half century, as well as Switzerland's role in many UN and international organizations, has strengthened Switzerland's ties with its neighbors. However, the country did not officially become a UN member until 2002. Switzerland remains active in many UN and international organizations but retains a strong commitment to neutrality.
Following World War I, France acquired a mandate over the northern portion of the former Ottoman Empire province of Syria. The French administered the area as Syria until granting it independence in 1946. The new country lacked political stability and experienced a series of military coups. Syria united with Egypt in February 1958 to form the United Arab Republic. In September 1961, the two entities separated, and the Syrian Arab Republic was reestablished. In the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Syria lost the Golan Heights region to Israel. During the 1990s, Syria and Israel held occasional, albeit unsuccessful, peace talks over its return. In November 1970, Hafiz al-ASAD, a member of the socialist Ba'ath Party and the minority Alawi sect, seized power in a bloodless coup and brought political stability to the country. Following the death of President Hafiz al-ASAD, his son, Bashar al-ASAD, was approved as president by popular referendum in July 2000. Syrian troops - stationed in Lebanon since 1976 in an ostensible peacekeeping role - were withdrawn in April 2005. During the July-August 2006 conflict between Israel and Hizballah, Syria placed its military forces on alert but did not intervene directly on behalf of its ally Hizballah. In May 2007, Bashar al-ASAD's second term as president was approved by popular referendum.
Influenced by major uprisings that began elsewhere in the region, and compounded by additional social and economic factors, antigovernment protests broke out first in the southern province of Dar'a in March 2011 with protesters calling for the repeal of the restrictive Emergency Law allowing arrests without charge, the legalization of political parties, and the removal of corrupt local officials. Demonstrations and violent unrest spread across Syria with the size and intensity of protests fluctuating. The government responded to unrest with a mix of concessions - including the repeal of the Emergency Law, new laws permitting new political parties, and liberalizing local and national elections - and with military force and detentions. The government's efforts to quell unrest and armed opposition activity led to extended clashes and eventually civil war between government forces, their allies, and oppositionists.
International pressure on the ASAD regime intensified after late 2011, as the Arab League, the EU, Turkey, and the US expanded economic sanctions against the regime and those entities that support it. In December 2012, the Syrian National Coalition, was recognized by more than 130 countries as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people. In September 2015, Russia launched a military intervention on behalf of the ASAD regime, and domestic and foreign government-aligned forces recaptured swaths of territory from opposition forces, and eventually the country’s second largest city, Aleppo, in December 2016, shifting the conflict in the regime’s favor. The regime, with this foreign support, also recaptured opposition strongholds in the Damascus suburbs and the southern province of Dar’a in 2018. The government lacks territorial control over much of the northeastern part of the country, which is dominated by the predominantly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and a smaller area dominated by Turkey. The SDF expanded its territorial hold beyond its traditional homelands, subsuming much of the northeast since 2014 as it battled the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Since 2016, Turkey has been engaged in northern Syria and has conducted three large-scale military operations to capture territory along Syria's northern border in the provinces of Aleppo, Ar Raqqah, and Al Hasakah. Some opposition forces organized under the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army and Turkish forces have maintained control of northwestern Syria along the Turkish border with the Afrin area of Aleppo Province since 2018. In 2019, Turkey and its opposition allies occupied formerly SDF-controlled territory between the cities of Tall Abyad to Ra’s Al ‘Ayn along Syria’s northern border. The extremist organization Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (formerly the Nusrah Front) in 2017 emerged as the predominate opposition force in Idlib Province, and still dominates an area also hosting additional Turkish forces. Negotiations between the government and opposition delegations at UN-sponsored Geneva conferences since 2014 and separately held discussions between Iran, Russia, and Turkey since early 2017 have failed to produce a resolution to the conflict. According to a September 2021 UN estimate, the death toll resulting from the past 10 years of civil war is more than 350,000, although the UN acknowledges that this is the minimum number of verifiable deaths and is an undercount. According to a June 2022 UN estimate, the death toll resulting from the past 10 plus years of civil war is more than 306,000. As of early 2022, approximately 6.66 million Syrians were internally displaced and 14.6 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance across the country. An additional 5.6 million Syrians were registered refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, and North Africa. The conflict in Syria remains one of the two largest displacement crises worldwide (the other is the invasion of Ukraine).
First inhabited by Austronesian people, Taiwan became home to Han immigrants beginning in the late Ming Dynasty (17th century). In 1895, military defeat forced China's Qing Dynasty to cede Taiwan to Japan, which then governed Taiwan for 50 years. Taiwan came under Chinese Nationalist (Kuomintang, KMT) control after World War II. With the communist victory in the Chinese civil war in 1949, the Nationalist-controlled Republic of China government and 2 million Nationalists fled to Taiwan and continued to claim to be the legitimate government for mainland China and Taiwan based on a 1947 constitution drawn up for all of China. Until 1987, however, the Nationalist Government ruled Taiwan under a civil war martial law declaration dating to 1948. Beginning in the 1970s, Nationalist authorities gradually began to incorporate the native population into the governing structure beyond the local level. The democratization process expanded rapidly in the 1980s, leading to the then illegal founding of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Taiwan’s first opposition party, in 1986 and the lifting of martial law the following year. Taiwan held legislative elections in 1992, the first in over forty years, and its first direct presidential election in 1996. In the 2000 presidential elections, Taiwan underwent its first peaceful transfer of power with the KMT loss to the DPP and afterwards experienced two additional democratic transfers of power in 2008 and 2016. Throughout this period, the island prospered, became one of East Asia's economic "Tigers," and after 2000 became a major investor in mainland China as cross-Strait ties matured. The dominant political issues continue to be economic reform and growth as well as management of sensitive relations between Taiwan and China.
The Tajik people came under Russian imperial rule in the 1860s and 1870s, but Russia's hold on Central Asia weakened following the Revolution of 1917. At that time, bands of indigenous guerrillas (known as "basmachi") fiercely contested Bolshevik control of the area, which was not fully reestablished until 1925. Tajikistan was first created as an autonomous republic within Uzbekistan in 1924, but in 1929 the USSR designated Tajikistan a separate republic and transferred to it much of present-day Sughd Province. Ethnic Uzbeks form a substantial minority in Tajikistan, and ethnic Tajiks an even larger minority in Uzbekistan. Tajikistan became independent in 1991 following the breakup of the Soviet Union, and experienced a civil war between political, regional, and religious factions from 1992 to 1997.
Though the country holds general elections for both the presidency (once every seven years) and legislature (once every five years), observers note an electoral system rife with irregularities and abuse, with results that are neither free nor fair. President Emomali RAHMON, who came to power in 1992 during the civil war and was first elected president in 1994, used an attack planned by a disaffected deputy defense minister in 2015 to ban the last major opposition political party in Tajikistan. In December 2015, RAHMON further strengthened his position by having himself declared "Founder of Peace and National Unity, Leader of the Nation," with limitless terms and lifelong immunity through constitutional amendments ratified in a referendum. The referendum also lowered the minimum age required to run for president from 35 to 30, which made RAHMON's first-born son Rustam EMOMALI, the mayor of the capital city of Dushanbe, eligible to run for president in 2020. In April 2020, RAHMON orchestrated EMOMALI's selection as chairman of the Majlisi Milli (Tajikistan's senate), positioning EMOMALI as next in line of succession for the presidency. RAHMON opted to run in the presidential election in October 2020 and received 91% of the vote.
The country remains the poorest in the former Soviet sphere. Tajikistan became a member of the WTO in March 2013. However, its economy continues to face major challenges, including dependence on remittances from Tajikistani migrant laborers working in Russia and Kazakhstan, pervasive corruption, and the opiate trade and other destabilizing violence emanating from neighboring Afghanistan. Tajikistan has endured several domestic security incidents since 2010, including armed conflict between government forces and local strongmen in the Rasht Valley and between government forces and residents and informal leaders in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast. Tajikistan suffered its first ISIS-claimed attack in 2018, when assailants attacked a group of Western bicyclists with vehicles and knives, killing four.
Tanzania contains some of Africa’s most iconic national parks and famous paleoanthropological sites, and its diverse cultural heritage reflects the multiple ethnolinguistic groups that live in the country. Its long history of integration into trade networks spanning the Indian Ocean and the African interior led to the development of Swahili as a common language in much of east Africa and the introduction of Islam into the region. A number of independent coastal and island trading posts in what is now Tanzania came under Portuguese control after 1498 when they began to take control of much of the coast and Indian Ocean trade. By 1700, the Sultanate of Oman had become the dominant power in the region after ousting the Portuguese who were also facing a series of local uprisings. During the following hundred years, Zanzibar - an archipelago off the coast of Tanzania - became a hub of Indian Ocean trade, with Arab and Indian traders establishing and consolidating trade routes with communities in mainland Tanzania that contributed to the expansion of the slave trade. Zanzibar briefly become the capital of the Sultanate of Oman before it split into separate Omani and Zanzibar Sultanates in 1856. Beginning in the mid-1800s, European explorers, traders, and Christian missionaries became more active in the region. The Germans eventually established control over mainland Tanzania - which they called Tanganyika - and the British established control over Zanzibar. Tanganyika later came under British administration after the German defeat in World War I.
