Malawi (10/03)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Republic of Malawi

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 (largest city), Zomba, Mzuzu.
Terrain: Plateaus, highlands, and valleys. Lake Malawi (formerly referred to as Lake Nyasa) comprises about 20% of total area.
Climate: Predominately subtropical.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Malawian(s).
Population (2002 est.): 11 million.
Annual growth rate (2002 est.): 2.2%.
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. Attendance (1998 est.)--primary, 79%. Literacy (2003 est., age 15 and older)--63%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (2003 est.)--105.15 deaths/1,000 live births. Life expectancy (at birth, 2003 est.)--38 yrs.

Type: multi-party democracy.
Independence: July 6, 1964.
Constitution: May 18, 1995.
Branches: Executive--President (the president is both chief of state and head of government), first and second vice presidents, Cabinet.
Legislative--unicameral National Assembly. (Although in practice the legislative branch does not include a Senate, the Malawi constitution provides for the establishment of a Senate.) Judicial--High Court, Supreme Court of Appeal, Subordinate Magistrate Courts.
Administrative subdivisions: 27 districts.
Political parties: United Democratic Front (UDF, ruling party), Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Alliance for Democracy (AFORD) and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). MCP, AFORD and NDA are the three opposition parties in Parliament. Other political parties include: Congress for the Second Republic (CSR), Malawi Democratic Party MDP), People Democratic Party (PDP), Social Democratic Party (SDP), other smaller parties.
Suffrage: Universal at 18 years of age.
Central government budget (1999-2000 est.): Revenues and grants--$490 million (MK 21.5 billion); expenditures--$523 million (MK 22.9 billion).
Defense (1999-2000 est.): 3.8% of recurrent budget and 1.1% of development budget.

Flag: Malawi flag
GDP (2002 est.): About $1.9 billion.
Annual real GDP growth rate (2002 est.): 1.8%.
Per capita GDP (2000 est.): Approx. $180.
Avg. inflation rate (2003): 9.0%.
Natural resources: Limestone, uranium (potential), coal, bauxite, phosphates, graphite, granite, black granite, vermi lite, aquamarine, tourmaline, rubies, sapphires, rare earths.
Agriculture (approx. 36% of GDP): Products--tobacco, sugar, cotton, tea, corn, potatoes, cassava (tapioca), sorghum, coffee, rice, groundnuts. Arable land--34%, of which 86% is cultivated.
Industry (16% of GDP): Types--tea, tobacco, sugar, sawmill products, cement, consumer goods.
Trade (2001 est.): Exports--$435 million: tobacco, tea, sugar, coffee, peanuts, wood products. Partners--U.S., South Africa, Germany, Japan. Imports--505 million: food, petroleum products, semimanufactures, consumer goods, transportation equipment. Partners--South Africa, Zimbabwe, Japan, U.S., U.K., Germany.
Fiscal year: July 1-June 30.

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--exceeds 400,000. All government ministries and the Parliament are located in Lilongwe. Blantyre remains Malawi's major commercial center and largest city, having grown from an estimated 109,000 inhabitants in 1966 to nearly 500,000 in 1998. Malawi's President resides in Blantyre. 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 these 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).

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.

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 members of the recently formed NDA party. The National Assembly has 193 members, of whom just under 10% are women.. The next presidential elections are scheduled to take place in May 2004.

The Government of Malawi has been a multi-party 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 has a vice president who 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 is 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, and a Supreme Court of Appeal. Local government is carried out in 27 districts within three regions administered by regional administrators and district commissioners who are appointed by the central government. Local elections, the first in the multi-party era, took place in on November 21, 2000. The UDF party won 70% of the seats in this election. Malawi's third democratic presidential elections are scheduled to take place on May 16, 2004.

