BBC Country Profile, Tuesday, 12 June, 2001, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
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 Jomo Kenyatta. He was succeeded in 1978 by President Daniel arap Moi.
Kenya remains one of Africa's major safari destinations, but the lucrative tourist industry has recently been dented by political unrest.
Opposition and Church leaders have accused Moi of stirring up ethnic tensions - especially before the last general election in 1997. These are charges the president, in turn, has levelled at the opposition.
Kenya has featured prominently on international corruption tables, and key donors have been unwilling to release much-needed aid.
The economic situation was made worse in 2000 by power rationing and water shortages caused by the worst drought in 30 years.
Daniel arap Moi is one of the enduring faces of African politics - a man who has grown to be recognised as a great survivor.
Trained as a teacher, he became minister of home affairs in 1964, and vice-president in 1967. Over the years, President Moi has become used to the adulation of his supporters within the governing Kenya African National Union party (Kanu).
But outside the party there are those who would prefer to label him a dictator. President since Kenyatta's death in 1978, Moi's administration was challenged by a coup attempt in 1982. In 1992 he was elected president in the country's first multiparty elections, but there were accusations of vote-rigging. Similar allegations surrounded his re-election in December 1997.
The Kenyan Government has loosened its control over the media in the past 10 years, but opportunities for independent broadcasters have been limited by strict licensing controls.
Broadcasters and publishers remain under pressure to avoid portraying the government in a poor light. There have been several instances in which journalists have been beaten, detained or brought before court.
There are a number of privately-owned FM radio stations and the internet and satellite television are now widely available. Most newspapers are independent and they are frequently critical of the government.
In October 2000, the Kenyan Government began legal moves to ban radio broadcasts in languages other than Swahili and English.
Announcing the move, President Moi said vernacular radio promoted tribal chauvinism and undermined national cohesion.