Tanganyika gained independence from Great Britain in 1961, and Zanzibar followed in 1963 as a constitutional monarchy. In Tanganyika, Julius NYERERE, a charismatic and idealistic socialist, established a one-party political system that centralized power and encouraged national self-reliance and rural development. In 1964, a popular uprising overthrew the Sultan in Zanzibar and either killed or expelled many of the Arabs and Indians who had dominated the isles for more than 200 years. Later that year, Tanganyika and Zanzibar combined to form the United Republic of Tanzania, but Zanzibar retained considerable autonomy. Their two ruling parties combined to form the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party in 1977. NYERERE handed over power to Ali Hassan MWINYI in 1985 and remained CCM chair until 1990. Tanzania held its first multi-party elections in 1995, but CCM candidates have continued to dominate politics. Political opposition in Zanzibar has led to four contentious elections since 1995, in which the ruling party claimed victory despite international observers' claims of voting irregularities. In 2001, 35 people in Zanzibar died when soldiers fired on protestors following the 2000 election. John MAGUFULI won the 2015 presidential election, and the CCM won a two-thirds majority in Parliament. He was reelected in 2020 and the CCM increased its majority in an election that was also critiqued by observers. MAGUFULI died in March 2021 while in office and was constitutionally succeeded by his vice president, Samia Suluhu HASSAN.
Two unified Thai kingdoms emerged in the mid-13th century. The Sukhothai, located in the south-central plains, gained its independence from the Khmer Empire to the east. By the late 13th century, Sukhothai’s territory extended into present-day Burma and Laos. Sukhotai lasted until the mid-15th century. The Thai Lan Na Kingdom was established in the north with its capital at Chang Mai. Lan Na was conquered by the Burmese in the 16th century. The Ayutthaya Kingdom (14th-18th centuries) succeeded the Sukhothai and would become known as the Siamese Kingdom. During the Ayutthaya period, the Thai/Siamese peoples consolidated their hold on what is present-day central and north-central Thailand. Following a military defeat at the hands of the Burmese in 1767, the Siamese Kingdom rose to new heights under the military ruler TAKSIN, who defeated the Burmese occupiers and expanded the kingdom’s territory into modern-day northern Thailand (formerly the Lan Na Kingdom), Cambodia, Laos, and the Malay Peninsula. The kingdom fought off additional Burmese invasions and raids in the late 1700s and early 1800s. In the mid-1800s, Western pressure led to Siam signing trade treaties that reduced the country’s sovereignty and independence. In the 1890s and 1900s, the British and French forced the kingdom to cede Cambodian, Laotian, and Malay territories that had been under Siamese control.
A bloodless revolution in 1932 led to the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. After the Japanese invaded Thailand in 1941, the government split into a pro-Japan faction and a pro-Ally faction backed by the king. Following the war, Thailand became a US treaty ally in 1954 after sending troops to Korea and later fighting alongside the US in Vietnam. Thailand since 2005 has experienced several rounds of political turmoil including a military coup in 2006 that ousted then Prime Minister THAKSIN Chinnawat, followed by large-scale street protests by competing political factions in 2008, 2009, and 2010. THAKSIN's youngest sister, YINGLAK Chinnawat, in 2011 led the Puea Thai Party to an electoral win and assumed control of the government.
In early May 2014, after months of large-scale anti-government protests in Bangkok beginning in November 2013, YINGLAK was removed from office by the Constitutional Court and in late May 2014 the Royal Thai Army, led by Royal Thai Army Gen. PRAYUT Chan-ocha, staged a coup against the caretaker government. The military-affiliated National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), led by PRAYUT as the appointed minister, ruled the country for more than four years, during which time the NCPO drafted a new constitution guaranteeing military sway over Thai politics in future elections by allowing the military to appoint the entire 250-member Senate and requiring a joint meeting of the House and Senate to select the prime minister, effectively giving the military a veto over the top executive. King PHUMIPHON Adunyadet passed away in October 2016 after 70 years on the throne; his only son, WACHIRALONGKON Bodinthrathepphayawarangkun (aka King RAMA X), ascended the throne in December 2016. He signed the new constitution in April 2017. A long-delayed election in March 2019, disputed and widely viewed as skewed in favor of the party aligned with the military, allowed PRAYUT to continue his premiership. The country experienced large-scale pro-democracy protests in 2020.
Timor was actively involved in Southeast Asian trading networks for centuries, and by the 14th century exported aromatic sandalwood, slaves, honey, and wax. A number of local chiefdoms ruled the island in the early 16th century when Portuguese traders arrived, chiefly attracted by the relative abundance of sandalwood on Timor; by mid-century, the Portuguese had colonized the island. Skirmishing with the Dutch in the region eventually resulted in an 1859 treaty in which Portugal ceded the western portion of the island. Imperial Japan occupied Portuguese Timor from 1942 to 1945, but Portugal resumed colonial authority after the Japanese defeat in World War II. East Timor declared itself independent from Portugal on 28 November 1975 and was invaded and occupied by Indonesian forces nine days later. It was incorporated into Indonesia in July 1976 as the province of Timor Timur (East Timor). An unsuccessful campaign of pacification followed over the next two decades, during which an estimated 100,000 to 250,000 people died. In an August 1999 UN-supervised popular referendum, an overwhelming majority of the people of Timor-Leste voted for independence from Indonesia. However, in the next three weeks, anti-independence Timorese militias - organized and supported by the Indonesian military - commenced a large-scale, scorched-earth campaign of retribution. The militias killed approximately 1,400 Timorese and displaced nearly 500,000. Most of the country's infrastructure, including homes, irrigation systems, water supply systems, and schools, and nearly all of the country's electrical grid were destroyed. On 20 September 1999, Australian-led peacekeeping troops deployed to the country and brought the violence to an end. On 20 May 2002, Timor-Leste was internationally recognized as an independent state.
In 2006, internal tensions threatened the new nation's security when a military strike led to violence and a breakdown of law and order. At Dili's request, an Australian-led International Stabilization Force (ISF) deployed to Timor-Leste, and the UN Security Council established the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT), which included an authorized police presence of over 1,600 personnel. The ISF and UNMIT restored stability, allowing for presidential and parliamentary elections in 2007 in a largely peaceful atmosphere. In February 2008, a rebel group staged an unsuccessful attack against the president and prime minister. The ringleader was killed in the attack, and most of the rebels surrendered in April 2008. Since the attack, the government has enjoyed one of its longest periods of post-independence stability, including successful 2012 elections for both the National Parliament and president and a successful transition of power in February 2015. In late 2012, the UN Security Council ended its peacekeeping mission in Timor-Leste and both the ISF and UNMIT departed the country.
From the 11th to the 16th centuries, various ethnic groups settled the Togo region. From the 16th to the 18th centuries, the coastal region became a major trading center for enslaved people, and the surrounding region took on the name of "The Slave Coast." In 1884, Germany declared a region including present-day Togo as a protectorate called Togoland. After World War I, rule over Togo was transferred to France. French Togoland became Togo upon independence in 1960. Gen. Gnassingbe EYADEMA, installed as military ruler in 1967, ruled Togo with a heavy hand for almost four decades. Despite the facade of multi-party elections instituted in the early 1990s, the government was largely dominated by President EYADEMA, whose Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) party has been in power almost continually since 1967 and its successor, the Union for the Republic, maintains a majority of seats in today's legislature. Upon EYADEMA's death in February 2005, the military installed the president's son, Faure GNASSINGBE, and then engineered his formal election two months later. Togo held its first relatively free and fair legislative elections in October 2007. Since then, President GNASSINGBE has started the country along a gradual path to democratic reform. Togo has held multiple presidential and legislative elections, and in 2019 held its first local elections in 32 years. Despite those positive moves, political reconciliation has moved slowly, and the country experiences periodic outbursts of protests by frustrated citizens that have led to violence between security forces and protesters. Constitutional changes in 2019 to institute a runoff system in presidential elections and to establish term limits has done little to reduce the resentment many Togolese feel after more than 50 years of one-family rule. GNASSINGBE became eligible for his current fourth term and one additional fifth term under the new rules. The next presidential election will be in 2025.