Principal Government Officials
State President--Dr. Bakili Muluzi
First Vice President--Mr. Justin C. Malewezi
Second Vice President-Chakufwa Chihana

Agriculture, Irrigation, and Food Security--Chakufwa Chihana
Commerce and Industry--Sam Mpasu
Defense--Rodwell Munyenyembe
Economic Planning and Development-Dr. Bingu Wa Mutharika
Education, Science and Technology--Dr. George Nga Mtafu
Finance--Friday Jumbe
Foreign Affairs--Lilian Patel
Health and Population--Yusuf Mwawa
Home Affairs and Internal Security--Monjeza Maluza
Housing--S.D. Kaliyoma Phumisa
Information--Bernard Chisale
Justice--Paul Maulidi
Labor and Vocational Training--Lee Mlanga
Lands, Physical Planning and Surveys-Thengo Maloya
Minister of State Responsible for Corporations--Bob Khamisa
Minister of State Responsible for Local Government and District Administration-Salim Bagus
Minister of State Responsible for People with Disabilities--Susan Chitimba
Minister of State Responsible for Presidential Affairs--Ken Lipenga
Minister of State Responsible in the President's Office--Patrick Mbewe
Minister of State in the President's Office Responsible for HIV/AIDS Programmes--Mary Kaphwereza Banda
Minister of State in the President's Office Responsible for Poverty and Disaster Management--Ludoviko Shati
Minister without a Portfolio--Chipimpha Mughogho
Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs--Uladi Mussa
Privitization--Justin C. Malewezi
Sports, Youth and Culture--Henderson Mabeti
Tourism, Parks, and Wildlife--Wallace Chiume
Water Development--Dumbo Lemani
Gender and Community Services--Alice Sumani
Transport and Public Works--Clement Stambuli
Ambassador to the United States--Tony Kandiero
Permanent Representative to the United Nations--Dr. Isaac Lamba

Malawi maintains an embassy in the United States at 2408 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-797-1007; fax 202-265-0976. Malawi's Permanent Mission to the United Nations is located at: 600 Third Avenue, 30th Floor, New York, NY 10016 (tel. 212-949-0180; Fax: 212-599-5021. Malawi also maintains an Honorary Consulate in the Los Angeles area. Dr. J.F. Clements, Malawi Honorary Consul, Malawi Consulate may be reached at 3420 Freda's Hill Road, Vista, California 92084-6466 (office tel. 213-223-2020).

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 2.1% in 2000 and 1.8% in 2002. Although the average annual inflation has been reducedto 9.0% in 2002 the discount and commercial bank rates remained high at 40%-45%. In mid-2003 the Kwacha slid from 90 to 101 against the US dollar sparking concerns that inflation would begin returning to pre-2002 rates of 30%-40%. 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.

President Muluzi has continued the pro-Western foreign policy established by former President Banda. It maintains excellent diplomatic relations with principal Western countries. Malawi's close relations with South Africa throughout the apartheid era strained its relations with other African nations. Following the collapse of apartheid in 1994, Malawi developed, and currently maintains, strong diplomatic relations with all African countries.

Between 1985 and 1995, Malawi accommodated more than a million refugees from Mozambique. The refugee crisis placed a substantial strain on Malawi's economy but also drew significant inflows of international assistance. The accommodation and eventual repatriation of the Mozambicans is considered a major success by international organizations. In 1996, Malawi received a number of Rwandan and Congolese refugees seeking asylum. The government did not turn away refugees, but it did invoke the principle of "first country of asylum." Under this principle, refugees who requested asylum in another country first, or who had the opportunity to do so would not subsequently be granted asylum in Malawi. There were no reports of the forcible repatriation of refugees.

Important bilateral donors, in addition to the U.S., include Canada, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom. Multilateral donors include the World Bank, the IMF, the European Union, the African Development Bank, and the United Nations organizations.

Malawi held the chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 2001. President Muluzi has taken an active role in SADC on issues such as the global coalition against terrorism and land reform in Zimbabwe.

