Nairobi - Kenya is one of east Africa's leading economies with a crucial tourism sector based on safaris and tropical beaches.As it heads to the polls on Thursday, here is some background.Kenyatta father to son Kenya became independent of Britain on December 12, 1963, scarred by the 1952-1960 Mau Mau rebellion against colonial rule that left at least 10 000 people dead.Independence struggle icon Jomo Kenyatta was the first black head of state and died in office in August 1978, succeeded by his vice president Daniel arap Moi.In late 1991 Moi abandoned single party rule and won presidential elections in 1992 and 1997.He was replaced in 2002 by Mwai Kibaki who went on to win re-election in late 2007 against opponent Raila Odinga. Disputes over the vote count sparked the most serious political violence since independence: more than 1 100 people were killed in the ethnic clashes.In a coalition accord reached in 2008, Odinga was named prime minister.Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the first post-independence president, defeated Odinga in 2013 elections despite being charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the 2007-2008 violence.The court dropped its case against him in December 2014.Bloody attacksKenya has suffered a series of terror attacks, the deadliest being on August 7, 1998 when massive truck bombings against the US embassy in Nairobi killed 213 people and wounded 5 000.In November 2002 suicide bombers drove a vehicle into an Israeli-owned hotel near the port of Mombasa, killing 12 Kenyans and three Israelis. Both attacks were claimed by al-Qaeda.Since the entry of the Kenyan military into Somalia in October 2011 to fight the Islamist Shabaab group that is affiliated to Al-Qaeda, there has been an upsurge of such attacks.In September 2013 Islamist gunmen stormed Nairobi's Westgate mall, killing at least 67 people. And in April 2015 another Shabaab attack killed 148 people at the university in Garissa, eastern Kenya.East African trading hub Kenya, which has a mostly Christian population of 48.5 million people, has been overtaken by Ethiopia as east Africa's biggest economy but remains the region's main trading hub.It derives its income from game parks and tropical beaches as well as exports of cut flowers. Since the attacks claimed by the Shabaab, several Western countries have however advised their citizens to stay away from the country's coastal zones.The country has seen growth of more than 5% since 2013, thanks to public investment in infrastructure.However the growth has not benefited all Kenyans and the price of corn flour, the staple for many Kenyans, has spiralled.About 45% of the population live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. Kenya also suffers from endemic corruption and was ranked 145th out of 176 countries in 2016 on Transparency International's graft perceptions index.Athletics championsKenya is renowned for its athletes, especially its long-distance runners, competing against neighbour and rival Ethiopia for world championship medals and records.Among its numerous stars are Olympic champions David Rudisha and Eliud Kipchoge.Kenyan athletics is nevertheless going through a deep crisis, affected by doping allegations and strong suspicions of corruption.Cradle of mankindThe Rift Valley that stretches from Tanzania to Ethiopia via Kenya is the site of major discoveries of fossils showing man's evolution and has been dubbed the "cradle of mankind".The remains of hominids believed to be nearly six million years old have been found in Kenya.