Tokelau, which comprises three atolls, was first settled by Polynesians around A.D. 1000. The three atolls operated relatively independently but had contact with one another, intermarrying and occasionally fighting wars. Fakaofo Atoll eventually subjugated the other two. British explorer John BYRON was the first European to see Atafu Atoll in 1765. British naval officer Edward EDWARDS saw Nukunonu Atoll in 1791, and ships occasionally continued to pass by Atafu and Nukunonu. In 1835, a US whaling ship became the first non-Pacific island ship to pass by Fakaofo. Catholic and Protestant missionaries arrived in 1845 and converted the population on the islands on which they landed. To this day, Nukunonu is predominantly Catholic while Atafu is mostly Protestant; Catholic and Protestant missionaries both worked in Fakaofo, and the population there is more mixed.
In 1863, Peruvian slave traders, masquerading as missionaries, kidnapped nearly all the men from Tokelau, and local governance moved to a system based on a Council of Elders, which still exists today. The atolls were repopulated when new Polynesian settlers and American and European migrants intermarried with local Tokelauan women. Tokelau became a British protectorate in 1889 and included in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Protectorate - later a colony - in 1908. In 1925, the UK placed Tokelau under New Zealand administration. The Tokelau Islands Act of 1948 formally transferred sovereignty from the UK to New Zealand and Tokelauans were granted New Zealand citizenship. In 1979, the US relinquished its claims over Tokelau in the Treaty of Tokehega, and Tokelau relinquished its claims over Swains Island, which is part of American Samoa.
Economic opportunities in Tokelau are sparse, and about 80% of Tokelauans live in New Zealand. Tokelau held two self-governance referendums in 2006 and 2007, in which more than 60% of voters chose to go into free association with New Zealand; however, the referendums failed to achieve the two-thirds majority necessary to enact a status change. Tokelau lacks an airport and is only accessible via a day-long boat trip from Samoa, although a site for an airstrip on Nukunonu was selected in 2019. Because of its dependency on Samoa for transportation, in 2011, Tokelau followed Samoa’s lead and shifted the international date line to its east, skipping December 30 and becoming one hour ahead of New Zealand rather than 23 hours behind.
The first humans arrived in Tonga around 1000 B.C. The islands’ politics were probably highly centralized under the Tu’i Tonga, or Tongan king, by A.D. 950, and by 1200, the Tu’i Tonga had expanded his influence throughout Polynesia and into Melanesia and Micronesia. The Tongan Empire began to decline in the 1300s, descending into civil wars, a military defeat to Samoa, and internal political strife that saw successive leaders assassinated. By the mid-1500s, some Tu’i Tongans were ethnic Samoan and day-to-day administration of Tonga was transferred to a new position occupied by ethnic Tongans.
Dutch sailors explored the islands in the 1600s and British Captain James COOK visited Tonga three times in the 1770s, naming them the Friendly Islands for the positive reception he thought he received, even though the Tongans he encountered were plotting ways to kill him. In 1799, Tonga fell into a new round of civil wars over succession. Wesleyan missionaries arrived in 1822, quickly converting the population. In the 1830s, a low-ranking chief from Ha’apai began to consolidate control over the islands and won the support of the missionaries by declaring that he would dedicate Tonga to God. The chief soon made alliances with leaders on most of the other islands and was crowned King George TUPOU I in 1845, establishing the only still-extant Polynesian monarchy. TUPOU I declared Tonga a constitutional monarchy in 1875 and his successor, King George TUPOU II, agreed to enter a protectorate agreement with the UK in 1900 after rival Tongan chiefs tried to overthrow him. As a protectorate, Tonga never completely lost its indigenous governance, but it did become more isolated and the social hierarchy became more stratified between a group of nobles and a large class of commoners. Today, about one third of parliamentary seats are reserved for nobles.
Queen Salote TUPOU III negotiated the end of the protectorate in 1965, which was achieved under King TUPOU IV, who in 1970 withdrew from the protectorate and joined the Commonwealth of Nations. A prodemocracy movement gained steam in the early 2000s, led by future Prime Minister ‘Akilisi POHIVA, and in 2006, riots broke out in Nuku’alofa to protest the lack of progress on prodemocracy legislation. To appease the activists, in 2008, King George TUPOU V announced he was relinquishing most of his powers leading up to parliamentary elections in 2010; he died in 2012 and was succeeded by his brother ‘Aho’eitu TUPOU VI. Tropical Cyclone Gita, the strongest-ever recorded storm to impact Tonga, hit the islands in February 2018 causing extensive damage.
First colonized by the Spanish, the islands came under British control in the early 19th century. The islands' sugar industry was hurt by the emancipation of the slaves in 1834. Manpower was replaced with the importation of contract laborers from India between 1845 and 1917, which boosted sugar production as well as the cocoa industry. The discovery of oil on Trinidad in 1910 added another important export. Independence was attained in 1962. The country is one of the most prosperous in the Caribbean thanks largely to petroleum and natural gas production and processing. Tourism, mostly in Tobago, is targeted for expansion and is growing. The government is struggling to reverse a surge in violent crime.
Tunisia has been the nexus of many different colonizations including those of the Phoenicians (as early as the 12 century B.C.), the Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, various Arab and Berber kingdoms, and the Ottomans (16th to late 19th centuries). Rivalry between French and Italian interests in Tunisia culminated in a French invasion in 1881 and the creation of a protectorate. Agitation for independence in the decades following World War I was finally successful in convincing the French to recognize Tunisia as an independent state in 1956. The country's first president, Habib BOURGUIBA, established a strict one-party state. He dominated the country for 31 years, repressing Islamic fundamentalism and establishing rights for women unmatched by any other Arab nation. In November 1987, BOURGUIBA was removed from office and replaced by Zine el Abidine BEN ALI in a bloodless coup. Street protests that began in Tunis in December 2010 over high unemployment, corruption, widespread poverty, and high food prices escalated in January 2011, culminating in rioting that led to hundreds of deaths. On 14 January 2011, the same day BEN ALI dismissed the government, he fled the country, and by late January 2011, a "national unity government" was formed. Elections for the new Constituent Assembly were held in late October 2011, and in December, it elected human rights activist Moncef MARZOUKI as interim president. The Assembly began drafting a new constitution in February 2012 and, after several iterations and a months-long political crisis that stalled the transition, ratified the document in January 2014. Parliamentary and presidential elections for a permanent government were held at the end of 2014. Beji CAID ESSEBSI was elected as the first president under the country's new constitution. Following ESSEBSI’s death in office in July 2019, Tunisia moved its scheduled presidential election forward two months and after two rounds of voting, Kais SAIED was sworn in as president in October 2019. Tunisia also held legislative elections on schedule in October 2019. SAIED's term, as well as that of Tunisia's 217-member parliament, expires in 2024. On 25 July 2021, SAIED seized exceptional powers allowed under Tunisia's constitution to fire the prime minister and suspend the legislature.
Modern Turkey was founded in 1923 from the remnants of the defeated Ottoman Empire by national hero Mustafa KEMAL, who was later honored with the title Ataturk or "Father of the Turks." Under his leadership, the country adopted radical social, legal, and political reforms. After a period of one-party rule, an experiment with multi-party politics led to the 1950 election victory of the opposition Democrat Party and the peaceful transfer of power. Since then, Turkish political parties have multiplied, but democracy has been fractured by periods of instability and military coups (1960, 1971, 1980), which in each case eventually resulted in a return of formal political power to civilians. In 1997, the military again helped engineer the ouster - popularly dubbed a "post-modern coup" - of the then Islamic-oriented government. An unsuccessful coup attempt was made in July 2016 by a faction of the Turkish Armed Forces.
Turkey intervened militarily on Cyprus in 1974 to prevent a Greek takeover of the island and has since acted as patron state to the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus," which only Turkey recognizes. A separatist insurgency begun in 1984 by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a US-designated terrorist organization, has long dominated the attention of Turkish security forces and claimed more than 40,000 lives. In 2013, the Turkish Government and the PKK conducted negotiations aimed at ending the violence, however intense fighting resumed in 2015. Turkey joined the UN in 1945 and in 1952 it became a member of NATO. In 1963, Turkey became an associate member of the European Community; it began accession talks with the EU in 2005. Over the past decade, economic reforms, coupled with some political reforms, have contributed to a growing economy, although economic growth slowed in recent years, with occasional bouts of turmoil.
