Malawi, Lake

Malawi, Lake

Malawi, Lake, E central Africa: see Nyasa, Lake.

The Republic of Malawi (məˈlɑːwi or ; formerly Nyasaland) is in southern Africa. It is bordered by Zambia to the northwest, Tanzania to the northeast and Mozambique, which surrounds it on the east, south and west and is separated from Malawi by Lake Malawi (also Lake Nyasa). The origin of the name Malawi is unclear; it is either derived from that of southern tribes, or from the "glitter of the sun rising across the lake" (as seen in its flag). Malawi is a densely populated country with a democratically-elected, presidential system of government.


The area of Africa now known as Malawi was almost completely unpopulated before waves of Bantu immigrants began entering the area from the north around the 10th century. Although most of the Bantu continued south, some stayed as permanent settlers, founding tribes based on common ancestry. By 1500 AD, the tribes had established a kingdom that reached from north of what is now Nkhotakota to the Zambezi River and from Lake Malawi to the Luangwa River in what is now Zambia. Soon after 1600, with the area mostly united under one native ruler, native tribesmen began encountering, trading with and making alliances with Portuguese traders and members of the military. By 1700, however, the empire had reverted to the control of many individual tribes, which was noted by the Portuguese in their information gathering.

Malawi was originally known as Nyasaland under the rule of the British. In a prime example of what is sometimes called the "Thin White Line" of colonial authority in Africa, the colonial government of Nyasaland was formed in 1891. The administrators were given a budget of £10,000 per year, which was enough to employ ten European civilians, two military officers, seventy Punjab Sikhs, and eighty-five Zanzibar porters. These few employees were then expected to administer and police a territory of around 94,000 square kilometers with between one and two million people.

In 1944 the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) was formed to promote African interests that normally played a subordinate role to the interests of European settlers. In 1953 Britain linked Nyasaland with Northern and Southern Rhodesia in what was known as the Central African Federation (CAF), in order to create a larger economic entity. The linking provoked opposition from Africans nationalists, and the NAC gained popular support. An influential opponent of the CAF was Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, a European-trained doctor working in Ghana who was persuaded to return to Nyasaland in 1958 to assist the nationalist cause. Banda was elected president of the NAC and worked to mobilize nationalist sentiment before being jailed by colonial authorities in 1959. He was released in 1960 and asked to help draft a new constitution for Nyasaland, with a clause granting Africans the majority in the colony's Legislative Counsel.

In 1961, Banda's Malawi Congress Party (MCP) gained the majority in the Legislative Counsel and Banda was elected prime minister in 1963. The Federation was dissolved in 1963, and on July 6, 1964, Nyasaland became independent from British rule and renamed itself, Malawi. Under a new constitution, Malawi became a single-party state under MCP rule and Banda declared himself president-for-life in 1970. For almost 30 years, Banda ruled firmly, suppressing opposition to his party and ensuring that he had no personal opposition. Despite his political severity, however, Malawi's economy while Banda was president was often cited as an example of how a poor, landlocked, heavily populated, mineral-poor country could achieve progress in both agriculture and industrial development. While in office, and using his control of the country, Banda constructed an empire of business that eventually produced one-third of the country's GDP and employed 10% of the wage-earning workforce.

Under pressure for increased political freedom, Banda agreed to a referendum in 1993, where the populace voted for a multiparty democracy. Following the elections, in late 1993, a presidential council was formed, the life presidency was abolished and a new constitution was put into place, effectively ending the MCP's rule. In 1994 the first multi-party elections were held in Malawi. As of 2008, the multi-party system still exists in Malawi, although there have been accusations of unfair election practices and suppression of opposition leveled against various parties in several elections. The current president is Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika, an economist elected in 2004.


Malawi is a democratic, multi-party government, currently under the leadership of President Bingu wa Mutharika. The current constitution was put into place on May 18, 1995. The branches of the government consist of executive, legislative and judicial. The executive includes a president who is both chief of state and head of government, first and second vice presidents and a cabinet. The president is elected every five years, and the vice president is elected with the president. A second vice president may be appointed by the president if he so chooses, although he must be from a different party. The members of the cabinet are appointed by the president and can be from either inside or outside of the legislature.

