27 years of civil war, 1.5 million dead and 4 million refugees after independence from Portugal in 1975, since 2002 Angola has had the peace needed to develop and explore its immense natural resources.

Having gained independence from its colonizing power, Portugal, in 1975, the three main Angolan parties – Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) fought a bloody civil war which ended only with the death of the UNITA leader, Jonas Savimbi.

Angola was also the stage for one of the bloodiest episodes of the cold war, with the United States supporting UNITA and the invasion of Angola by the South African army and the former Soviet Union supporting the MPLA and the sending of Cuban troops to the West African country.

Having received initial support from the Portuguese military to set up government in Luanda, the colonial capital, the MPLA declared itself the legitimate government of Angola and took power. As well as this the South African army was unable to successfully combat the Cubans and MPLA soldiers.

A large majority of Angola’s 11 million people live from subsistence agriculture on the 1,246,700 square kilometers of its territory and most foodstuffs have to be imported.

Average Angolan life expectancy is of just 36.5 years and the infant mortality rate is 190 deaths to every thousand births.

Oil production accounts for around half of the Gross National Product and more than half of all exports. Official data points to Angola having confirmed reserves of 23 billion barrels of oil and 80 billion cubic meters of gas.
Apart from oil, Angola exports oil derivatives, diamonds, some agricultural products such as coffee, wood and cotton, and fish.

Interestingly, its main export markets after the United States are Continental China and Taipei, with 30 and 8 percent of the total, respectively.

Angola has a total labor force of 5.1 million people. More than half of these are unemployed, although the primary sector accounts for 85 percent with the remaining 15 percent in the service industry, agriculture represents no more than 8 percent of the country’s GDP. Industry supports the Angolan GDP and represents more than 67 percent of it.


On April 22 1500 the fleet of Pedro Álvares Cabral arrived in Brazil, which was initially called Vera Cruz. The voyage took 44 days and it is now thought it was a mere formality as the Portuguese already knew of the lands, albeit in a superficial way.

This claim stems from a reading of the Tordesillas Treaty signed between the two Iberian powers in 1494, in the town that gave the treaty its name. In that document Lisbon reserved for itself all the lands found to the East of a meridian that was 370 leagues, or around 2000 kilometers, to the West of the Cape Verde archipelago. This included Brazil.

Three hundred years later revolutionary France and the conservative European monarchies were at war. Napoleon was victorious against all but England. In order to tame the English lion he decreed a continental blockade. Portugal, whose economy was reliant upon the English, was reluctant to take part. Napoleon’s forces invaded Portugal.

In 1808 the Portuguese royal family moved itself to Brazil. It went under English protection, but that protection came at a price: Brazilian commerce, which had thus far been monopolized by the Portuguese. The English paid themselves so well that customs tariffs on their products were lower than on Portuguese products: In a Portuguese colony.

Despite King João VI having given economic freedom to Brazil on opening up the ports and designating the country as a kingdom united to Portugal and the Algarves, administrative corruption, fiscal oppression, and the contradictions of the King’s policies led to revolts, partly inspired by the illuminist and liberal movements of the time.

The regency of Portugal by Englishman Beresford after the defeat of the French and the refusal of King João VI to return to Portugal was the cause of the liberal revolution of 1820 in the northern Portuguese city of Porto. After the victory of the constitutionalists and with no other alternative, King João VI returned to Portugal leaving his son and heir Prince Pedro as regent of Brazil.

At the end of 1821 decrees from the Portuguese Court arrived in Brazil ordering the abolition of the regency and the immediate return of Prince Pedro, the obedience of the provinces to Lisbon and not to Rio and the extinction of the courts of Rio de Janeiro. A strong movement attempted to convince Prince Pedro to disobey the courts and stay in Brazil, in which it was successful.

On September 7, 1822, impelled by the circumstances, Prince Pedro definitively broke off political ties with Portugal. Thus the emancipation process begun in 1808 with the arrival of the royal family came to an end. On October 12, 1822 Prince Pedro was nominated and on December 1 of the same year was enthroned as the first emperor of Brazil.

These days Brazil is a republic. With its population of 186 million and 8.5 million square kilometers of land area, Brazil is the largest and most populous country in the South American continent. Average life-expectancy is of 71 years and the infant mortality rate stands at 29 deaths per 1000 births.