From 2015 and continuing through 2016, Turkey witnessed an uptick in terrorist violence, including major attacks in Ankara, Istanbul, and throughout the predominantly Kurdish southeastern region of Turkey. On 15 July 2016, elements of the Turkish Armed forces attempted a coup that ultimately failed following widespread popular resistance. More than 240 people were killed and over 2,000 injured when Turkish citizens took to the streets en masse to confront the coup forces. The government accused followers of the Fethullah Gulen transnational religious and social movement ("Hizmet") for allegedly instigating the failed coup and designates the movement’s followers as terrorists. Since the attempted coup, Turkish Government authorities arrested, suspended, or dismissed more than 130,000 security personnel, journalists, judges, academics, and civil servants due to their alleged connection to Gulen's movement. Following the failed coup, the Turkish Government instituted a State of Emergency from July 2016 to July 2018. The Turkish Government conducted a referendum on 16 April 2017 in which voters approved constitutional amendments changing Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system. The amendments went into effect fully following the presidential and parliamentary elections in June 2018.
Present-day Turkmenistan covers territory that has been at the crossroads of civilizations for centuries. The area was ruled in antiquity by various Persian empires, and was conquered by Alexander the Great, Muslim armies, the Mongols, Turkic warriors, and eventually the Russians. In medieval times, Merv (located in present-day Mary province) was one of the great cities of the Islamic world and an important stop on the Silk Road. Annexed by Russia in the late 1800s, Turkmen territories later figured prominently in the anti-Bolshevik resistance in Central Asia. In 1924, Turkmenistan became a Soviet republic; it achieved independence upon the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. President for Life Saparmyrat NYYAZOW died in December 2006, and Gurbanguly BERDIMUHAMEDOW, a deputy chairman under NYYAZOW, emerged as the country's new president. BERDIMUHAMEDOW won Turkmenistan's first multi-candidate presidential election in February 2007, and again in 2012 and in 2017 with over 97% of the vote in both instances, in elections widely regarded as undemocratic. In February 2022, BERDIMUHAMEDOW announced that he would step down from the presidency and called for an election to replace him. His son, Serdar BERDIMUHAMEDOW, won the ensuing election, held in March 2022, with 73% of the vote. Gurbanguly BERDIMUHAMEDOW, although no longer head of state, maintains an influential political position as head of the Halk Maslahaty (People’s Council).
Turkmenistan has sought new export markets for its extensive hydrocarbon/natural gas reserves, which have yet to be fully exploited. As of late 2021, Turkmenistan exported the majority of its gas to China and smaller levels of gas to Russia. Turkmenistan's reliance on gas exports has made the economy vulnerable to fluctuations in the global energy market, and economic hardships since the drop in energy prices in 2014 have led many Turkmenistanis to emigrate, mostly to Turkey. Heavy restrictions placed by the government in 2020 on entry and exit into the country in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in a steep drop in emigration, however.
The islands were part of the UK's Jamaican colony until 1962, when they assumed the status of a separate Crown colony upon Jamaica's independence. The governor of The Bahamas oversaw affairs from 1965 to 1973. With Bahamian independence, the islands received a separate governor in 1973. Although independence was agreed upon for 1982, the policy was reversed and the islands remain a British overseas territory. Grand Turk island suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Maria on 22 September 2017 resulting in loss of power and communications, as well as damage to housing and businesses.
The islands were first populated by voyagers from either Samoa or Tonga in the first millennium A.D., and Tuvalu provided a steppingstone for various Polynesian communities that subsequently settled in Melanesia and Micronesia. Tuvalu eventually came under Samoan and Tongan spheres of influence although proximity to Micronesia allowed some Micronesian communities to flourish in Tuvalu, in particular on Nui Atoll. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, Tuvalu was visited by a series of American, British, Dutch, and Russian ships. The islands were named the Ellice Islands in 1819. The first Christian missionaries arrived in 1861, eventually converting most of the population, and around the same time, several hundred Tuvaluans were kidnapped by people purporting to be missionaries and sent to work on plantations in Peru and Hawaii.
The UK declared a protectorate over the Ellice Islands in 1892 and merged it with the Micronesian Gilbert Islands. The Gilbert and Ellice Islands Protectorate became a colony in 1916. During World War II, the US set up military bases on a few islands, and in 1943, after Japan captured many of the northern Gilbert Islands, the UK transferred administration of the colony southward to Funafuti. After the war, Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands was once again made the colony’s capital and the center of power was firmly in the Gilbert Islands, including the colony’s only secondary school. Amid growing tensions with the Gilbertese, Tuvaluans voted to secede from the colony in 1974, were granted self-rule in 1975, and gained independence in 1978 as Tuvalu. In 1979, the US relinquished its claims to Tuvaluan islands in a treaty of friendship.
The Tuvalu Trust Fund was established in 1987 to provide a longterm economic future for the country. In 2000, Tuvalu negotiated a contract leasing its Internet domain name ".tv" for $50 million in royalties over a 12-year period. The contract was renewed in 2011 for a ten-year period. Tuvalu’s isolation means it sees few tourists; in 2020, Funafuti International Airport had four weekly flights - three to Suva, Fiji, and one to Tarawa. Tuvalu is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change; in 2018, sea levels in Funafuti were rising twice as fast as global averages.
An ancient crossroads for various migrations, Uganda has as many as 65 ethnic groups that speak languages from three of Africa’s four major linguistic families. As early as 1200, fertile soils and regular rainfall in the south fostered the formation of several large centralized kingdoms, including Buganda, from which the country derives its name. Muslim traders from Egypt reached northern Uganda in the 1820s, and Swahili merchants from the Indian Ocean coast arrived in the south by the 1840s. The area attracted the attention of British explorers seeking the source of the Nile River in the 1860s, and this influence expanded in subsequent decades with the arrival of Christian missionaries and trade agreements; Uganda was declared a British protectorate in 1894. Buganda and other southern kingdoms negotiated agreements with Britain to secure privileges and a level of autonomy that were rare during the colonial period in Africa. The colonial boundaries demarcating Uganda grouped together a wide range of ethnic groups with different political systems and cultures, and the disparities between how Britain governed southern and northern areas compounded these differences, complicating efforts to establish a cohesive independent country.
Uganda gained independence in 1962 with one of the more developed economies and one of the strongest education systems in Sub-Saharan Africa, but it descended within a few years into political turmoil and internal conflict that lasted more than two decades. In 1966, Prime Minister Milton OBOTE suspended the constitution and violently deposed President Edward MUTESA, who was also the king of Buganda. Idi AMIN seized power in 1971 through a military coup and led the country into economic ruin and rampant mass atrocities that killed as many as 500,000 civilians. AMIN’s annexation of Tanzanian territory in 1979 provoked Tanzania to invade Uganda, depose AMIN, and install a coalition government. In the aftermath, Uganda continued to experience atrocities, looting, and political instability and had four different heads of state between 1979 and 1980. OBOTE regained the presidency in 1980 through a controversial election that sparked renewed guerrilla warfare, killing as an estimated 300,000 civilians. Gen. Tito OKELLO seized power in a coup in 1985, but his rule was short-lived, with Yoweri MUSEVENI becoming president in 1986 after his insurgency captured the capital. MUSEVENI is widely credited with restoring relative stability and economic growth to Uganda but has resisted calls to leave office. In 2017, parliament approved the removal of presidential age limits, making it possible for MUSEVENI to remain in office for life. Uganda faces numerous challenges that could affect future stability, including explosive population growth, power and infrastructure constraints, corruption, underdeveloped democratic institutions, and human rights deficits.
Ukraine was the center of the first eastern Slavic state, Kyivan Rus, which during the 10th and 11th centuries was the largest and most powerful state in Europe. Weakened by internecine quarrels and Mongol invasions, Kyivan Rus was incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and eventually into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The cultural and religious legacy of Kyivan Rus laid the foundation for Ukrainian nationalism through subsequent centuries. A new Ukrainian state, the Cossack Hetmanate, was established during the mid-17th century after an uprising against the Poles. Despite continuous Muscovite pressure, the Hetmanate managed to remain autonomous for well over 100 years. During the latter part of the 18th century, most Ukrainian ethnographic territory was absorbed by the Russian Empire. Following the collapse of czarist Russia in 1917, Ukraine achieved a short-lived period of independence (1917-20) but was reconquered and endured a brutal Soviet rule that engineered two forced famines (1921-22 and 1932-33) in which over 8 million died. In World War II, German and Soviet armies were responsible for 7 to 8 million more deaths. Although Ukraine achieved independence in 1991 with the dissolution of the USSR, democracy and prosperity remained elusive as the legacy of state control and endemic corruption stalled efforts at economic reform, privatization, and civil liberties.