Malawi is a member of the following international organizations: UN and some of its specialized and related agencies (i.e. UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO), IMF, World Bank, Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Berne Convention, Universal Copyright Convention, Organization of African Unity (OAU), Lome Convention, African Development Bank (AFDB), Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA), Nonaligned Movement, G-77, and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The transition from a one-party state to a multi-party democracy significantly strengthened the already cordial U.S. relationship with Malawi. Significant numbers of Malawians study in the United States. The United States has an active Peace Corps program and an Agency for International Development (USAID) mission in Malawi.

U.S. and Malawian views on the necessity of economic and political stability in southern Africa generally coincide. Through a pragmatic assessment of its own national interests and foreign policy objectives, Malawi advocates peaceful solutions to the region's problems through negotiation. Malawi works to achieve these objectives in the United Nations, COMESA, and SADC. Malawi is the only southern African country to receive peacekeeping training under the U.S.-sponsored African Crisis Response Force Initiative (ACRI) and is slated to participate in its successor program African Contingency Operations Training Assistance (ACOTA). It has an active slate of peacetime engagement military-to-military programs. The two countries maintain a continuing dialogue through diplomatic representatives and periodic visits by senior officials.

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
The United States has a substantial foreign assistance program in Malawi. Through USAID, the U.S. Government provides more than $27 million annually in assistance. These funds are provided under USAID's new Country Strategic Plan (CSP) for the period 2001-05. USAID's primary goal is to reduce poverty and increase food security through broadbased, market-led economic growth.

USAID assistance is focused in the following four areas and is implemented in partnership with the Malawian Government, citizen involvement, nongovernmental organizations, U.S. private organizations, and other partners: increased sustainable employment opportunities and rural incomes, increased civic involvement in the rule of law, adoption of behaviors to reduce fertility and HIV/AIDS and improve child health, and improved quality and of education. In addition to supporting development projects, the United States provides an emergency food aid program for those vulnerable populations that are chronically undernourished and most at risk.

Peace Corps
The first Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in Malawi in 1963. Under the conservative Banda regime, the program was suspended for several years due to the "nonconformist" role of some Volunteers but was restored in 1978. Since that time, the program has developed a close working relationship with the Government of Malawi. In total, over 2,000 Americans have served as Peace Corps Volunteers in Malawi.

The change of government in 1994 allowed the placement of Volunteers at the community level for the first time. With the increased flexibility in programming, the Peace Corps began working to refocus programming and identify more appropriate areas for Peace Corps intervention at the community level. Currently, there are about 120 Volunteers working in health, education, and environment.

Health Volunteers work in areas of AIDS education, orphan care, home-based care, youth and at-risk groups, child survival activities, nutrition, disease prevention, environmental health and women's health issues. For many years, Peace Corps/Malawi had the only stand-alone HIV/AIDS project in the Peace Corps, and HIV/AIDS continues to be the cornerstone for health activities.

Education Volunteers teach in the fields of physical science, mathematics, biology, and English at Community Day Secondary Schools (CDSSs), generally community-started and -supported entities.

Environment Volunteers focus on community based management of natural resources with border communities that want to utilize their resources in a more sustainable manner. This includes the promotion of sustainable agricultural practices, income generating activities, and agroforestry interventions.

The Crisis Corps program utilizes Returned Volunteers in short-term assignments for specific projects related to HIV/AIDS. Crisis Corps Volunteers are generally assigned with a local NGO to assist with activities that build capacity and develop materials within the organizations.

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Steve Browning
Deputy Chief of Mission--Thomas Dougherty
USAID Mission Director--Roger Yochelson
Peace Corps Director--Terry Murphree
Centers for Disease Control Director--Margarett Davis

The U.S. Embassy in Malawi is situated in the diplomatic enclave adjacent to Lilongwe's City Center section. The address is American Embassy, P.O. Box 30016, Lilongwe 3, Malawi (tel. 265-773 166/342/367; fax 265-772-471).

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.