Situated on the equator on Africa’s east coast, Kenya has been described as “the cradle of humanity”.
In areas of the Great Rift Valley, palaeontologists have discovered some of the earliest evidence of man’s ancestors.
In the present day, Kenya’s ethnic diversity has produced a vibrant culture, but is also a source of conflict.
After independence from Britain in 1963, politics was dominated by the charismatic Jomo Kenyatta. He was succeeded in 1978 by Daniel arap Moi, who remained in power for 24 years. The ruling Kenya African National Union was the country’s only legal political party for much of the 1980s.
Violent unrest – and international pressure – led to the restoration of multi-party politics in the early 1990s. But it was to be another decade before opposition candidate Mwai Kibaki ended nearly 40 years of Kanu rule with his landslide victory in 2002’s general election.
With its scenic beauty and abundant wildlife, Kenya is one of Africa’s major safari destinations. But the lucrative tourist industry has been hit by fears of terrorism; flight cancellations and travel warnings issued by some foreign governments have had a severe impact on the sector.
Despite President Kibaki’s pledge to tackle corruption, some donors estimated that up to $1bn had been lost to graft between 2002 and 2005.
Other pressing challenges include high unemployment, crime and poverty; most Kenyans live below the poverty level of $1 a day.
One of Africa’s more politically-stable countries, Kenya has been a leading light in the Somali and Sudanese peace processes.
* Population: 32.8 million (UN, 2005)
* Capital: Nairobi
* Area: 582,646 sq km (224,961 sq miles)
* Major languages: Swahili, English
* Major religion: Christianity
* Life expectancy: 43 years (men), 46 years (women) (UN)
* Monetary unit: 1 Kenya shilling = 100 cents
* Main exports: Tea, coffee, horticultural products, petroleum products
* GNI per capita: US $390 (World Bank, 2003)
* Internet domain: .ke
* International dialling code: +254
President: Mwai Kibaki
Political veteran Mwai Kibaki won a landslide victory in the December 2002 elections. The constitution barred his predecessor, Daniel arap Moi, from standing for re-election. Mr Kibaki’s National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) won a parliamentary majority.
Mr Kibaki said he would make the fight against corruption a priority and promised to tackle Kenya’s economic woes.
But two years into his presidency, crime and corruption were widespread and the economy remained weak. A poll suggested that many Kenyans thought that life was worse under the Narc government than under Mr Kibaki’s predecessor.
The president also pledged to introduce a new constitution. Parliament approved a draft in July 2005, paving the way for a popular referendum. But changes to the draft document, which critics said left too much power in the hands of the president, sparked unrest.
A respected economist, Mwai Kibaki served as finance minister and vice president in the 1970s and 1980s. He left Kanu in 1991 and founded the Democratic Party.
His victory marked the end of almost 40 years of uninterrupted rule by Kanu, and it was third time lucky for Mr Kibaki, who lost two elections in the 1990s.
Mwai Kibaki was born in 1931 and hails from Kenya’s largest tribe, the Kikuyu. He studied in Uganda and Britain, before joining the push for Kenya’s independence in the 1960s. He became an MP in 1963.
Kenya enjoys a more diverse media scene than many other African countries, with a large middle class providing a base for substantial advertising revenue.
There is a tradition of a relatively independent press, although newspapers often had to practise self-censorship during the era of Presidents Kenyatta and Moi. The print media is dominated by two major publishing houses, the Nation and Standard, both of which also have substantial broadcasting operations.
Most Kenyans rely on the broadcast media, particularly radio, for news. Until recently the liberalisation of broadcasting had a limited impact outside Nairobi but some private radio and TV networks now have wide coverage of much of the country. TV viewing is substantial, but few Kenyans are regular internet users, owing to cost and access problems.
The Kibaki government came to power promising further media liberalisation, but some incidents since then have alarmed observers. In late 2003 there was a crackdown on unregistered “alternative” newspapers, using a controversial law passed by the previous government.
Months later, a court criticised the information minister for harassing Kiss FM, the most popular private radio station, which had gained a reputation for upsetting the government.
Full-time FM relays of the BBC World Service are on the air in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu, and some BBC programmes are also rebroadcast by private Kameme FM. The Voice of America has an FM relay in Nairobi and Radio France Internationale is relayed on FM in Mombasa.