A peaceful mass protest referred to as the "Orange Revolution" in the closing months of 2004 forced the authorities to overturn a rigged presidential election and to allow a new internationally monitored vote that swept into power a reformist slate under Viktor YUSHCHENKO. Subsequent internal squabbles in the YUSHCHENKO camp allowed his rival Viktor YANUKOVYCH to stage a comeback in parliamentary (Rada) elections, become prime minister in August 2006, and be elected president in February 2010. In October 2012, Ukraine held Rada elections, widely criticized by Western observers as flawed due to use of government resources to favor ruling party candidates, interference with media access, and harassment of opposition candidates. President YANUKOVYCH's backtracking on a trade and cooperation agreement with the EU in November 2013 - in favor of closer economic ties with Russia - and subsequent use of force against students, civil society activists, and other civilians in favor of the agreement led to a three-month protest occupation of Kyiv's central square. The government's use of violence to break up the protest camp in February 2014 led to all out pitched battles, scores of deaths, international condemnation, a failed political deal, and the president's abrupt departure for Russia. New elections in the spring allowed pro-West president Petro POROSHENKO to assume office in June 2014; he was succeeded by Volodymyr ZELENSKY in May 2019.
Shortly after YANUKOVYCH's departure in late February 2014, Russian President PUTIN ordered the invasion of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula falsely claiming the action was to protect ethnic Russians living there. Two weeks later, a "referendum" was held regarding the integration of Crimea into the Russian Federation. The "referendum" was condemned as illegitimate by the Ukrainian Government, the EU, the US, and the UN General Assembly (UNGA). In response to Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea, 100 members of the UN passed UNGA resolution 68/262, rejecting the "referendum" as baseless and invalid and confirming the sovereignty, political independence, unity, and territorial integrity of Ukraine. In mid-2014, Russia began supplying proxies in two of Ukraine's eastern provinces with manpower, funding, and materiel driving an armed conflict with the Ukrainian Government that continues to this day. Representatives from Ukraine, Russia, and the unrecognized Russian proxy republics signed the Minsk Protocol and Memorandum in September 2014 to end the conflict. However, this agreement failed to stop the fighting or find a political solution. In a renewed attempt to alleviate ongoing clashes, leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany negotiated a follow-on Package of Measures in February 2015 to implement the Minsk agreements. Representatives from Ukraine, Russia, the unrecognized Russian proxy republics, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also meet regularly to facilitate implementation of the peace deal. By early 2022, more than 14,000 civilians were killed or wounded as a result of the Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine.
On 24 February 2022, Russia escalated its conflict with Ukraine by invading the country on several fronts in what has become the largest conventional military attack on a sovereign state in Europe since World War II. The invasion has received near universal international condemnation, and many countries have imposed sanctions on Russia and supplied humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine. Russia made substantial gains in the early weeks of the invasion but underestimated Ukrainian resolve and combat capabilities. By the end of 2022, Ukrainian forces had regained all territories in the north and northeast and made some advances in the east and south. Nonetheless, Russia in late September 2022 unilaterally declared its annexation of four Ukrainian oblasts - Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia - even though none was fully under Russian control. The annexations remain unrecognized by the international community.
The invasion has also created Europe's largest refugee crisis since World War II. As of 13 December, approximately 16.33 million people had fled Ukraine, and 5.91 million people were internally displaced as of 5 December. Nearly 17,600 civilian casualties had been reported, as of 18 December. The invasion of Ukraine remains one of the two largest displacement crises worldwide (the other is the conflict in Syria).
The Trucial States of the Persian Gulf coast granted the UK control of their defense and foreign affairs in 19th century treaties. In 1971, six of these states - Abu Dhabi, 'Ajman, Al Fujayrah, Ash Shariqah, Dubayy, and Umm al Qaywayn - merged to form the United Arab Emirates (UAE). They were joined in 1972 by Ra's al Khaymah. The UAE's per capita GDP is on par with those of leading West European nations. For more than three decades, oil and global finance drove the UAE's economy. In 2008-09, the confluence of falling oil prices, collapsing real estate prices, and the international banking crisis hit the UAE especially hard. The UAE did not experience the "Arab Spring" unrest seen elsewhere in the Middle East in 2010-11, partly because of the government's multi-year, $1.6-billion infrastructure investment plan for the poorer northern emirates, and its aggressive pursuit of advocates of political reform. The UAE in recent years has played a growing role in regional affairs. In addition to donating billions of dollars in economic aid to help stabilize Egypt, the UAE was one of the first countries to join the Defeat-ISIS coalition, and to participate as a key partner in a Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. On 15 September 2020, the UAE and Bahrain signed a peace agreement (the Abraham Accords) with Israel – brokered by the US – in Washington DC. The UAE and Bahrain thus became the third and fourth Middle Eastern countries, along with Egypt and Jordan, to recognize Israel.
The United Kingdom has historically played a leading role in developing parliamentary democracy and in advancing literature and science. At its zenith in the 19th century, the British Empire stretched over one-fourth of the earth's surface. The first half of the 20th century saw two World Wars seriously deplete the UK's strength and the Irish Republic withdraw from the union. The second half witnessed the dismantling of the Empire and the UK rebuilding itself into a modern and prosperous European nation. As one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council and a founding member of NATO and the Commonwealth of Nations, the UK pursues a global approach to foreign policy. The Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, and the Northern Ireland Assembly were established in 1998.
The UK was an active member of the EU after its accession in 1973, although it chose to remain outside the Economic and Monetary Union. However, motivated in part by frustration at a remote bureaucracy in Brussels and massive migration into the country, UK citizens on 23 June 2016 voted by 52 to 48 percent to leave the EU. The UK became the first country to depart the EU on 31 January 2020, after prolonged negotiations on EU-UK economic and security relationships had been hammered out.
Britain's American colonies broke with the mother country in 1776 and were recognized as the new nation of the United States of America following the Treaty of Paris in 1783. During the 19th and 20th centuries, 37 new states were added to the original 13 as the nation expanded across the North American continent and acquired a number of overseas possessions. The two most traumatic experiences in the nation's history were the Civil War (1861-65), in which a northern Union of states defeated a secessionist Confederacy of 11 southern slave states, and the Great Depression of the 1930s, an economic downturn during which about a quarter of the labor force lost its jobs. Buoyed by victories in World Wars I and II and the end of the Cold War in 1991, the US remains the world's most powerful nation state. Since the end of World War II, the economy has achieved relatively steady growth, low unemployment and inflation, and rapid advances in technology.
All of the following US Pacific island territories except Midway Atoll constitute the Pacific Remote Islands National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Complex and as such are managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service of the US Department of the Interior. Midway Atoll NWR has been included in a Refuge Complex with the Hawaiian Islands NWR and also designated as part of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. These remote refuges are the most widespread collection of marine- and terrestrial-life protected areas on the planet under a single country's jurisdiction. They sustain many endemic species including corals, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, seabirds, water birds, land birds, insects, and vegetation not found elsewhere.
Baker Island: The US took possession of the island in 1857. Its guano deposits were mined by US and British companies during the second half of the 19th century. In 1935, a short-lived attempt at colonization began on this island but was disrupted by World War II and thereafter abandoned. The island was established as a NWR in 1974.
Howland Island: Discovered by the US early in the 19th century, the uninhabited atoll was officially claimed by the US in 1857. Both US and British companies mined for guano deposits until about 1890. In 1935, a short-lived attempt at colonization began on this island, similar to the effort on nearby Baker Island, but was disrupted by World War II and thereafter abandoned. The famed American aviatrix Amelia EARHART disappeared while seeking out Howland Island as a refueling stop during her 1937 round-the-world flight; Earhart Light, a day beacon near the middle of the west coast, was named in her memory. The island was established as a NWR in 1974.
Jarvis Island: First discovered by the British in 1821, the uninhabited island was annexed by the US in 1858 but abandoned in 1879 after tons of guano had been removed. The UK annexed the island in 1889 but never carried out plans for further exploitation. The US occupied and reclaimed the island in 1935. It was abandoned in 1942 during World War II. The island was established as a NWR in 1974.
Johnston Atoll: Both the US and the Kingdom of Hawaii annexed Johnston Atoll in 1858, but it was the US that mined the guano deposits until the late 1880s. Johnston and Sand Islands were designated wildlife refuges in 1926. The US Navy took over the atoll in 1934. Subsequently, the US Air Force assumed control in 1948. The site was used for high-altitude nuclear tests in the 1950s and 1960s. Until late in 2000 the atoll was maintained as a storage and disposal site for chemical weapons. Munitions destruction, cleanup, and closure of the facility were completed by May 2005. The Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Air Force are currently discussing future management options; in the interim, Johnston Atoll and the three-mile Naval Defensive Sea around it remain under the jurisdiction and administrative control of the US Air Force.
