United Kingdom African Dependencies

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In November 1965, the United Kingdom created a new colony, the British Indian Ocean Territory, from three island groups (Aldabra, Farquhar, and Des Roches) and the Chagos Archipelago (formerly a dependency of Mauritius). Aldabra, Farquhar, and Des Roches became part of independent Seychelles in 1976.

The chief island of the Chagos Archipelago is Diego Garcia, on which the United States maintains a naval base under an agreement with the British. The expressed intent of the United States to expand its naval base in order to strengthen the US military presence in the Indian Ocean and thereby secure the oil routes from the Persian Gulf was a sensitive international question in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The Chagos Archipelago is located at 6° s and 72° e and covers a total area of 54,400 sq km (21,000 sq mi), although the land area is only 60 sq km (23 sq mi). Diego Garcia is both the largest island (44 sq km/17 sq mi) and the most southerly, lying nearly 1,770 km (1,100 mi) east of Mahé, the main island of the Seychelles; it is also the only populated island in the territory. The military installation there has military personnel and civilian contract employees from the United Kingdom, Mauritius, the Philippines, and the United States. The average temperature on Diego Garcia is 27°c (81°f); annual rainfall ranges from 230255 cm (90100 in).

France took possession of the Chagos Archipelago during the 18th century but ceded it to the United Kingdom in 1814. It was administered as a dependency of Mauritius until 1965. Initially the archipelago was exploited for copra by slave laborers from Mauritius; after emancipation in the 19th century, they became contract employees. Some of them, now known as Ilois, stayed on and became permanent residents. The United Kingdom bought the copra plantations from the private owners in 1967 and decided to close them down; some 1,200 Ilois were removed to Mauritius during 196773. In 1982, after prolonged negotiation, the United Kingdom granted £4 million to the Ilois on Mauritius, whose government agreed to provide land worth £1 million for their permanent resettlement.

In 1980, the government of Mauritius demanded that Diego Garcia revert to its control, arguing that the United Kingdom had violated an understanding allegedly given in 1967 that the island would not be used as a military base. The UK government denied giving any such assurance. As of 1999, a military installation on Diego Garcia was under joint jurisdiction by the United States and the United Kingdom. In 2000, a British High Court upheld the military status of Diego Garcia. In 2005 there were 1,500 military personnel and 2,000 civilians living on Diego Garcia.


St. Helena, a British colony 122 sq km (47 sq mi) in area, is a mountainous island in the South Atlantic Ocean at approximately 16° s and 5°45 w, about 1,930 km (1,200 mi) from the west coast of Africa. The maximum elevation, at Diana's Peak, is 828 m (2,717 ft). Southeast trade winds give the island a pleasant climate, despite its tropical location. The temperature at Jamestown, the capital, on the north coast, ranges from 18°29°c (6585°f); inland, as the elevation rises, temperatures are somewhat cooler. Rainfall ranges to an annual maximum of about 100 cm (40 in). The population, of mixed origin, was estimated at 7,460 in mid-2005; approximately 25% of the population lives in Jamestown. The language is English, and the majority of people are Anglicans.

Jamestown has open anchorages but no port facilities. The St. Helena Shipping Co. provides passenger and cargo service from the United Kingdom and South Africa. As of 2004, there was one airport on the island. St. Helena has 198 km (123 mi) of all-weather roads, 168 km (104 mi) of which have been paved.

Uninhabited when first sighted by the Portuguese navigator João da Nova Castella in 1502, and claimed by the Dutch in 1633, the island was garrisoned in 1659 by the British East India Company, captured by the Dutch in 1673, and retaken that same year by the English. It became famous as the place of Napoleon's exile, from 1815 until his death in 1821, and passed to the crown in 1834.

The island is administered by a governor, with the aid of a Legislative Council that includes, in addition to the governor, the speaker, 3 ex-officio, and 12 elected members. General elections were held in August 2005; Council committees, a majority of whose members belong to the Legislative Council, are appointed by the governor and charged with executive powers and general supervision of government departments. The Supreme Court of St. Helena, headed by a chief justice, has full criminal and civil jurisdiction. Other judicial institutions include a magistrate's court, a small claims court, and a juvenile court.

