Many African countries experienced severe political crises after independence, and in a number of cases the crises had significant demographic consequences, especially for child mortality. Data based on maternity histories allowed the reconstruction of child mortality trends over the past 20-30 years in Uganda, Ghana, Rwanda, Madagascar, and Mozambique. The indicator used was the child mortality quotient (number of deaths of under-5 children per 1000 births). Uganda's child mortality declined from 227/1000 in 1960 to 154/1000 in 1970, but the trend was reversed in 1971, when Idi Amin Dada came to power, and the rate reached 204/1000 in 1982 before beginning to decline again. The level of mortality remained high, however, and was still 160/1000 in 1988. Ghana suffered a political and economic crisis during 1979-84. Child mortality rose from 130/1000 in 1978 to 175/1000 in 1983. Mortality rates began a rapid decline after structural adjustment programs were begun, possibly due to improved management of health services. The child mortality rate in Rwanda increased from around 220/1000 in 1960 to 240/1000 in 1975, before beginning a decline in the late 1970s that reached 140/1000 by 1990. The period of political stability and relative prosperity during the 15-year reign of Juvenal Habyarimana was associated with the decline. Political crises marked by student and peasant uprisings were associated with Madagascar's child mortality rate increase from about 145/1000 in 1960 to 185/1000 in 1985. Mozambique was beset by civil war after independence, in which destruction of the health infrastructure was a strategy. The child mortality rate increased from 270/1000 to 470/1000 between 1975 and 1986, a peak war year. The factors by which political crises affect mortality so profoundly remain to be explained, but particular attention should be given to studying the health sector.