Kingman Reef: The US annexed the reef in 1922. Its sheltered lagoon served as a way station for flying boats on Hawaii-to-American Samoa flights during the late 1930s. There are no terrestrial plants on the reef, which is frequently awash, but it does support abundant and diverse marine fauna and flora. In 2001, the waters surrounding the reef out to 12 nm were designated a NWR.
Midway Islands: The US took formal possession of the islands in 1867. The laying of the transpacific cable, which passed through the islands, brought the first residents in 1903. Between 1935 and 1947, Midway was used as a refueling stop for transpacific flights. The US naval victory over a Japanese fleet off Midway in 1942 was one of the turning points of World War II. The islands continued to serve as a naval station until closed in 1993. Today the islands are a NWR and are the site of the world's largest Laysan albatross colony.
Palmyra Atoll: The Kingdom of Hawaii claimed the atoll in 1862, and the US included it among the Hawaiian Islands when it annexed the archipelago in 1898. The Hawaii Statehood Act of 1959 did not include Palmyra Atoll, which is now partly privately owned by the Nature Conservancy with the rest owned by the Federal government and managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. These organizations are managing the atoll as a wildlife refuge. The lagoons and surrounding waters within the 12-nm US territorial seas were transferred to the US Fish and Wildlife Service and designated a NWR in January 2001.
Montevideo, founded by the Spanish in 1726 as a military stronghold, soon became an important commercial center due to its natural harbor. Claimed by Argentina but annexed by Brazil in 1821, Uruguay declared its independence in 1825 and secured its freedom in 1828 after a three-year struggle. The administrations of President Jose BATLLE in the early 20th century launched widespread political, social, and economic reforms that established a statist tradition. A violent Marxist urban guerrilla movement named the Tupamaros (or Movimiento de Liberación Nacional-Tupamaros (MLN-T)), launched in the late 1960s, led Uruguay's president to cede control of the government to the military in 1973. By yearend, the rebels had been crushed, but the military continued to expand its hold over the government. Civilian rule was restored in 1985. In 2004, the left-of-center Frente Amplio Coalition won national elections that effectively ended 170 years of political control previously held by the Colorado and National (Blanco) parties. The left-of-center retained the presidency and control of both chambers of congress until 2019. Uruguay's political and labor conditions are among the freest on the continent.
Uzbekistan is the geographic and population center of Central Asia. The country has a diverse economy and a relatively young population. Russia conquered and united the disparate territories of present-day Uzbekistan in the late 19th century. Stiff resistance to the Red Army after the Bolshevik Revolution was eventually suppressed and a socialist republic established in 1924. During the Soviet era, intensive production of "white gold" (cotton) and grain led to the overuse of agrochemicals and the depletion of water supplies, leaving the land degraded and the Aral Sea and certain rivers half-dry. Independent since the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, the country has diversified agricultural production while developing its mineral and petroleum export capacity and increasing its manufacturing base, although cotton remains a major part of its economy. Uzbekistan’s first president, Islom KARIMOV, led Uzbekistan for 25 years until his death in September 2016. His successor, former Prime Minister Shavkat MIRZIYOYEV, has improved relations with Uzbekistan’s neighbors and introduced wide-ranging economic, judicial, and social reforms. MIRZIYOYEV was reelected in October 2021 with 80% of the vote.
Vanuatu was first settled around 2000 B.C. by Austronesian speakers from Solomon Islands. By around 1000, localized chieftain systems began to develop on the islands. In the mid-1400s, the Kuwae Volcano erupted, causing frequent conflict and internal strife amid declining food availability, especially on Efate Island. Around 1600, Chief ROI MATA united Efate under his rule. In 1606, Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandes de QUEIROS was the first European to see the Banks Islands and Espiritu Santo, setting up a short-lived settlement on the latter. The next European explorers arrived in the 1760s, and in 1774, British navigator James COOK named the islands the New Hebrides. The islands were frequented by whalers in the 1800s and interest in harvesting the islands’ sandalwood trees caused conflict between Europeans and local Ni-Vanuatu. Catholic and Protestant missionaries arrived in the 1840s but faced difficulties converting the locals. In the 1860s, European planters in Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia, and Samoa needed labor and kidnapped almost half the adult males of the islands and forced them to work as indentured servants.
With growing and overlapping interests in the islands, France and the UK agreed that the New Hebrides would be neutral in 1878 and established a joint naval commission in 1887. In 1906, the two countries created the British-French Condominium to jointly administer the islands and they established separate laws, police forces, currencies, and education and health systems. The condominium arrangement was dysfunctional and the UK used France’s defeat to Germany in World War II to assert greater control over the islands. As Japan pushed into Melanesia, the US stationed up to 50,000 soldiers in Vanuatu to prevent further advances. In 1945, US troops withdrew and sold their equipment, leading to the rise of political and religious cargo cults, such as the John Frum movement.
The France-UK condominium was reestablished after World War II. The UK was interested in moving the condominium toward independence in the 1960s, but France was hesitant and political parties agitating independence began to form, largely divided along linguistic lines. France eventually relented and elections were held in 1974 with independence granted in 1980 as Vanuatu under English-speaking Prime Minister Walter LINI. At independence, the Nagriamel Movement, with support from French-speaking landowners, declared Espiritu Santo independent, but the short-lived state was dissolved 12 weeks later. Linguistic divisions have lessened over time but highly fractious political parties have led to weak coalition governments that require support from both Anglophone and Francophone parties. Since 2008, prime ministers have been ousted through no-confidence motions or temporary procedural issues 10 times.
Venezuela was one of three countries that emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830 (the others being Ecuador and New Granada, which became Colombia). For most of the first half of the 20th century, Venezuela was ruled by military strongmen who promoted the oil industry and allowed for some social reforms. Although democratically elected governments largely held sway since 1959, the executive branch under Hugo CHAVEZ, president from 1999 to 2013, exercised increasingly authoritarian control over other branches of government. This undemocratic trend continued in 2018 when Nicolas MADURO claimed the presidency for his second term in an election boycotted by most opposition parties and widely viewed as fraudulent.
The last democratically-elected institution is the 2015 National Assembly. The president of the 2015 National Assembly, Juan GUAIDO is currently recognized by several countries - including the United States - as the interim president of Venezuela, while MADURO is recognized by most countries. In 2020, legislative elections were held for a new National Assembly, which the opposition boycotted and which were widely condemned as fraudulent. The resulting assembly is viewed by GUAIDO, most opposition parties, and many international actors as illegitimate. In November 2021, most opposition parties broke a three-year election boycott to participate in mayoral and gubernatorial elections, despite flawed conditions. As a result, the opposition more than doubled its representation at the mayoral level and retained four of 23 governorships. The 2021 regional elections marked the first time since 2006 that the EU was allowed to send an electoral observation mission to Venezuela.
The MADURO regime places strong restrictions on freedoms of expression and the press. Since CHAVEZ, the ruling party's economic policies expanded the state's role in the economy through expropriations of major enterprises, strict currency exchange and price controls that discourage private sector investment and production, and overdependence on the petroleum industry for revenues, among others. Years of economic mismanagement left Venezuela ill-prepared to weather the global drop in oil prices in 2014, sparking an economic decline that has resulted in reduced government social spending, shortages of basic goods, and high inflation. Worsened living conditions have prompted over 6 million Venezuelans to migrate, mainly settling in nearby countries. Since 2017, the US has imposed financial and sectoral sanctions on the MADURO regime. Since mid-2020, and despite MADURO regime mismanagement and faltering infrastructure, oil production has begun to rise primarily due to strengthened MADURO regime trade relations with China, Russia, Iran, and the illicit oil trade. Caracas has more recently relaxed some economic controls to mitigate the impact of its sustained economic crisis, such as allowing increased currency and liberalizing import flexibility for private citizens and companies. Other concerns include human rights abuses, rampant violent crime, political manipulation of the judicial and electoral systems, and corruption.
Ancient Vietnam was centered on the Red River Valley and was under Han Chinese rule until approximately the 10th century. The Ly Dynasty (11th-13th century) ruled the first independent Vietnamese state, which was known as Dai Viet, and established their capital at Thang Long (Hanoi). Under the Tran Dynasty (13th-15th century), Dai Viet forces led by one of Vietnam’s national heroes, TRAN Hang Dao, fought off Mongol invaders in 1279. Following a brief Chinese occupation in the early 1400s, the leader of Vietnamese resistance, LE Thai To, made himself emperor and established the Le Dynasty, which lasted until the late 18th century, although not without decades of political turmoil, civil war, and division. During this period, Dai Viet expanded southward to the Central Highlands and Mekong Delta, reaching the approximate boundaries of modern-day Vietnam by the 1750s. Dai Viet suffered additional civil war and division in the latter half of the 18th century, but was reunited and renamed Vietnam under Emperor NGUYEN Phuc Anh (aka Gia Long) in 1802.
