Algeria, a gateway between Africa and Europe, has been battered by violence over the past half-century and remains at war with itself.
Angola was embroiled in civil war for virtually the entire quarter century since independence.
Benin, formerly known as Dahomey, has emerged as a beacon of democracy and one of the most stable countries in Africa.
Botswana is Africa's longest continuous multiparty democracy. It is among the continent's most stable countries, relatively free of corruption and has an outstanding human rights record.
A poor country even by West African standards, the landlocked state of Burkina Faso has suffered from recurring droughts, matched in number only by the military coups it has endured, especially during the 1980s.
Since independence in 1961 Burundi has been plagued by tension between the dominant Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority.
The modern state of Cameroon was created in 1961 following the unification of two former colonies, one British and one French. Since then it has struggled from one-party rule to a multiparty system in which the freedom of expression is severely limited.
Poor in natural resources, prone to drought and with only 10% arable land, the Cape Verde islands are heavily dependent on food imports, mostly in the form of aid.
Central African Republic
The Central African Republic (CAR) is endowed with virgin rainforests and has some of the highest densities of lowland gorillas and forest elephants in Africa.
Although rich in gold, uranium and oil, Chad is among the world's poorest countries.
Potentially a holiday paradise whose picture-postcard beaches could support an economy-boosting tourist industry, the Comoros islands have fallen victim to a vicious circle of coups in which European mercenaries figure prominently.
Republic of Congo
The Republic of Congo has emerged from a decade of civil wars, but hopes of a return to peace and stability have been marred by ongoing fighting with militia groups.
Democratic Republic of Congo
A vast country with immense economic resources, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) has been at the centre of what could be termed Africa's world war
Controlling access to the Red Sea, Djibouti is of major strategic importance, a fact that has ensured a steady flow of foreign assistance.
While best known for its pyramids and ancient civilizations, Egypt has played a central role in the political situation within the region in modern times.
Since independence in 1968, Equatorial Guinea has been ruled by two men - from the same family - who have been described by a variety of human rights organisations as among the worst abusers of human rights in Africa.
Eritrea emerged from its long war of independence in 1993 only to plunge once again into war, first with Yemen and then, more devastatingly, with its old adversary, Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is Africa's oldest independent country and, with the exception of a five-year occupation by Mussolini's Italy, has never been colonised.
One of West Africa's more stable countries, Gabon boasts the highest income per capita in the region thanks to its oil wealth, which accounts for 80% of exports.
Gambia is one of Africa's smallest countries and in contrast to many of its West African neighbours, it has enjoyed lengthy spells of stability since independence
Ghana was the first place in sub-Saharan Africa where Europeans arrived to trade - first in gold, later in slaves.
Although Guinea's mineral wealth makes it potentially one of Africa's richest countries, its people are among the poorest in West Africa.
Once hailed as a potential model for Third World development, Guinea-Bissau is now one of the poorest countries in the world.
Once hailed as a model of stability, Ivory Coast is in danger of slipping into the kind of internal strife that has plagued so many African countries.
Situated on the equator on Africa's east coast, Kenya has been described as "the cradle of humanity".
The Kingdom of Lesotho is made up mostly of highlands where many of the villages can be reached only on horseback, by foot or light plane.
Situated in West Africa, Liberia is Africa's oldest republic. However, since the 1990s it has become better known for its long civil war and its role in the war in Sierra Leone.
Libya has been isolated by much of the international community for many years for its alleged connection with the bombing of a PanAm plane over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988.
Madagascar is the world's fourth biggest island after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo. Because of its isolation most of its mammals, half its birds, and most of its plants exist nowhere else on earth.
For three decades the destiny of Malawi was tied to the whims of President-for-Life Kamuzu Banda who enjoyed being surrounded by dancing women and who encouraged people to betray relatives who criticised his rule.
The landlocked West African country of Mali is one of the world's poorest nations. Since independence from France in 1960, Mali has suffered droughts, rebellions, a coup and a 23-year-long military dictatorship.
A largely desert country, Mauritania forms a link between Arab Maghreb and western sub-Saharan Africa.
Mauritius, a volcanic island of lagoons and sandy beaches in the Indian Ocean, has a reputation for stability and racial harmony among its mixed population of Asians, Europeans and Africans.
The Kingdom of Morocco is the most westerly of the North African countries known as the Maghreb.
Mozambique has been battered by colonial rule, civil war and famine, but since the government and rebels signed a peace deal ending 16 years of civil war the country has made big strides on the road to recovery.
Namibia, a large and sparsely populated country on Africa's southwest coast, has enjoyed more than a decade of stability under President Sam Nujoma, who led the long fight against rule by South Africa.
A vast, arid state on the edge of the Sahara desert, Niger has suffered austere military rule for most of the years since independence from France in 1960 and is rated by the UN as one of the world's poorest nations
After lurching from one military coup to another, Nigeria now has an elected leadership. But it faces the growing challenge of preventing Africa's most populous country from breaking apart along ethnic and religious lines.
Rwanda has experienced Africa's worst attempted genocide in modern times and is still recovering from the shock. However, its efforts at recovery have been marred by its intervention in the civil war in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Sao Tome and Principe, at one time a leading cocoa producer, is now struggling to shake off its dependence on the crop. Cocoa production and prices have dropped, leaving the island state heavily reliant on foreign aid.
The 40-year rule of Senegal's Socialist Party came to a peaceful end in March 2000.
After an ominous, post-independence start which saw them lurch from a coup, through an invasion by mercenaries to an abortive army mutiny and several coup attempts, the Seychelles have stabilized and attained prosperity.
The West African state of Sierra Leone emerged from a decade of civil war in early 2002, with the help of Britain, the former colonial power, and a large United Nations peacekeeping mission.
Somalia was without an effective central government for much of the 1990s, after President Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991.
Diversity is a key feature of South Africa, where 11 languages are recognised as official, where community leaders include rabbis and chieftains, rugby players and returned exiles, where traditional healers ply their trade around the corner from stockbrokers and where housing ranges from mud huts to palatial homes with swimming pools.
Sudan is the largest and one of the most diverse countries in Africa, home to deserts, mountain ranges, swamps and rain forests.
Swaziland is one of the world's last remaining absolute monarchies, with the king ruling by decree over his million subjects who live mainly in rural areas and maintain traditional ways of life.
Tanzania has been spared the internal strife that has blighted many African states.
Togo, a narrow strip of land on Africa's west coast, has for years been the target of criticism over its human rights record and more recently over its alleged support for the Angolan rebel group Unita in defiance of international sanctions.
Home of the ancient city of Carthage, Tunisia has for a long time been an important player in the Mediterranean, placed as it is in the centre of North Africa, close to vital shipping routes.
Since the late 1980s Uganda has rebounded from the abyss of civil war and economic catastrophe to become a model of relative peace, stability and even some prosperity.
Zambia has moved from being a major copper producer and potentially one of the continent's richest countries at independence in 1964 to one of the world's poorest.
The fortunes of Zimbabwe have for the past two decades been tied to President Robert Mugabe, who wrested control from a small white community and put the country on a stable course.