The legislative branch consists of a unicameral National Assembly of 193 members who are elected every five years, and although the Malawian constitution provides for a Senate of 80 seats, one does not exist in practice. If created, the Senate would provide representation for traditional leaders and a variety of geographic districts, as well as special interest groups including the disabled, youth and women. The independent judicial branch is based upon the English model and consists of a constitutional court, a High Court, a Supreme Court of Appeal and subordinate Magistrate Courts. There are currently nine political parties, with the Democratic Progressive Party acting as the ruling party and the Malawi Congress Party and the United Democratic Front acting as the main opposition parties in the National Assembly. Suffrage is universal at 18 years of age, and the central government budget for 2007/2008 is $1.24 billion dollars.

Local government is administered by central government-appointed regional administrators and district commissioners. For the first time in the multi-party era, local elections took place on November 21, 2000, with the UDF party winning 70% of the available seats. There was scheduled to be a second round of constitutionally-mandated local elections in May 2005, but these were canceled by the government and have not yet been rescheduled.

Foreign relations

Former President Banda established a pro-Western foreign policy that is continued into 2008 and includes good diplomatic relationships with many Western countries. The transition from a one-party state to a multi-party democracy strengthened Malawian ties with the United States. Significant numbers of students from Malawi come to the US for schooling, and the US has active branches of the Peace Corps, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Agency for International Development in Malawi. Malawi maintained close relations with South Africa throughout the apartheid era, which strained Malawi's relationships with other African countries, but following the collapse of apartheid in 1994 strong diplomatic relationships were made and maintained into 2008 between Malawi and all other African countries.

Malawi has been seen as a haven for refugees from other African countries, including Mozambique and Rwanda, since 1985. These influxes of refugees have placed a strain on the Malawian economy but have also drawn significant inflows of aid from other countries. Donors to Malawi include the US, Canada, Germany, Iceland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Ireland and the UK, as well as international institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF, the European Union, the African Development Bank and UN organizations.

Malawi is a member of several international organizations including the UN and some of its child agencies, the IMF, the World Bank, the African Union and the World Health Organization. Malawi tends to view economic and political stability in southern Africa as a necessity, and advocates peaceful solutions through negotiation. The country is the first in southern Africa to receive peacekeeping training under the African Crisis Response Force Initiative.

Regions and districts

Malawi is composed of three regions (the Northern, Central and Southern regions), which are divided into 28 districts, and further into approximately 250 traditional authorities and 110 administrative wards. The districts are:


Malawi is a landlocked country in southeastern Africa, bordered by Zambia to the northwest, Tanzania to the northeast and Mozambique to the south, southwest and southeast. The Great Rift Valley runs through the country from north to south, and to the west of the valley lies Lake Malawi (also called Lake Nyasa), making up over three-quarters of Malawi's eastern boundary. Lake Malawi is sometimes called the Calendar Lake as it is about long and wide. The Shire River flows from the south end of the lake and joins the Zambezi River farther south in Mozambique. The surface of Lake Malawi is located at above sea level, with a maximum depth of , which means the lake floor is over below sea level at some points. In the mountainous sections of Malawi surrounding the Rift Valley, plateaus rise generally above sea level, although some rise as high as in the north. To the south of Lake Malawi lies the Shire Highlands, gently rolling land at approximately above sea level. In this area, the Zomba and Mlanje mountain peaks rise to respective heights of and .

Malawi's climate is hot in the low-lying areas in the south of the country and temperate in the northern highlands. The altitude moderates what would be an otherwise equatorial climate. Between November and April the temperature is warm with equatorial rains and thunderstorms, with the storms reaching their peak severity in late March. After March, the rainfall rapidly diminishes and from May to September wet mists float from the highlands into the plateaus, with almost no rainfall during these months.

Malawi's capital is Lilongwe, and its commercial center and largest city is Blantyre with a population of over 500,000 people.


Malawi is a landlocked country that is among the world's least developed and most densely populated. The economy is heavily agriculture-based, with around 85% of the population living in rural areas. More than one-third of GDP and 90% of export revenues come from agriculture, with tobacco accounting for more than half of export revenues and being the key to short-term growth. The economy of Malawi is dependent on substantial economic aid from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and individual nations, and in 2005 was the recipent of over US$575 million in aid. The Malawian government faces challenges in developing a market economy, improving environmental protection, dealing with the rapidly growing HIV/AIDS problem, improving the education system and satisfying its foreign donors that it is working to become financially independent. Improved financial discipline has been seen since 2005 under the leadership of President Mutharika and Financial Minister Gondwe.

