Situated on the equator on Africa's east coast, Kenya has been described as "the cradle of humanity".
In 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, Kanu, was the 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.
At a glance
- Politics: Presidential elections in 2007 led to widespread unrest, which resulted in the formation of a power-sharing government and the adoption of a new constitution in 2010
- Economy: The economy has been recovering over recent years
- International: Kenya's military entered Somalia at the end of 2011 to fight al-Shabab Islamist militants, but has seen some violence spill back over its borders
Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring
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. Droughts frequently put millions of people at risk.
With its scenic beauty and abundant wildlife, Kenya is one of Africa's major safari destinations.
Kenya was shaken by inter-ethnic violence which followed disputed elections in 2007. Several prominent Kenyans stand accused of crimes against humanity for allegedly inciting the violence, and the authorities are increasingly sensitive to any attempts to stir up communal tension.
The next elections, passed off without violence, and resulted in victory for Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of independence leader Jomo Kenyatta.
Kenya's military entered Somalia in October 2011 to curb the threat of the Islamist militant al-Shabab movement, which it accused of the kidnap and killing of tourists and aid workers. Kenyan troops are now largely integrated into the overall Amiscom African Union forces in Somalia. There have been some reprisal attacks in Kenya itself.