The Nguyen Dynasty would be the last Vietnamese dynasty before the conquest by France, which began in 1858 and was completed by 1884. Vietnam became part of French Indochina in 1887. It declared independence after World War II, but France continued to rule until its 1954 defeat by communist forces under Ho Chi MINH. Under the Geneva Accords of 1954, Vietnam was divided into the communist North and anti-communist South. US economic and military aid to South Vietnam grew through the 1960s in an attempt to bolster the government, but US armed forces were withdrawn following a cease-fire agreement in 1973. Two years later, North Vietnamese forces overran the South reuniting the country under communist rule. Despite the return of peace, for over a decade the country experienced little economic growth because of its diplomatic isolation, its conservative leadership policies, and the persecution and mass exodus of individuals, many of them successful South Vietnamese merchants. However, since the enactment of Vietnam's "doi moi" (renovation) policy in 1986, Vietnamese authorities have committed to increased economic liberalization and enacted structural reforms needed to modernize the economy and to produce more competitive, export-driven industries. Since implementation, the economy has seen strong growth, particularly in agricultural and industrial production, construction, exports, and foreign investment. Increased tourism has also become a key component of economic growth. Nevertheless, the Communist Party maintains tight political and social control of the country and Vietnam faces considerable challenges including rising income inequality, corruption, inadequate social welfare, and a poor human rights record.
Since withdrawing its military occupation forces from Cambodia in the late 1980s and the end of Soviet aid by 1991, Vietnam has practiced a non-aligned foreign policy that emphasizes friendly ties with all members of the international community. Relatedly, Vietnam adheres to a security doctrine called the "Four Nos" (no alliances, no siding with one country against another, no foreign bases, and no using force in international relations). Despite longstanding tensions with Beijing regarding its expansive claims that overlap with Hanoi's own claimed maritime boundaries in the South China Sea, Vietnam puts a priority on stable relations with China, given its proximity, size, and status as Vietnam's largest trading partner.
The Danes secured control over the southern Virgin Islands of Saint Thomas, Saint John, and Saint Croix during the 17th and early 18th centuries. Sugarcane, produced by African slave labor, drove the islands' economy during the 18th and early 19th centuries. In 1917, the US purchased the Danish holdings, which had been in economic decline since the abolition of slavery in 1848. On 6 September 2017, Hurricane Irma passed over the northern Virgin Islands of Saint Thomas and Saint John and inflicted severe damage to structures, roads, the airport on Saint Thomas, communications, and electricity. Less than two weeks later, Hurricane Maria passed over the island of Saint Croix in the southern Virgin Islands, inflicting considerable damage with heavy winds and flooding rains.
Wake Island was probably visited by Micronesian and Polynesian settlers, and oral legends tell of periodic voyages to the islands by people from the Marshall Islands. Wake Island was uninhabited when Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendana de NEYRA became the first European to see it in 1568 and still had no human inhabitants when English captain Samuel WAKE sailed by it in 1796. The United States Exploring Expedition visited the island in 1841 and the US annexed it in 1899 to use as a cable and refueling station between its newly acquired Pacific territories of Hawaii, the Philippines, and Guam. In the 1930s, Pan American Airways built facilities on Wake Island so that it could be used as a stopover for flights from the US to China. In January 1941, the US began to install military assets on Wake Island and in early December of that year, Japan attacked Wake Island, capturing it by the end of the month after a heroic resistance. Japan held Wake Island until the end of World War II, and in 1946, commercial airlines once again used Wake Island as a refueling stop.
In 1973, the Marshall Islands claimed Wake Island based on the oral legends, although the US has not recognized these claims. In 1974, the US military took exclusive control of the island’s airstrip and restricted visitors. In 1978, Bikini Islanders from the Marshall Islands, who were evacuated in the 1950s and 1960s because of US nuclear tests, considered rehoming on Wake Island, but the US military rejected that plan. Since the 1970s, the island has been important for missile defense testing. In 2009, Wake Island was included in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.
The first humans settled Wallis and Futuna around 800 B.C. The islands were a natural midpoint between Fiji and Samoa. Around A.D. 1500, Tongans invaded Wallis and a chiefdom system resembling Tonga’s formal hierarchy developed on the island. Tongans attempted to settle Futuna but were repeatedly rebuffed. Samoans settled Futuna in the 1600s and a slightly less centralized chiefdom system formed. Dutch explorers were the first Europeans to see the islands in 1616, followed intermittently by other Europeans, including British explorer Samuel WALLIS in 1767. French Catholic missionaries were the first Europeans to permanently settle Wallis and Futuna in 1837. The missionaries converted most of the population of Wallis by 1842 and of Futuna by 1846. The missionaries and newly-converted King LAVELUA of Uvea on Wallis asked France for a protectorate in 1842 following a rebellion of locals. France agreed, although the protectorate status would not be ratified until 1887. In 1888, King MUSULAMU of Alo and King TAMOLE of Sigave, both on Futuna, signed a treaty establishing a French protectorate; the Wallis and Futuna protectorate was integrated into the territory of New Caledonia that same year. France renegotiated the terms of the protectorate with the territory’s three kings in 1910, expanding French authority.
Wallis and Futuna was the only French colony to side with the Vichy regime during World War II until the arrival of Free French and US troops in 1942. In 1959, inhabitants of the islands voted to separate from New Caledonia and become a French overseas territory, a status it assumed in 1961. Despite the split, a significant Wallisian and Futunan community still lives in New Caledonia. In 2003, Wallis and Futuna’s designation changed to that of an overseas collectivity. Wallis and Futuna became an associate member of the Pacific Islands Forum in 2018, two years after France’s other Pacific territories became full members of the organization.
The landlocked West Bank - the larger of the two Palestinian territories - is home to some three million Palestinians. Inhabited since at least the 15th century B.C., the West Bank has been dominated by many different peoples throughout its history; it was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in the early 16th century. The West Bank fell to British forces during World War I, becoming part of the British Mandate of Palestine. Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the West Bank was captured by Transjordan (later renamed Jordan), which annexed the West Bank in 1950; it was captured by Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967. Under a series of agreements known as the Oslo Accords signed between 1993 and 1999, Israel transferred to the newly created Palestinian Authority (PA) security and civilian responsibility for many Palestinian-populated areas of the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip.
In addition to establishing the PA as an interim government, the Oslo Accords divided the West Bank into three areas with one fully managed by the PA, another fully administered by Israel, and a third with shared control until a permanent agreement could be reached between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel. In 2000, a violent intifada or uprising began across the Palestinian territories, and in 2001 negotiations for a permanent agreement between the PLO and Israel on final status issues stalled. Subsequent attempts to re-start direct negotiations have not resulted in progress toward determining final status of the area.
The PA last held national elections in 2006, when the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS) won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). Fatah, the dominant Palestinian political faction in the West Bank, and HAMAS failed to maintain a unity government, leading to violent clashes between their respective supporters and HAMAS’s violent seizure of all PA military and governmental institutions in the Gaza Strip in June 2007. In December 2018, the Palestinian Constitutional Court dissolved the PLC. In recent years, Fatah and HAMAS have made several attempts at reconciliation, but the factions have been unable to implement agreements.Since 1994, the PA has administered parts of the West Bank under its control, mainly the major Palestinian population centers and areas immediately surrounding them. Roughly 60% of the West Bank remains under full Israeli civil and military control, impeding movement of people and goods through the territory.
Globally, the 20th century was marked by: (a) two devastating World Wars; (b) the Great Depression of the 1930s; (c) the end of vast colonial empires; (d) rapid advances in science and technology, from the first airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina (US) to the landing on the moon; (e) the Cold War between the Western alliance and the Warsaw Pact nations; (f) a sharp rise in living standards in North America, Europe, and Japan; (g) increased concerns about environmental degradation including deforestation, energy and water shortages, declining biological diversity, and air pollution; (h) the onset of the AIDS epidemic; and (i) the ultimate emergence of the US as the only world superpower. The planet's population continues to explode: from 1 billion in 1820 to 2 billion in 1930, 3 billion in 1960, 4 billion in 1974, 5 billion in 1987, 6 billion in 1999, 7 billion in 2012, and 8 billion in 2022. For the 21st century, the continued exponential growth in science and technology raises both hopes (e.g., advances in medicine and agriculture) and fears (e.g., development of even more lethal weapons of war).
