Official name Republic of Malawi1, 2
Form of government multiparty republic with one legislative house (National Assembly )
Head of state and government President: Peter Mutharika
Official language See footnote 1.
Official religion none
Monetary unit Malawian kwacha (MK)
Population (2014 est.) 16,829,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 45,747
Total area (sq km) 118,484
- Urban: (2011) 15.3%
- Rural: (2011) 79.7%
Life expectancy at birth
- Male: (2008) 48.4 years
- Female: (2008) 49.5 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate
- Male: (2007) 78.1%
- Female: (2007) 53.9%
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2013) 270
1No official language is stated in the constitution. English is the official language of instruction.
2Dziko la Malaŵi in Chewa, the principal national language.
3Judiciary meets in Blantyre.
Established in 1891, the British protectorate of Nyasaland became the independent nation of Malawi in 1964. After three decades of one-party rule under President Hastings Kamuzu BANDA the country held multiparty elections in 1994, under a provisional constitution that came into full effect the following year. President Bingu wa MUTHARIKA, elected in May 2004 after a failed attempt by the previous president to amend the constitution to permit another term, struggled to assert his authority against his predecessor and subsequently started his own party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2005. MUTHARIKA was reelected to a second term in May 2009. As president, he oversaw some economic improvement in his first term, but was accused of economic mismanagement and poor governance in his second term. He died abruptly in April 2012 and was succeeded by his vice president, Joyce BANDA. Population growth, increasing pressure on agricultural lands, corruption, and the spread of HIV/AIDS pose major problems for Malawi.
Malawi, landlocked country in southeastern Africa. A country endowed with spectacular highlands and extensive lakes, it occupies a narrow, curving strip of land along the East African Rift Valley. Lake Nyasa, known in Malawi as Lake Malawi, accounts for more than one-fifth of the country’s total area.
Most of Malawi’s population engages in cash-crop and subsistence agriculture. The country’s exports consist of the produce of both small landholdings and large tea and tobacco estates. Malawi has received a significant amount of foreign capital in the form of development aid, which has contributed greatly toward the exploitation of its natural resources and has allowed Malawi to at times produce a food surplus. Nevertheless, its population has suffered from chronic malnutrition, high rates of infant mortality, and grinding poverty—a paradox often attributed to an agricultural system that has favoured large estate owners.
Most Malawians reside in rural locations. The country’s few large urban centres include Lilongwe, the capital, and Blantyre, the seat of the country’s judiciary.
Geography of Malawi
Malawi stretches about 520 miles (840 km) from north to south and varies in width from 5 to 100 miles (10 to 160 km). It is bordered by Tanzania to the north, Lake Malawi to the east, Mozambique to the east and south, and Zambia to the west.
While Malawi’s landscape is highly varied, four basic regions can be identified: the East African (or Great) Rift Valley, the central plateaus, the highlands, and the isolated mountains. The East African Rift Valley—by far the dominant feature of the country—is a massive troughlike depression running through the country from north to south and containing Lake Malawi (north and central) and the Shire River valley (south). The lake’s littoral, situated along the western and southern shores and ranging from 5 to 15 miles (8 to 24 km) in width, covers almost one-tenth of the total land area and is dotted with swamps and lagoons. The Shire valley stretches some 250 miles (400 km) from the southern end of Lake Malawi at Mangochi to Nsanje at the Mozambique border and contains Lake Malombe at its northern end. The plateaus of central Malawi rise to elevations of 2,500 to 4,500 feet (760 to 1,370 metres) and lie just west of the Lake Malawi littoral; the plateaus cover about three-fourths of the total land area. The highland areas are mainly isolated tracts that rise as much as 8,000 feet (2,400 metres) above sea level. They comprise the Nyika, Viphya, and Dowa highlands and Dedza-Kirk mountain range in the north and west and the Shire Highlands in the south. The isolated massifs of Mulanje (which reach 9,849 feet [3,002 metres], the highest point in the country) and Zomba (which reach 6,846 feet [2,087 metres]) represent the fourth physical region. Surmounting the Shire Highlands, they descend rapidly in the east to the Lake Chilwa–Phalombe plain.
- Drainage and soils
The major drainage system is that of Lake Malawi, which covers some 11,430 square miles (29,600 square km) and extends beyond the Malawi border. It is fed by the North and South Rukuru, Dwangwa, Lilongwe, and Bua rivers. The Shire River, the lake’s only outlet, flows through adjacent Lake Malombe and receives several tributaries before joining the Zambezi River in Mozambique. A second drainage system is that of Lake Chilwa, the rivers of which flow from the Lake Chilwa–Phalombe plain and the adjacent highlands.
