The fortunes of Zimbabwe have for almost three decades been tied to President Robert Mugabe, the pro-independence campaigner who wrested control from a small white community and became the country's first black leader.
Until the 2008 parliamentary elections, Zimbabwe was effectively a one-party state, ruled over by Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF.
A power-sharing deal agreed after the polls raised hopes that Mr Mugabe might be prepared to relinquish some of his powers.
The partnership was shaky and often acrimonious, but the coalition succeeded in agreeing a new constitution, which was approved by referendum ahead of fresh elections in July 2013.
However, following Mr Mugabe's re-election as president in 2013 and Zanu-PF's gaining of a two-thirds majority in the parliamentary poll, the power-sharing coalition was ditched.
Mr Mugabe continues to preside over a nation whose economy is in deep crisis, where poverty and unemployment are endemic and political strife and repression commonplace.
Control over the land has been a major issue in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe is home to the Victoria Falls, one of the natural wonders of the world, the stone enclosures of Great Zimbabwe – remnants of a past empire – and to herds of elephant and other game roaming vast stretches of wilderness.
For years it was a major tobacco producer and a potential bread basket for surrounding countries.
But the forced seizure of almost all white-owned commercial farms, with the stated aim of benefiting landless black Zimbabweans, led to sharp falls in production and precipitated the collapse of the agriculture-based economy. The country has endured rampant inflation and critical food and fuel shortages.
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At a glance
Politics: President Robert Mugabe, in office since 1980, gained a new term in controversial elections in 2013
Economy: Economy appears to be stabilising after years of crisis with rampant inflation, “de-industrialisation” and shortages of food and fuel. Agricultural production has shrunk
International: Several countries shun Zimbabwe in the hope of promoting democratic reform
Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring
Many Zimbabweans survive on grain handouts. Others have voted with their feet; hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans, including much-needed professionals, have emigrated.
Aid agencies and critics partly blame food shortages on the land reform programme. The government blames a long-running drought, and Mr Mugabe has accused Britain and its allies of sabotaging the economy in revenge for the redistribution programme.
The government's urban slum demolition drive in 2005 drew more international condemnation. The president said it was an effort to boost law and order and development; critics accused him of destroying slums housing opposition supporters.
In 2010 the government passed a controversial indigenisation law as part of its policy to force foreign firms to cede economic control to black Zimbabweans. The policy has so far been applied to the mining industry.
Indigenisation was one of Mr Mugabe's key campaign issues in the 2013 election, and on being re-elected he vowed to pursue the policy with renewed vigour.
The former Rhodesia has a history of conflict, with white settlers dispossessing the resident population, guerrilla armies forcing the white government to submit to elections, and the post-independence leadership committing atrocities in southern areas where it lacked the support of the Matabele people.
Zimbabwe has had a rocky relationship with the Commonwealth – it was suspended after President Mugabe's controversial re-election in 2002 and later announced that it was pulling out for good.
The ruins of Great Zimbabwe are the remains of a lost civilization