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Tanzania has been spared the internal strife that has blighted many African states.
Though it remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with many of its people living below the World Bank poverty line, it has had some success in wooing donors and investors.
Tanzania assumed its present form in 1964 after a merger between the mainland Tanganyika and the island of Zanzibar, which had become independent the previous year.
To remedy this, its first president, Julius Nyerere, issued the 1967 Arusha Declaration, which called for self-reliance through the creation of cooperative farm villages and the nationalisation of factories, plantations, banks and private companies.
But a decade later, despite financial and technical aid from the World Bank and sympathetic countries, this programme had completely failed due to inefficiency, corruption, resistance from peasants and the rise in the price of imported petroleum.
Tanzania's economic woes were compounded in 1979 and 1981 by a costly military intervention to overthrow President Idi Amin of Uganda.
After Mr Nyerere's resignation in 1985, his successor, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, attempted to raise productivity and attract foreign investment and loans by dismantling government control of the economy.
This policy continued under Benjamin Mkapa, who was elected president in 1995. The economy grew, though at the price of painful fiscal reforms. Tourism is an important revenue earner; Tanzania's attractions include Africa's highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, and wildlife-rich national parks such as the Serengeti.
The political union between Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania has weathered more than four decades of change. Zanzibar has its own parliament and president.
Ruling party candidate Jakaya Kikwete, Tanzania's long-serving foreign minister, won presidential elections in December 2005.
Ruling party's Jakaya Kikwete won a decisive victory
He vowed to continue the economic reforms set in motion by the outgoing president, Benjamin Mkapa, and to create jobs and tackle poverty.
A veteran of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), which has controlled Tanzania since the country's inception and also governs in semi-autonomous Zanzibar, his presidential aspirations were thwarted in 1995 when he made an unsuccessful bid to represent the party in polls.
The former military officer was an unswerving supporter of Tanzania's founding president, Julius Nyerere.
Mr Kikwete, who was born in October 1950, is married and has eight children.
His predecessor Benjamin Mkapa retired after 10 years in power. He was credited with being the driving force behind Tanzania's extensive economic liberalisation, which was well received by the IMF and World Bank.
Under his presidency inflation dropped, the economy grew and Tanzania's foreign debt was wiped. But Mr Mkapa's critics said that, behind the statistics, most Tanzanians remained impoverished.
Tanzania's media scene, once small and largely state-controlled, developed rapidly following the advent of the multi-party era in the mid 1990s.
Television was a latecomer: President Nyerere opposed it as a luxury which would widen the gap between rich and poor. State-run TV launched in 2001, several years after the first private station went on the air in 1994. TV viewing is eroding radio's traditional dominance.
Although the growth of the broadcast media has been hindered by a lack of capital investment, dozens of private FM radio stations are on the air, most of them in urban areas.
News bulletins from international radio stations - including the BBC, Voice of America and Germany's Deutsche Welle - are carried by many stations.
The mainland and Zanzibar have separate media policies. Liberalisation measures enshrined in a 2001 media bill did not apply to the islands. There are no private broadcasters or newspapers in Zanzibar, though many locals can receive mainland broadcasters and read the mainland press.
Daily News - government owned, Tanzania's oldest newspaper