Geography Area: 118,484 sq. km. (45,747 sq. mi.); land the size of Pennsylvania, with a lake the size of Vermont. Cities: Capital--Lilongwe. Other cities--Blantyre (the commercial capital), Zomba, Mzuzu. Terrain: Plateaus, highlands, and valleys. Lake Malawi (formerly referred to as Lake Nyasa) comprises about 20% of total area. Climate: Predominately subtropical.
People Nationality: Noun and adjective--Malawian(s). Population (2011 est.): 15,879,252. Annual population growth rate (2011): 2.8%. Ethnic groups: Chewa, Nyanja, Tumbuka, Yao, Lomwe, Sena, Tonga, Ngoni, Ngonde, Asian, European. Religions: Protestant 55%, Roman Catholic 20%, Muslim 20%, indigenous beliefs 3%, other 2%. Languages: English (official), Chichewa (official), regional dialects, i.e., Chitumbuka, Chiyao, Chilomwe. Education: Years compulsory--none. Enrollment (2010)--primary, 91%. Literacy--74%. Health: Infant mortality rate (2011)--81 deaths/1,000 live births. Life expectancy at birth (2011 est.)--52 years.
Government Type: Multi-party democracy. Independence: July 6, 1964. Constitution: May 18, 1995. Branches: Executive--president (chief of state and head of government), first and second vice presidents, cabinet. Legislative--unicameral National Assembly (193 members). Although the Malawian constitution provides for a Senate, in practice the legislative branch's upper house has never been called into session. Judicial--High Court, Supreme Court of Appeal, subordinate Magistrate Courts. Administrative subdivisions: 28 districts. Political parties: Democratic Progressive Party (DPP, ruling party), United Democratic Front (UDF), Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Alliance for Democracy (AFORD), Malawi Forum for Development (MAFUNDE), Maravi People’s Party (MPP), New Rainbow Coalition (NARC), New Republican Party (NRP), People's Progressive Movement (PPM), People's Transformation Party (PETRA), Republican Party (RP), Congress for National Unity (CONU), and the People's Party. MCP and UDF are the two main opposition parties in parliament. Suffrage: Universal at 18 years of age. Central government budget (2011-2012): $2 billion (MK 304 billion).
Economy GDP (2011 est.): $5.7 billion. Annual real GDP growth rate (2011): 4.6%. Per capita GNI (2010 est.): Approx. $330. Avg. inflation rate (2011): 7.5%. Natural resources: Limestone, uranium, coal, bauxite, phosphates, graphite, granite, black granite, vermilite, aquamarine, tourmaline, rubies, sapphires, rare earths. Agriculture (approx. 31% of GDP): Products--tobacco, sugar, cotton, tea, corn, potatoes, cassava (tapioca), sorghum, coffee, rice, groundnuts. Arable land--38%, of which 59% is cultivated. Industry (21% of GDP): Types--tea, tobacco, sugar, sawmill products, cement, uranium, and consumer goods. Trade (2009 est.): Exports--$964 million: tobacco, tea, uranium, sugar, coffee, peanuts, wood products. Partners--U.S., U.K., South Africa, Zimbabwe, Germany, Egypt, Japan. Imports--$1.67 billion: food, petroleum products, semimanufactured goods, consumer goods, transportation equipment. Partners--South Africa, China, India, France, Zimbabwe, Japan, U.S., U.K., Germany. Fiscal year: July 1-June 30.
GEOGRAPHY Malawi is situated in southeastern Africa. The Great Rift Valley traverses the country from north to south. In this deep trough lies Lake Malawi, the third-largest lake in Africa, comprising about 20% of Malawi's area. The Shire River flows from the south end of the lake and joins the Zambezi River 400 kilometers (250 mi.) farther south in Mozambique. East and west of the Rift Valley, the land forms high plateaus, generally between 900 and 1,200 meters (3,000-4,000 ft.) above sea level. In the north, the Nyika Uplands rise as high as 2,600 meters (8,500 ft.); south of the lake lie the Shire Highlands, with an elevation of 600-1,600 meters (2,000-5,000 ft.), rising to Mts. Zomba and Mulanje, 2,130 and 3,048 meters (7,000 and 10,000 ft.). In the extreme south, the elevation is only 60-90 meters (200-300 ft.) above sea level.
