Background: Established in 1891, the British protectorate of Nyasaland became the independent nation of Malawi in 1964. After three decades of one-party rule, the country held multiparty elections in 1994 under a provisional constitution, which took full effect the following year. National multiparty elections were held again in 1999.
Government type: multiparty democracy
Currency: 1 Malawian kwacha (MK) = 100 tambala
Geography of Malawi
Location: Southern Africa, east of Zambia
Geographic coordinates: 13 30 S, 34 00 E
total: 118,480 sq km
land: 94,080 sq km
water: 24,400 sq km
total: 2,881 km
border countries: Mozambique 1,569 km, Tanzania 475 km, Zambia 837 km
Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)
Climate: sub-tropical; rainy season (November to May); dry season (May to November)
Terrain: narrow elongated plateau with rolling plains, rounded hills, some mountains
lowest point: junction of the Shire River and international boundary with Mozambique 37 m
highest point: Sapitwa 3,002 m
Natural resources: limestone, arable land, hydropower, unexploited deposits of uranium, coal, and bauxite
arable land: 34%
permanent crops: 0%
permanent pastures: 20%
forests and woodland: 39%
other: 7% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 280 sq km (1993 est.)
Environment – current issues: deforestation; land degradation; water pollution from agricultural runoff, sewage, industrial wastes; siltation of spawning grounds endangers fish populations
Environment – international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Life Conservation, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Law of the Sea
Geography – note: landlocked; Lake Nyasa, some 580 km long, is the country’s most prominent physical feature
People of Malawi
Malawi derives its name from the Maravi, a Bantu people who came from the southern Congo about 600 years ago. On reaching the area north of Lake Malawi, the Maravi divided. One branch, the ancestors of the present-day Chewas, moved south to the west bank of the lake. The other, the ancestors of the Nyanjas, moved down the east bank to the southern part of the country.
By AD 1500, the two divisions of the tribe had established a kingdom stretching from north of the present-day city of Nkhotakota to the Zambezi River in the south, and from Lake Malawi in the east, to the Luangwa River in Zambia in the west.
Migrations and tribal conflicts precluded the formation of a cohesive Malawian society until the turn of the 20th century. In more recent years, ethnic and tribal distinctions have diminished. Regional distinctions and rivalries, however, persist. Despite some clear differences, no significant friction currently exists between tribal groups, and the concept of a Malawian nationality has begun to take hold. Predominately a rural people, Malawians are generally conservative and traditionally nonviolent.
The Chewas constitute 90% of the population of the central region; the Nyanja tribe predominates in the south and the Tumbuka in the north. In addition, significant numbers of the Tongas live in the north; Ngonis–an offshoot of the Zulus who came from South Africa in the early 1800s–live in the lower northern and lower central regions; and the Yao, who are mostly Muslim, live along the southeastern border with Mozambique.
Population: 12,158,924 (July 2005 est.)
0-14 years: 44.43%
15-64 years: 52.78%
65 years and over: 2.79%
Population growth rate: 1.5%
Birth rate: 37.8 births/1,000 population
Death rate: 22.81 deaths/1,000 population
Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population
Infant mortality rate: 121.12 deaths/1,000 live births
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 37.08 years
male: 36.61 years
female: 37.55 years
Total fertility rate: 5.18 children born/woman
Ethnic groups: Chewa, Nyanja, Tumbuko, Yao, Lomwe, Sena, Tonga, Ngoni, Ngonde, Asian, European
Religions: Protestant 55%, Roman Catholic 20%, Muslim 20%, indigenous beliefs
Languages: English (official), Chichewa (official), other languages important regionally
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 58%
female: 43.4% (1999 est.)
History of Malawi
Hominid remains and stone implements have been identified in Malawi dating back more than 1 million years, and early humans inhabited the vicinity of Lake Malawi 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. Human remains at a site dated about 8000 BC show physical characteristics similar to peoples living today in the Horn of Africa. At another site, dated 1500 BC, the remains possess features resembling Negro and Bushman people.