The Kingdom of Yemen (colloquially known as North Yemen) became independent from the Ottoman Empire in 1918 and in 1962 became the Yemen Arab Republic. The British, who had set up a protectorate area around the southern port of Aden in the 19th century, withdrew in 1967 from what became the People's Republic of Southern Yemen (colloquially known as South Yemen). Three years later, the southern government adopted a Marxist orientation and changed the country's name to the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen. The massive exodus of hundreds of thousands of Yemenis from the south to the north contributed to two decades of hostility between the states. The two countries were formally unified as the Republic of Yemen in 1990. A southern secessionist movement and brief civil war in 1994 was quickly subdued. In 2000, Saudi Arabia and Yemen agreed to delineate their border.
Fighting in the northwest between the government and the Huthis, a Zaydi Shia Muslim minority, continued intermittently from 2004 to 2010, and then again from 2014-present. The southern secessionist movement was revitalized in 2007.
Public rallies in Sana'a against then President Ali Abdallah SALIH - inspired by similar Arab Spring demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt - slowly built momentum starting in late January 2011 fueled by complaints over high unemployment, poor economic conditions, and corruption. By the following month, some protests had resulted in violence, and the demonstrations had spread to other major cities. By March the opposition had hardened its demands and was unifying behind calls for SALIH's immediate ouster. In April 2011, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), in an attempt to mediate the crisis in Yemen, proposed the GCC Initiative, an agreement in which the president would step down in exchange for immunity from prosecution. SALIH's refusal to sign an agreement led to further violence. The UN Security Council passed Resolution 2014 in October 2011 calling for an end to the violence and completing a power transfer deal. In November 2011, SALIH signed the GCC Initiative to step down and to transfer some of his powers to Vice President Abd Rabuh Mansur HADI. Following HADI's uncontested election victory in February 2012, SALIH formally transferred all presidential powers. In accordance with the GCC Initiative, Yemen launched a National Dialogue Conference (NDC) in March 2013 to discuss key constitutional, political, and social issues. HADI concluded the NDC in January 2014 and planned to begin implementing subsequent steps in the transition process, including constitutional drafting, a constitutional referendum, and national elections.
The Huthis, perceiving their grievances were not addressed in the NDC, joined forces with SALIH and expanded their influence in northwestern Yemen, which culminated in a major offensive against military units and rival tribes and enabled their forces to overrun the capital, Sanaa, in September 2014. In January 2015, the Huthis surrounded the presidential palace, HADI's residence, and key government facilities, prompting HADI and the cabinet to submit their resignations. HADI fled to Aden in February 2015 and rescinded his resignation. He subsequently escaped to Oman and then moved to Saudi Arabia and asked the GCC to intervene militarily in Yemen to protect the legitimate government from the Huthis. In March 2015, Saudi Arabia assembled a coalition of Arab militaries and began airstrikes against the Huthis and Huthi-affiliated forces. Ground fighting between Huthi-aligned forces and anti-Huthi groups backed by the Saudi-led coalition continued through 2016. In 2016, the UN brokered a months-long cessation of hostilities that reduced airstrikes and fighting, and initiated peace talks in Kuwait. However, the talks ended without agreement. The Huthis and SALIH’s political party announced a Supreme Political Council in August 2016 and a National Salvation Government, including a prime minister and several dozen cabinet members, in November 2016, to govern in Sanaa and further challenge the legitimacy of HADI’s government. However, amid rising tensions between the Huthis and SALIH, sporadic clashes erupted in mid-2017, and escalated into open fighting that ended when Huthi forces killed SALIH in early December 2017. In 2018, anti-Huthi forces made the most battlefield progress in Yemen since early 2016, most notably in Al Hudaydah Governorate. In December 2018, the Huthis and Yemeni Government participated in the first UN-brokered peace talks since 2016, agreeing to a limited cease-fire in Al Hudaydah Governorate and the establishment of a UN Mission to monitor the agreement. In April 2019, Yemen’s parliament convened in Say'un for the first time since the conflict broke out in 2014. In August 2019, violence erupted between HADI's government and the pro-secessionist Southern Transition Council (STC) in southern Yemen. In November 2019, HADI's government and the STC signed a power-sharing agreement to end the fighting between them, and in December 2020, the signatories formed a new cabinet. In 2020 and 2021, fighting continued on the ground in Yemen as the Huthis gained territory, and also conducted regular UAV and missile attacks against targets in Saudi Arabia.
Multiple waves of Bantu-speaking groups moved into and through what is now Zambia over the past thousand years. In the 1880s, the British began securing mineral and other economic concessions from various local leaders and the territory that is now Zambia eventually came under the control of the former British South Africa Company and was incorporated as the protectorate of Northern Rhodesia in 1911. Administrative control was taken over by the UK in 1924. During the 1920s and 1930s, advances in mining spurred development and immigration.
The name was changed to Zambia upon independence in 1964. In the 1980s and 1990s, declining copper prices, economic mismanagement, and a prolonged drought hurt the economy. Elections in 1991 brought an end to one-party rule and propelled the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) into power. The subsequent vote in 1996, however, saw increasing harassment of opposition parties and abuse of state media and other resources. The election in 2001 was marked by administrative problems, with three parties filing a legal petition challenging the election of ruling party candidate Levy MWANAWASA. MWANAWASA was reelected in 2006 in an election that was deemed free and fair. Upon his death in August 2008, he was succeeded by his vice president, Rupiah BANDA, who won a special presidential byelection later that year. The MMD and BANDA lost to the Patriotic Front (PF) and Michael SATA in the 2011 general elections. SATA, however, presided over a period of haphazard economic management and attempted to silence opposition to PF policies. SATA died in October 2014 and was succeeded by his vice president, Guy SCOTT, who served as interim president until January 2015, when Edgar LUNGU won the presidential byelection and completed SATA's term. LUNGU then won a full term in August 2016 presidential elections. Hakainde HICHILEMA was elected president in August 2021.
The hunter-gatherer San people first inhabited the area that eventually became Zimbabwe. Farming communities migrated to the area around A.D. 500 during the Bantu expansion, and Shona-speaking societies began to develop in the Limpopo valley and Zimbabwean highlands around the 9th century. These societies traded with Arab merchants on the Indian Ocean coast and organized under the Kingdom of Mapungubwe in the 11th century. A series of powerful trade-oriented Shona states succeeded Mapungubwe, including the Kingdom of Zimbabwe (ca. 1220-1450), Kingdom of Mutapa (ca. 1450-1760), and the Rozwi Empire. The Rozwi Empire expelled Portuguese colonists from the Zimbabwean plateau but was eventually conquered in 1838 by the Ndebele clan of Zulu general MZILIKAZI during the era of conflict and population displacement known as the Mfecane. In the 1880s, colonists arrived with the British South Africa Company (BSAC) and obtained a written concession for mining rights from Ndebele King LOBENGULA. The king later disavowed the concession and accused the BSAC agents of deceit. The BSAC annexed Mashonaland and subsequently conquered Matabeleland by force during the First Matabele War of 1893-1894 to establish company rule over the territory. BSAC holdings south of the Zambezi River were annexed by the UK in 1923 and became the British colony of Southern Rhodesia. The 1930 Land Apportionment Act restricted Black land ownership and established structural racial inequalities that would favor the White minority for decades. A new constitution in 1961 further cemented White minority rule.
In 1965, the government under White Prime Minister Ian SMITH unilaterally declared its independence from the UK. London did not recognize Rhodesia’s independence and demanded more voting rights for the Black majority in the country. International diplomacy and a liberation struggle by Black Zimbabweans finally led to biracial elections in 1979 and independence (as Zimbabwe) in 1980. Robert MUGABE, who led the uprising and became the nation's first prime minister, was the country's only ruler (as president since 1987) from independence until his forced resignation in November 2017. In the mid-1980s, the government tortured and killed thousands of civilians in a crackdown on dissent known as the Gukurahundi campaign. Economic mismanagement and chaotic land redistribution policies following independence periodically crippled the economy and resulted in widespread shortages of basic commodities. General elections in 2002, 2008, and 2013 were severely flawed and widely condemned but allowed MUGABE to remain president. In November 2017, Vice President Emmerson MNANGAGWA became president following a military intervention that forced MUGABE to resign, and MNANGAGWA cemented power by sidelining rivals Grace MUGABE (Robert MUGABE’s wife) and Jonathan MOYO of the G40 faction of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party. In July 2018, MNANGAGWA won the presidential election after a close contest with opposition candidate Nelson CHAMISA. MNANGAGWA has resorted to the government's longstanding practice of violently disrupting protests and opposition rallies. Economic conditions remained dire under MNANGAGWA, with inflation soaring in 2019 and the country’s export revenues declining dramatically in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.