Population: 12.2 million
Major languages: French, Lingala, Kingwana, Kikongo, Tshiluba
Main products: maize, sugar, groundnuts, cotton, livestock, vegetables, tobacco
The struggle for independence, power and land run through Zimbabwe's post-colonial history.
Ian Smith, the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia - a British colony since 1923 - rejects British conditions for independence in 1964 and makes a unilateral declaration of independence in 1965 - not recognised by London.
Britain cuts all ties with the newly renamed Rhodesia, which is also subject to UN sanctions. The African nationalist Zapu and Zanu parties take up arms against the regime and African guerrilla groups are involved in clashes with Rhodesian security forces, who after 1967 are backed by South African forces.
Constitutional settlement talks take place during the 1970s but without success. Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe agree a joint position in the Patriotic Front, which boycotts elections held under a new constitution in 1979.
A Constitutional Conference convened in Lancaster House, London, in 1979, is attended by Patriotic Front leaders and eventually reaches agreement on a new constitution, transitional arrangements and a ceasefire. A British-appointed governor, Lord Soames, is given full authority for a transitional period.
After elections the new State of Zimbabwe becomes legally independent in 1980. Robert Mugabe becomes prime minister of a coalition government, with Rev. Canaan Banana in the largely ceremonial role of president.
Factional differences between the former guerrillas continue, with tensions between Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe. Unrest involving Pro-Nkomo dissidents in Matabeleland prompts the deployment in 1983 and 1984 of thousands of government troops into the area, who are subsequently accused of atrocities. The situation eventually improves when Mr Mugabe and Mr Nkomo sign a unity agreement in 1988.
Robert Mugabe becomes Zimbabwe's first executive president in 1987, replacing Canaan Banana who retires as ceremonial president.
In 1990 Mr Mugabe wins presidential elections and his Zanu-PF party wins a majority in parliament.
Parliament approves legislation allowing the compulsory acquisition of land by the government, but a lack of funds slows the land resettlement programme. Zanu-PF and Mr Mugabe win in further elections in 1995 and 1996 respectively.
In 1997 the government is accused of misusing funds intended for veterans of the independence struggle.
The government agrees to large benefits for war veterans. New taxes to finance these cause strikes and demonstrations. Morgan Tsvangirai, a trade union leader, is attacked in his office by unknown assailants.
Mr Mugabe announces an acceleration of the land resettlement programme, saying private white farmers will not be fully compensated, and suggesting the UK assist them. A list of more than 1,000 targeted properties is published in November 1997.
Riots break out in Harare and other cities in January 1998 after steep food price rises. The army is deployed to stop them and some 800 people are arrested.