Although the Portuguese reached the area in the 16th century, the first significant Western contact was the arrival of David Livingstone along the shore of Lake Malawi in 1859. Subsequently, Scottish Presbyterian churches established missions in Malawi. One of their objectives was to end the slave trade to the Persian Gulf that continued to the end of the 19th century. In 1878, a number of traders, mostly from Glasgow, formed the African Lakes Company to supply goods and services to the missionaries. Other missionaries, traders, hunters, and planters soon followed.
In 1883, a consul of the British Government was accredited to the “Kings and Chiefs of Central Africa,” and in 1891, the British established the Nyasaland Protectorate (Nyasa is the Chichewa word for “lake”). Although the British remained in control during the first half of the 1900s, this period was marked by a number of unsuccessful Malawian attempts to obtain independence. A growing European and U.S.-educated African elite became increasingly vocal and politically active–first through associations, and after 1944, through the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC).
During the 1950s, pressure for independence increased when Nyasaland was joined with Northern and Southern Rhodesia in 1953 to form the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. In July 1958, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda returned to the country after a long absence in the United States (where he had obtained his medical degree at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee in 1937), the United Kingdom (where he practiced medicine), and Ghana. He assumed leadership of the NAC, which later became the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). In 1959, Banda was sent to Gwelo Prison for his political activities but was released in 1960 to participate in a constitutional conference in London.
On April 15, 1961, the MCP won an overwhelming victory in elections for a new Legislative Council. It also gained an important role in the new Executive Council and ruled Nyasaland in all but name a year later. In a second constitutional conference in London in November 1962, the British Government agreed to give Nyasaland self-governing status the following year.
Dr. Banda became Prime Minister on February 1, 1963, although the British still controlled Malawi’s financial, security, and judicial systems. A new constitution took effect in May 1963, providing for virtually complete internal self-government. The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was dissolved on December 31, 1963, and Malawi became a fully independent member of the Commonwealth (formerly the British Commonwealth) on July 6, 1964. Two years later, Malawi adopted a new constitution and became a one-party state with Dr. Banda as its first president.
In 1970 Dr. Banda was declared President for life of the MCP, and in 1971 Banda consolidated his power and was named President for life of Malawi itself. The paramilitary wing of the Malawi Congress Party, the Young Pioneers, helped keep Malawi under authoritarian control until the 1990s. Increasing domestic unrest and pressure from Malawian churches and from the international community led to a referendum in which the Malawian people were asked to vote for either a multi-party democracy or the continuation of a one-party state. On June 14, 1993, the people of Malawi voted overwhelmingly in favor of multi-party democracy. Free and fair national elections were held on May 17, 1994.
Bakili Muluzi, leader of the United Democratic Front (UDF), was elected President in those elections. The UDF won 82 of the 177 seats in the National Assembly and formed a coalition government with the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD). That coalition disbanded in June 1996, but some of its members remained in the government. The President is referred to as Dr. Muluzi, having received an honorary degree at Lincoln University in Missouri in 1995. Malawi’s newly written constitution (1995) eliminated special powers previously reserved for the Malawi Congress Party. Accelerated economic liberalization and structural reform accompanied the political transition.
On June 15, 1999, Malawi held its second democratic elections. Dr. Bakili Muluzi was re-elected to serve a second 5-year term as President, despite an MCP-AFORD Alliance that ran a joint slate against the UDF. As of October 2001, the UDF holds 96 seats in the National Assembly, while the AFORD holds 30, and the MCP holds 61. Six seats are held by independents who represent the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) opposition group. The NDA is not recognized as an official political party at this time. The National Assembly has 193 members, of whom 17 are women, including one of the Deputy Speakers.