Soils, distributed in a complex pattern, are composed primarily of red earths, with brown soils and yellow gritty clays on the plateaus. Alluvial soils occur on the lakeshores and in the Shire valley, while other soil types include hydromorphic (excessively moist) soils, black clays, and sandy dunes on the lakeshore.
There are two main seasons—the dry season, which lasts from May to October, and the wet season, which lasts from November to April. Temperatures vary seasonally, and they tend to decrease on average with increasing elevation. Nsanje, in the Shire River valley, has a mean July temperature in the high 60s F (low 20s C) and an October mean in the mid-80s F (high 20s C), while Dedza, which lies at an elevation of more than 5,000 feet (1,500 metres), has a July mean in the high 50s F (mid-10s C) and an October mean in the high 60s F (low 20s C). On the Nyika Plateau and on the upper levels of the Mulanje massif, frosts are not uncommon in July. Annual precipitation levels are highest over parts of the northern highlands and on the Sapitwa peak of the Mulanje massif, where they are about 90 inches (2,300 mm); they are lowest in the lower Shire valley, where they range from 25 to 35 inches (650 to 900 mm).
- Plant and animal life
The natural vegetation pattern reflects the country’s diversity in relief, soils, and climate. Savanna (grassy parkland) occurs in the dry lowland areas. Miombo woodlands—sparse, open deciduous woodland characteristic of dry parts of eastern Africa—are an important habitat, particularly for the country’s large mammal populations. Woodlands with species of acacia trees cover isolated, more fertile plateau sites and river margins. Grass-covered broad depressions, called madambo (singular: dambo), dot the plateaus. Grasslands and evergreen forests are found in conjunction on the highlands and on the Mulanje and Zomba massifs.
However, Malawi’s natural vegetation has been altered significantly by human activities. Swamp vegetation has given way to agricultural species as swamps have been drained and cultivated. Much of the original woodland has been cleared, and, at the same time, forests of softwoods have been planted in the highland areas. High population density and intensive cultivation of the Shire Highlands have also hindered natural succession there, while wells have been sunk and rivers dammed to irrigate the dry grasslands for agriculture.
Game animals abound only in the game reserves, where antelope, buffalo, elephants, leopards, lions, rhinoceroses, and zebras occur; hippopotamuses live in Lake Malawi. The lakes and rivers of Malawi contain hundreds of species and numerous families of fish. Lake Malawi is particularly renowned for its remarkable biodiversity—an enormous range of fish species inhabit the lake, most of them endemic—and its southern region, as part of Lake Malawi National Park, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984. The most common and commercially significant fish found in Malawi include the endemic tilapia, or chambo (nest-building freshwater fish); catfish, or mlamba; and minnows, or matemba.
The Ministry of Mines, Natural Resources, and Environmental Affairs is charged with the responsibility of ensuring the protection of Malawi’s environment, mainly through the implementation of the Environmental Management Act of 1996. Among the major concerns are efficient resource utilization, land degradation, deforestation, conservation of marine life, biodiversity, climate change, ozone layer protection, sewage, the pollution of water from agriculture runoff such as fertilizers, endangered species, and industrial pollution. The majority of pollution comes from greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from the usage of coal and charcoal, natural gas, and petroleum.
Demography of Malawi
- Ethnic groups and languages
Ten major ethnic groups are historically associated with modern Malawi—the Chewa, Nyanja, Lomwe, Yao, Tumbuka, Sena, Tonga, Ngoni, Ngonde, and the Lambya/Nyiha. All the African languages spoken are Bantu languages. From 1968 to 1994, Chewa was the only national language; it is now one of the numerous languages used in print and broadcast media and is spoken by a majority of the population. In 1996 government policy indicated that education in grades 1–4 would be provided in the students’ mother tongue or vernacular language; from grade 5, the medium of instruction would be English, which, though understood by less than one-fifth of the population at independence in 1964, continues to be used widely in business, administrative and judicial matters, higher education, and elsewhere. Other major languages include Lomwe, Yao, and Tumbuka.
Some three-fourths of the population are Christian, of which the majority are members of independent Christian or various Protestant denominations and the remainder are Roman Catholic. Muslims constitute about one-fifth of the population. Traditional beliefs are adhered to by a small proportion of the population.