Brazil has had a civil government system since 1985 when military rulers
peacefully handed over power. The country has vast natural resources and a huge labor force, is the main economy of South America and a regional leader. One of the country’s most serious problems is the extremely unequal distribution of wealth.

Cape Verde

A group of 10 islands discovered by Portuguese navigators in the 15th century, Cape Verde is now one of the most stable democracies in Africa, after a period of 15 years under a one party system.

When the struggle for independence began in Guinea-Bissau some of the leaders of the guerilla – of Cape Verdean origin – called their organization the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). But after independence in 1975 the relationship between the two countries cooled.

Cape Verde was initially used as a transit point in the slave trade and later as a re-fuelling port for transatlantic ships. Continued droughts in the second half of the 20th century led much of the population to emigrate and today more of the population lives abroad than in the country itself.

The country has around 820,000 inhabitants and the average Cape Verdean has a life expectancy of 70 years and child mortality stands at 48 deaths for every 1,000 births.

The Cape Verde economy is based on services and commerce, transport, tourism and public administration representing 72 percent of the Gross National Product. Although 70 percent of the population lives in rural areas, the primary sector represents just 12 percent of GDP.

Cape Verde, has as its capital Praia and a total area of 4,033 square kilometers. Annually the country has a high balance of trade deficit which is financed by external aid and by money sent home by emigrants, which represents over 20% of GDP.


China, the world’s most populated country, has within two decades managed to change from a rural economy to an industrial one and make a large part of the products now sold across the world have a “Made in China” label.

The man behind this change was, principally, Deng Xiaoping when he noted that “it matters little the colour of the cat, so long as it catches mice.”

Deng implemented the “one country, two systems” concept allowing certain regions of China to adopt a capitalist model, namely Macau and Hong Kong, in order that they could support the country’s economic development.

Due to its size, China has an extremely diverse climate, varying from tropical in the south and sub-arctic in the far north. The northernmost point of China, in the province of Heilongjiang, sees winter temperatures of minus 30 degrees Celsius whilst in Hainan Island the climate is tropical and in the Pearl River Delta, which includes Macau and Hong Kong, winter temperatures rarely fall below 10 degrees Celsius.

China, which is the world’s fourth largest country, with 9.6 million square kilometres, after Russia, Canada and the United States, also has the biggest population of all the countries in the world – 1.3 billion people, who have an average life expectancy of 72 years.

Located on the Asian continent, China has borders with 14 countries. These are – Afghanistan, Bhutan, Myanmar, India, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Vietnam. It also has internal regional borders with Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.

In the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, the China of the Manchu dynasty was humiliated by the foreign powers that in August 1900 took Beijing and managed to get an agreement from China for foreign troops to be stationed in the capital. This was the result of the Boxer rebellion. Between 1839 and 1842 the Opium wars took place which ended in another unequal treaty – the British, as well as taking control of Hong Kong, were permitted to use five ports in China.

Breaking away from the imperial regime, Sun Yat-sen and his comrades launched the Wuchang republican revolution, in the capital of Hubei province.

One of Sun’s companions in August 1912 set up the Kuomintang, or nationalist party. This party and the communist party, which was set up in 1921 became the main actors in the history of China in the first half of the 20th century.

Comrades at arms in the fight against the Japanese enemy, which at the end of World War II had caused the death of over 20 million Chinese, the nationalists and communists fought a civil war, which ended with the defeat of the former.

On 1 October 1949, Mao Zedong, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party proclaimed the People’s Republic of China, with its capital in Beijing, at a ceremony in Tien Anmen Square.

The defeated nationalists of Chiang Kai-shek took refuge in Taiwan which, however, continues to be an integral part of China.


Guinea-Bissau is located on the West African coast between Senegal to the North and Guinea Conakry to the South and has a 350-kilometer-long coastline.

After being the first Portuguese colony to gain its independence, in 1974, since then Guinea-Bissau has been the setting for several state coups, attempted coups and deposed presidents which have led to the country’s economic ruin.

The guerrilla war against Portugal began in Guinea-Bissau, and the leaders of the country unilaterally declared independence on September 24, 1973 and Portugal recognized this on September 10 of the next year, after the April 25 revolution in Portugal.

Recent presidential elections gave victory to Nino Vieira, who was previously the country’s president after a coup in 1980. In 1994 he was elected president in Guinea’s first free elections and was overthrown in 1999 and substituted by Kumba Iala, who was later overthrown in a further coup.