Malawi is one of sub-Saharan Africa's most densely populated countries. The population of Lilongwe--Malawi's capital since 1971--of 674,000 makes it the largest city in the country (Malawi population and housing census). All government ministries and the parliament are located in Lilongwe. Blantyre remains Malawi's major commercial center with a population of 661,000. Malawi's president resides in Lilongwe. The Supreme Court is seated in Blantyre.
Malawi's climate is generally subtropical. A rainy season runs from November through April. There is little to no rainfall throughout most of the country from May to October. It is hot and humid from October to April along the lake and in the Lower Shire Valley. Lilongwe is also hot and humid during those months, albeit far less than in the south. The rest of the country is warm during those months. From June through August, the lake areas and far south are comfortably warm, but the rest of Malawi can be chilly at night, with temperatures ranging from 5o-14oC (41o-57oF).
PEOPLE 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. Although regional distinctions and rivalries persist, ethnic and tribal distinctions have diminished as the concept of a Malawian nationality has taken hold. Despite some clear differences, no significant friction currently exists between tribal groups. 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. Approximately 50% of the population lives in the southern region.
HISTORY 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 Yao 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.
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 Banda as its first president.
In 1970 Banda was declared President for Life of the MCP. After fully consolidating his power, Banda was named President for Life of Malawi itself in 1971. The paramilitary wing of the MCP, 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 on the continuation of the one-party state. On June 14, 1993, the people of Malawi voted overwhelmingly in favor of multiparty 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 1994. 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 was 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. When Malawi held its second democratic elections on June 15, 1999, Muluzi was reelected to serve a second 5-year term as President, despite an MCP-AFORD alliance that ran a joint slate against the UDF.
Malawi underwent its first transition between democratically elected presidents in May 2004, when the UDF's presidential candidate Bingu wa Mutharika defeated MCP candidate John Tembo and Gwanda Chakuamba, who was backed by a grouping of opposition parties. European Union and Commonwealth observers said although the election passed peacefully, they were concerned about "serious inadequacies" in the poll. The UDF did not win a majority of seats in parliament, as it had done in 1994 and 1999 elections. Through the successful maneuvering of party chairperson and former President Muluzi, the party secured a majority by forming a "government of national unity" with several opposition parties. President Mutharika left the UDF on February 5, 2005, citing differences with the party leadership, particularly over his anti-corruption campaign. He formed the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) shortly thereafter, attracting a number of UDF and independent members of parliament (MPs) to his new party.
On May 19, 2009, President Mutharika was reelected to a second 5-year term, defeating MCP candidate Tembo. Former President Muluzi attempted to run as a candidate as well, but was barred by constitutional term limits. Mutharika’s DPP won a majority in parliament, and the number of women in parliament increased from 25 to 40. The May 19 elections were marked by high voter turnout, and international and domestic observers agreed that the elections were generally free and fair.
In April 2012, Vice President Joyce Banda became President following Mutharika's death.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS The Government of Malawi has been a multiparty democracy since 1994. Under the 1995 constitution, the president, who is both chief of state and head of the government, is chosen through universal direct suffrage every 5 years. Malawi's vice president is elected with the president. The president has the option of appointing a second vice president, who must be from a different party. The members of the presidentially appointed cabinet can be drawn from either within or outside of the legislature. Malawi's National Assembly has 193 seats, all directly elected to serve 5-year terms. The constitution also provides for a second house, a Senate of 80 seats, but to date no action has been taken to create the Senate. The Senate was intended to provide representation for traditional leaders and the different geographical districts, as well as various special interest groups, such as women, youth, and the disabled.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Malawi's judicial system, based on the English model, is made up of magisterial lower courts, a high court, a Supreme Court of Appeal, and a constitutional court. Local government is carried out in 28 districts within three regions administered by regional administrators and district commissioners who are appointed by the central government. Constitutionally mandated local elections are to be held 1 year after presidential and parliamentary elections. The first local elections in the multiparty era took place in on November 21, 2000, and the UDF party won 70% of the seats. The second round of local elections, originally scheduled for May 2005, were never held. Local elections were again scheduled for May 2010, but these elections have been indefinitely postponed as well.
Principal Government Officials President--Joyce Banda* Vice President–Khumbo Kachale**