The country has a GDP that is estimated at $3.538 billion, with a per capita GDP of $800 and a real growth rate of 7.4% (2007 estimates). Agriculture accounts for 37.8% of GDP, industry for 18.1% and services for the remaining 44.1% (2007 estimates). The country has a labor force of 4.5 million (2001 estimate), composed of 90% agriculture and 10% industry and services (2003 estimate). The inflation rate is 8.1% (2007 estimate), while 53% of the population live below the poverty line (2004).

The main agricultural products of Malawi include tobacco, sugarcane, cotton, tea, corn, potatoes, sorghum, cattle and goats. The main industries are tobacco, tea and sugar processing, sawmill products, cement and consumer goods. The industrial production growth rate is estimated at 4.4% (2007). The electricity of the country is 96.7% hydroelectric and 3.3% fossil fuels (2001), and as of 2005, Malawi does not import or export any electricity. They are a net importer of oil, with no production in country, and use no significant amount of natural gas.

Malawi currently exports an estimated US$604 million in goods per year (2007), with 53% of this being accounted for by tobacco, and the remaining goods being mainly tea, sugar, cotton, coffee, peanuts, wood products and apparel. The main destination locations for the country's exports are South Africa, Germany, Egypt, Zimbabwe, the US, Russia and the Netherlands. Malawi currently imports an estimated US$866 million in goods per year, with the main commodities being food, petroleum products, semimanufacturers, consumer goods and transportation equipment. The main countries that Malawi imports from are South Africa, India, Zambia, Tanzania, the US and China.

In 2006, in response to disastrously low agricultural harvests, Malawi began a program of fertilizer subsidies that were designed to re-energize the land and boost crop production. It has been reported that this program, championed by the country's president, is radically improving Malawi's agriculture, and causing Malawi to become a net exporter of food to nearby countries.


Malawi has a population of almost 14 million, with a growth rate of 2.39%, according to 2008 estimates. Infant mortality rates are high, and life expectancy at birth is 43.45 years. There is a high adult prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS, with an estimated 900,000 adults (or 14.2% of the population) living with the disease in 2003. There are approximately 84,000 deaths a year from HIV/AIDS (2003).

There is a very high degree of risk for major infectious diseases, including bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, typhoid fever, malaria, plague and schistosomiasis.

Malawi's population is made up of the Chewa, Nyanja, Tumbuka, Yao, Lomwe, Sena, Tonga, Ngoni and Ngonde native ethnic groups, as well as populations of Asians and Europeans. According to a 1998 census, almost 80% of the population is Christian, almost 13% are Muslim, and the rest are either other religious groups or of no religion. Languages spoken include Chichewa, an official language spoken by over 57% of the population, Chinyanja (12.8%), Chiyao (10.1%), Chitumbuka (9.5%) and other native languages.


The name "Malawi" comes from the Maravi, a Bantu people who immigrated from the southern Congo around 1400 AD. Upon reaching northern Lake Malawi, the group divided, with one group moving south down the west bank of the lake to become the tribe known as the Chewa, while the other group, the ancestors of today's Nyanja tribe, moved along the east side of the lake to the southern section of Malawi. Tribal conflict and continuing migration prevented the formation of a society that was uniquely and cohesively Malawian until the dawn of the 20th century. Over the past century, tribal and ethnic distinctions have diminished to the point where there is no significant tribal friction, although regional divisions still occur. The concept of a Malawian nationality has begun to form around a predominantly rural people who are generally conservative and traditionally nonviolent.

The Malawian flag is made up of three equal horizontal stripes of black, red and green with a red rising sun superimposed in the center of the black stripe. The black stripe represents the African people, the red represents the blood of martyrs for African freedom, green represents Malawi's ever-green nature and the rising sun represents the dawn of freedom and hope for Africa.

See also



  • Cutter, Charles H. (2006). Africa 2006. 41st edition, Harpers Ferry, WV: Stryker-Post Publications.
  • Davidson, Basil (1991). Africa in History: Themes and Outlines. Revised and Expanded Edition, New York, NY: Collier Books, MacMillan Publishing Company.
  • Meredith, Martin (2005). The Fate of Africa - From the Hopes of Freedom to the Heart of Despair: A History of 50 Years of Independence. New York, NY: Public Affairs.
  • Reader, John (1999). Africa: A Biography of the Continent. First Vintage Books Edition, New York, NY: Vintage Books.

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