- Settlement patterns
Although Malawi is one of the most densely populated countries in southern Africa, it is also one of the least urbanized, with more than four-fifths of its people living in rural locations. It is urbanizing at a very rapid rate, however, with movement toward urban areas taking place at a pace far swifter than either the African or global averages.
A rural village—called a mudzi—is usually small. Organized around the extended family, it is limited by the amount of water and arable land available in the vicinity. On the plateaus, which support the bulk of the population, the most common village sites are at the margins of madambo, which are usually contiguous with streams or rivers and are characterized by woodland, grassland, and fertile alluvial soils. In highland areas, scattered villages are located near perennial mountain streams and pockets of arable land. The larger settlements of the Lake Malawi littoral originated in the 19th century as collection points for slaves and later developed as lakeside ports. Improvements in communications and the sinking of wells in semiarid areas permitted the establishment of new settlements in previously uninhabited areas. Architecture is changing: the traditional round, mud-walled, grass-roofed hut is giving way to rectangular brick buildings with corrugated iron roofs.
Urban development began in the colonial era with the arrival of missionaries, traders, and administrators and was further stimulated by the construction of the railway. Important urban centres include Blantyre, Zomba, Mzuzu, and Lilongwe. Although some district centres and missionary stations have an urban appearance, they are closely associated with the rural settlements surrounding them. Blantyre, Malawi’s industrial and commercial centre, is situated in a depression on the Shire Highlands at an elevation of about 3,400 feet (1,040 metres). Zomba, the capital of Malawi until 1975 and now the seat of the University of Malawi, lies at the foot of Zomba Mountain. Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital since 1975 and a centre of agricultural industry, is located in the central region. Mzuzu, long associated with the wood industry, is situated farther north on the Viphya highlands.
- Demographic trends
The population is growing at a rate above average for sub-Saharan Africa. The birth rate is among the highest on the continent, but the death rate is also high, and life expectancy for both genders is significantly lower than the average for sub-Saharan Africa, primarily because of the incidence of HIV/AIDS. Nearly half the population is younger than age 15, and about three-fourths of the population is 29 or younger. A modest reduction in the country’s high fertility rates in the late 20th and early 21st centuries may be attributed in part to government policy aimed at improving female literacy and promoting more-effective contraceptive methods. The Ministry of Gender, Child Welfare, and Community Services, guided by the National Gender Policy, has played a major role in this effort. (For background on the status of women in Malawian society, see Sidebar: Gender Issues in Malawi.)
Economy of Malawi
The backbone of the Malawi economy is agriculture, which in the 2000s employed more than four-fifths of the working population and accounted for about one-third of the gross domestic product (GDP) and the vast majority of export earnings. Tobacco, the most important export crop, accounts for a major portion of the country’s trade income; tea, sugar, and cotton—all mostly grown in the estate sector—are also important.
Since the mid-1960s the government has sought to strengthen the agricultural sector by encouraging integrated land use, higher crop yields, and irrigation schemes. In pursuit of these goals, several large-scale integrated rural-development programs, covering one-fifth of the country’s land area, have been put into operation. These projects include extension services; credit and marketing facilities; physical infrastructure such as roads, buildings, and water supplies; health centres; afforestation units; and crop storage and protection facilities. Outside the main program areas, advisory services and educational programs are available. However, these schemes have brought little benefit to the smallholders, real growth instead being largely concentrated within the estate sector, which has been favoured by the government. Many smallholders have remained poor and indebted, and smallholder production has generally not increased enough to meet the demands of the rapidly growing population.
- Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Agricultural products constitute a large proportion of Malawian export revenue; the most important of these are tobacco, sugar, tea, and cotton. Tea is grown on plantations on the Shire Highlands; coffee is produced mostly in the Shire Highlands and in northern Malawi, especially in the northeastern Viphya Mountains, and near Rumphi and Misuku. Tobacco, by far the most important export, is raised largely on the central plateau on large estates and by smallholders in various parts of the country. With the rise of worldwide campaigns against smoking, however, farmers have been increasingly encouraged to diversify so as not to be wholly dependent on tobacco.
Corn (maize) is the principal food crop and is typically grown with beans, peas, and peanuts (groundnuts) throughout the country by virtually all smallholders. Other important food crops include cassava (manioc), bananas, pulses, sweet potatoes, and rice; chickens, cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats are raised.