Malawi is a landlocked, densely populated country. Its economy is heavily dependent on agriculture. Malawi has few exploitable mineral resources. Its two most important export crops are tobacco and tea. Traditionally Malawi has been self-sufficient in its staple food, maize, and during the 1980s exported substantial quantities to its drought-stricken neighbors. Agriculture represents 36% of the GDP, accounts for over 80% of the labor force, and represents about 80% of all exports. Nearly 90% of the population engages in subsistence farming. Smallholder farmers produce a variety of crops, including maize (corn), beans, rice, cassava, tobacco, and groundnuts (peanuts). Financial wealth is generally concentrated in the hands of a small elite. Malawi’s manufacturing industries are situated around the city of Blantyre.
Malawi’s economic reliance on the export of agricultural commodities renders it particularly vulnerable to external shocks such as declining terms of trade and drought. High transport costs, which can comprise over 30% of its total import bill, constitute a serious impediment to economic development and trade. Malawi must import all its fuel products. Paucity of skilled labor; difficulty in obtaining expatriate employment permits; bureaucratic red tape; corruption; and inadequate and deteriorating road, electricity, water, and telecommunications infrastructure further hinder economic development in Malawi. However, recent government initiatives targeting improvements in the road infrastructure, together with private sector participation in railroad and telecommunications, have begun to render the investment environment more attractive.
Malawi has undertaken economic structural adjustment programs supported by the World Bank (IBRD), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other donors since 1981. Broad reform objectives include stimulation of private sector activity and participation through the elimination of price controls and industrial licensing, liberalization of trade and foreign exchange, rationalization of taxes, privatization of state-owned enterprises, and civil service reform. Malawi qualified for Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) debt relief and is in the process of refining its Poverty Reduction Strategy.
Real GDP grew by 3.6% in 1999 and 2.1% in 2000. The government’s monetary policy has been expansionary, and the average annual inflation has hovered around 30% in 2000 and 2001, keeping discount and commercial bank rates high (the discount rate was 47% in December 2000). In the second half of 2001, the Kwacha strengthened sharply against the U.S. dollar, moving from 80 to 60.
Malawi has bilateral trade agreements with its two major trading partners, South Africa and Zimbabwe, both of which allow duty-free entry of Malawian products into their countries. The government faces challenges such as the improvement of Malawi’s educational and health facilities–particularly important because of the rising rates of HIV/AIDS–and environmental problems like deforestation, erosion, and overworked soils.
GDP: purchasing power parity – $9.4 billion (2000 est.)
GDP – real growth rate: 2.1% (2000 est.)
GDP – per capita: purchasing power parity – $900 (2000 est.)
GDP – composition by sector:
services: 34% (1998 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 29.5% (2000)
Labor force: 3.5 million
Labor force – by occupation: agriculture 86% (1997 est.)
revenues: $490 million
expenditures: $523 million, including capital expenditures of $NA (FY99/00 est.)
Industries: tobacco, tea, sugar, sawmill products, cement, consumer goods
Electricity – production: 1.025 billion kWh (1999)
Electricity – production by source:
fossil fuel: 2.44%
other: 0% (1999)
Electricity – consumption: 950 million kWh (1999)
Agriculture – products: tobacco, sugarcane, cotton, tea, corn, potatoes, cassava (tapioca), sorghum, pulses; cattle, goats
Exports: $416 million (f.o.b., 2000)
Exports – commodities: tobacco, tea, sugar, cotton, coffee, peanuts, wood products
Exports – partners: South Africa 16%, Germany 16%, US 15%, Netherlands 7%, Japan (1999)
Imports: $435 million (f.o.b., 2000)
Imports – commodities: food, petroleum products, semimanufactures, consumer goods, transportation equipment
Imports – partners: South Africa 43%, Zimbabwe 14%, UK 5%, Germany 5%, Zambia, Japan, US (1999)
Debt – external: $2.9 billion (2000 est.)
Economic aid – recipient: $427 million (1999)
Currency: Malawian kwacha (MWK)