Guinea’s population of 1.4 million people has a low life expectancy of just 47 years and the infant mortality rate is 107 deaths to every 1,000 births.

Guinea-Bissau is one of the 10 poorest countries in the world and mainly depends on agriculture and fishing. In more recent years the production of cashew nuts has increased significantly making the country the sixth largest producer in the world.

Guinea-Bissau has reserves of phosphates and other minerals but extraction is unlikely to be carried out in the near future due to the high costs involved. Despite this the exploration of off-shore oil reserves may give the country the required revenue in the long term.


Mozambique is situated on the Eastern coast of Africa, has a total land area of 784,000 square kilometers and is bathed by the Indian Ocean along the 2,470 kilometers of its coastline.

Located between Tanzania to the North and South Africa to the South, Mozambique also has borders with Malawi, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

A civil war between Frelimo (Mozambique Liberation Front), of Marxist orientation, and pro-Western Renamo, transformed a rural country into an urban and coastal country, with much of the population fleeing from the countryside in search of refuge from the soldiers of both factions.

Mozambique was colonized by the Portuguese from the 16th Century and gained its independence in 1975 after a guerilla war that lasted 10 years. The Marxist position of its leaders, with purges and so-called re-education camps, led to the creation of Renamo (National Mozambique Resistance) and the beginning of the civil war that ended only in 1992.

By 1989, Frelimo had abandoned its Marxist line and adopted a market economy and multi-party democracy. Joaquim Chissano, the second president of Mozambique after Samora Machel, gave up his place after 18 years leading the country and the latest elections saw the victory of the Frelimo candidate.

With an estimated population of 19.4 million people, the average life expectancy is little over 40 years, while infant mortality stands at 130 deaths for every 1,000 births. As well as this, 12.2 percent of the Mozambique population is infected with the AIDS virus, which in 2003 added 110,000 people to the annual death toll.

The most recent presidential elections carried out in December 2004, gave victory to Frelimo and its candidate Armando Guebuza with 63.7 percent of the vote. The Renamo leader, Afonso Dhlakama, had just 31.7 percent of the ballots in his favor. The next presidential elections are scheduled for 2009. In Mozambique it is the president who nominates the Government, which is currently led by Luísa Diogo.

After independence in 1975, Mozambique was already one of the poorest countries in the world. Decades of bad management and the civil war in 1977-92 worsened the situation. Despite a number of changes introduced in 1987 and 1994 Mozambique is still dependent on foreign aid for a large part of its budget and most of the population (70 percent) lives below the poverty line.

Mozambique produces some agricultural goods such as cotton, cashews, sugar cane, maize and tropical fruits and some industrial products such as chemicals (fertilizer, soap and paints), aluminum and textiles, among others.


After ruling the seas during the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal lost much of its wealth and status with the destruction of its capital, Lisbon in the earthquake of 1755, the French occupation during the Napoleonic wars and the independence of Brazil in 1822.

In 1910 a revolution brought the monarchy to an end and a succession of repressive governments filled most of the next six decades. Among these was the dictatorship of António Oliveira Salazar who was removed from his position in 1968 and substituted by Marcelo Caetano. In April 1974 a coup d’etat open the way for democratic reforms and in the following year independence was given to all of the country’s colonies.

Portugal, which is located in Europe and shares the Iberian peninsula with Spain, has been formally independent since 1143 when the Zamora Treaty was signed and peace was made with the Kingdom of Castile. With a continental area of 89,000 square kilometers, Portugal also includes two archipelagoes, Madeira and the Azores, in the mid-Atlantic Ocean.
With 10.5 million inhabitants, the life expectancy of the average Portuguese person is 77 years.

The almost immediate consequence of the revolution of April 25, 1974 where negotiations with the liberation movements of the colonies to end the war on three fronts that Portugal was involved in and prepare the independence process, which took place on different dates in 1974 (Guinea-Bissau) and 1975 (Angola, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe and Mozambique).

An almost immediate consequence of the African independences was the process known as the “retornados”, in which the majority of white Portuguese (around one million), many of whom without any material assets, left the former colonies for Portugal which, in the midst of its own economic hardships, had to provide for its returned citizens.