St. Helena coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, and 50 pence and 1 pound and notes of 5 and 10 pounds are legal tender; their value is on a par with their UK equivalents.

The domestic economy is based on agriculture. The main crops are potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, and vegetables. St. Helenians also are employed on Ascension and the Falkland Islands. Fish, especially skipjack and tuna, are among St. Helena's primary exports. There are no exploitable minerals, and virtually all timber is imported. St. Helena also imports all of its consumer and capital goods. The United Kingdom, the United States, Tanzania, and South Africa are St. Helena's main trading partners. In 2004, imports were valued at us$45 million, and exports at us$19 million; British aid amounted to us$5.3 million in 1997; total foreign aid in 1995 amounted to us$12.6 million.

There is an unemployment relief system, and workers' compensation is paid for death or disablement. There is one labor union, the St. Helena General Workers' Union; approximately two-thirds of the labor force works for the government. Health facilities include a hospital of 58 beds as well as facilities for the elderly and the physically and mentally disabled.

The population is entirely literate. Education is free and compulsory between the ages of 5 and 15. A free public library is located in Jamestown, and there are branch libraries in several rural districts. Longwood House, Napoleon's home in exile, is now French property and a museum. The colony had 2,200 main telephone lines in use in 2002. Cable and Wireless Ltd. provides telegraph communications between St. Helena, Cape Town, and Ascension Island. Radio receivers in use numbered about 3,000 in 1997. The government maintains a radio broadcasting station, a weekly newspaper, and monthly film shows in each district. Television programs are received via satellite and distributed by cable. There were 500 Internet users in 2002.

Dependencies of St. Helena are Tristan da Cunha and Ascension, which are inhabited, and Gough Island, the three Nightingale Islands, and Inaccessible Island, which are not. Tristan da Cunha, at 37°15 s and 12°30 w, approximately 2,400 km (1,500 mi) sw of St. Helena, is a partly wooded volcanic island, with an area of 98 sq km (38 sq mi), reaching a maximum elevation of 2,060 m (6,760 ft). Annual rainfall averages 168 cm (66 in) on the coast. The population numbers around 300, nearly all of whom traced their ancestry to members of an English garrison sent to the island in 1816. Communications are limited to a few calls by ships each year and to a wireless station in daily contact with Cape Town. There is also a local broadcasting and radiotelephone service.

A South African rock lobster (crayfish) company operates a fish-freezing factory on the island. This facility replaced a cannery that was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in October 1961 that forced the inhabitants to evacuate the island. They were resettled near Southampton, England, in January 1962. Owing to their previous isolation, however, the islanders were particularly vulnerable to respiratory diseases, and many of them became ill because of the English climate. In March 1963, an advance group returned to Tristan da Cunha to repair some of the damaged property and to plant potatoes, the staple subsistence crop; the remaining islanders returned by the end of the year. With the construction of a harbor, shore fishing has also developed.

An island council consists of an administrator (who also serves as a magistrate), three appointed members, and eight elected members. Considerable revenue is derived from the sale of stamps; however, the fishing industry provides the chief source of livelihood. Development aid ended in 1980, and since then the island has financed its own projects.

Ascension, at 7°56 s and 14°25 w, about 1,131 km (703 mi) nw of St. Helena, is a bleak volcanic island with an area of 88 sq km (34 sq mi). The island's highest peak, Green Mountain, is 859 m (2,817 ft) above sea level. Ascension became a dependency of St. Helena in 1922 and is an important telecommunications station. In 1942, during World War II, the United States established an air base on the island. A US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) tracking station and a British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) relay station were established in 1966. British forces used the island in 1982 as a staging area for the recovery of the Falkland Islands from Argentine occupation, and a new Royal Air Force camp was completed in 1984. The population of Ascension, excluding British military personnel, totals around 1,100.

Sea turtles come to the island between December and May to lay their eggs. Wild goats and partridges abound. Ascension is the breeding ground of the sooty tern, the "wide-awake bird."

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United Kingdom African Dependencies

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United Kingdom African Dependencies