In fact, the years from 1974 to 1985, the year in which Portugal became part of the European Economic Community, now the European Union, were very difficult for the Portuguese. The support for the “retornados” as well as the backlash from the excesses of the revolution – large salary increases, fall in productivity, labor conflicts and a fall in exports – led to an increase in unemployment and inflation and a decrease in real salaries.

When Portugal joined the EEC on June 12, 1985, sanctioned by then Prime Minister Mário Soares, European funds began pouring into the country making it possible for Portugal to crawl out of the mire of underdevelopment in which four decades of dictatorship had placed it and begin to increase ties with European partners.

As one of the Euro countries, Portugal’s economic growth, after the currency’s launch, started to converge with the European average, a trend which reversed in 2001. A low quality education system has been an obstacle to an increase in productivity and economic growth.

On top of this, the country is being overtaken by lower-cost producers, such as the Central and East European nations that have joined the European Union and Asia as a target for direct foreign investment.

The rules associated to the single European Currency, relating to the budget deficit, public debt and rate of inflation, have led the current Portuguese government headed by José Sócrates to adopt unpopular measures to lower the budget deficit to 3 percent to prevent further disparity with the European average.

Sao Tome and Principe

Sao Tome and Principe, an archipelago with two main islands formed from extinct volcanoes and whose names together gave the country its own name, is set in the Gulf of Guinea on the Equator – at 1 degree North – and to the West of Gabon.

With an area of 1,001 kilometers squared Sao Tome is one of the smallest countries in Africa and has a tropical, hot and humid climate with a rainy season from October to May, and a population of just over 187,000 inhabitants.

Sao Tome and Principe was discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th Century and by the 19th century its economy was based on two agricultural products, cocoa and coffee, produced using slave labor.

Although the country gained its independence from Portugal in 1975 the first democratic reforms were only instated at the end of the 1980s and the first free elections were held in 1991. Despite this the political life of the country has been marked by instability and frequent changes of leadership and attempted coups in 1995 and 2003.

The recent discovery of oil in the Gulf of Guinea should have a very significant impact on the economic and social structure of the diminutive archipelago.

More than half of its population lives below the poverty line but the average life expectancy is 67 years and infant mortality is just 6.7 deaths per 1,000 births.

Since independence the country has continued to be dependent on cocoa for its survival, bad management and drought have led to a drop in production. Prices on the international market have increased however and producers’ revenues have remained practically unaltered.

Sao Tome may see much benefit from exploration of oil reserves in the Gulf of Guinea as the country imports practically everything it needs. The first oil contract was attributed to a US company, as have tourist resources.

East Timor

East Timor was officially recognized as an independent state on May 20, 2002, after a three-year presence of United Nations sponsored peace-keeping troops designed to put an end to the scorched-earth policies and widespread bloodshed carried out by militias loyal to the territory’s occupation by Indonesia.

Between the time the results of the referendum, in which the population of Timor opted for independence from Indonesia, and the arrival of UN troops, the militia and Indonesian soldiers destroyed most of the country’s infrastructures including houses, irrigation systems and water supply networks, schools and almost 100 percent of the electricity distribution network.

The Portuguese began negotiating with the inhabitants of Timor island in the 16th Century, in 1512, and a few decades later they decided to colonize it. Skirmishes with the Dutch ended when an 1859 treaty was signed in which Portugal handed over the Western part of the island while keeping the Western Ocussi enclave.

During the Second World War, Timor was occupied by Japanese troops.
In 1945 Portugal regained its colonial authority after Japan’s defeat. In 1974 a revolution in Portugal led to the independence of all its colonial territories.

On November 28, 1975 East Timor declared its independence from Portugal and nine days later it was invaded and occupied by Indonesian troops. In July 1976 it was incorporated as the 27th Indonesian province. A two-decade-long pacification process carried out by Jakarta troops yielded poor results and led to the deaths of an estimated 200,000 people.

East Timor has a population of little over 1 million people and an area of 15,000 square kilometers spread over the Eastern part of Timor island, the Ocussi enclave and two smaller islands. The population has an average life expectancy of 66 years.

Following the post-referendum massacres some 300,000 people fled to the Western part of the island. The vast majority of these have now returned.
In economic terms, East Timor has benefited from a massive international aid program which has supported reconstruction in both urban and rural areas. The country faces serious problems including building infrastructures, reinforcing the budding state administration and job creation for young people. However, revenues from oil exploration, by Australia, should help the Timorese government to put its development projects into practice.