Although the major share of commercial crop production is on large estates, most farms are small, with the majority less than 2.5 acres (1 hectare) in size. Until the early 1990s, smallholder cash crops were purchased and marketed solely by the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC), which also dominated the fertilizer business. Because ADMARC kept a high proportion of the profits, this arrangement was to the disadvantage of smallholders, whose conditions improved little. In 1987 the ADMARC monopoly over smallholder produce was ended. Through schemes such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Agricultural Sector Assistance Program, the government liberalized the production and marketing of smallholder tobacco. With greater control of their crop, growers’ income from tobacco sales was significantly increased.
Beginning in the early 1970s, the government sponsored the development of several large timber and pulpwood plantations aimed at making the country self-sufficient in construction grades of timber; pine and eucalyptus have also been planted extensively in the northern Viphya Mountains to supply a large pulp and paper project in the region. In spite of this, forest plantations account for only a fraction of the total Malawian forest cover.
The rapid rate at which wooded areas have been disappearing in Malawi is a source of grave concern. Between the early 1970s and the early ’90s, more than half of Malawi’s forested area was depleted, and, although the deforestation rate modestly decreased in the following decade, it nevertheless remained extremely high by relative standards. The use of wood as fuel is one major factor in the depletion of the country’s woodlands. In rural areas, wood has always been used to provide fuel for cooking, and, as the population grows, more of it is used; in the urban areas, charcoal is the main source of energy, adding more pressure on woodlands. The heavily dominant tobacco industry has resulted in further denudation of forests, as trees have been regularly felled both as timber for the construction of sheds to dry or cure the crop and to fuel the curing process itself. Another source of the problem is brick making, which relies heavily on firewood to fire the kilns. The reduction of casual labour and the number of civil service positions at the behest of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank has meant forest reserves no longer have personnel to guard them from abuse.
Fishing is practiced for subsistence as well as by artisanal and commercial fisheries. The lakes and rivers of Malawi provide a diverse catch. Lake Malawi in particular is a rich source of fish within easy access for most of the country’s population and accounts for some three-fourths of the country’s catch. Other important sources include Lakes Chilwa, Malombe, and Chiuta and the Shire River. Although aquaculture is practiced, much of the country’s total catch is obtained by capture, with artisanal fisheries accounting for the greatest proportion of that take. Some fish are exported to neighbouring countries. Since the late 20th century the fish population has dwindled because of overfishing, the use of nets with a mesh size smaller than those recommended by fisheries experts, and the disregard of the ban on fishing in the breeding season. In response, natural resources committees have been formed in lakeshore communities to participate in the management of fisheries and the enforcement of fishing regulations.
- Resources and power
Most of Malawi’s mineral deposits are neither extensive enough for commercial exploitation nor easily accessible. Some small-scale mining of coal takes place at Livingstonia and Rumphi in the north, and quarrying of limestone for cement production is also an important activity. Precious and semiprecious stones are mined on a small scale; these include agate, aquamarine, amethyst, garnet, corundum, rubies, and sapphires. Exploration and assessment studies continue on other minerals such as apatite, located south of Lake Chilwa; bauxite, on the Mulanje massif; kyanite, on the Dedza-Kirk range; vermiculite, south of Lake Malawi near Ntcheu; and rare-earth minerals, at Mount Kangankunde northwest of Zomba. Deposits of asbestos, uranium, and graphite are known to exist as well. Also under investigation are base metals, gold rutile, and ilmenite sands.
Arable land is considered one of Malawi’s most significant natural resources, although it is strained by both the country’s high population density and its agriculture-based economy. Forests and woodlands cover about one-third of the country, and almost 4,000 square miles (10,300 square km) are in state-controlled forest reserves.
Malawi’s water resources are plentiful, although some rural areas are inadequately supplied. Treated water for the major cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe is supplied by the Walker’s Ferry Scheme and the Kamuzu Dam, respectively. Most of the rivers are seasonal, but a few large ones, particularly the Shire River along its middle course, have considerable potential for irrigation and electricity generation. Power demands are met by hydroelectric schemes, including those at Nkula Falls, Kapichira, and Tedzani Falls, and by diesel plants. Major consumers of electric power include the industrial areas of the south near Blantyre, where electricity consumption has steadily multiplied, and the industrial area of Lilongwe; the vast sugar estates at Nchalo and Dwangwa also consume much electricity. By contrast, only a fraction of Malawians themselves have electrical access, and almost all domestic energy needs are met by firewood.
Power availability has been hindered by different factors. The drying of rivers due to deforestation near their sources and along their courses has resulted in a reduction of water flow into Lake Malawi, which in turn has adversely affected the currents of the Shire, on which the Nkula and Tedzani hydroelectric plants are located. The devaluation of the Malawi kwacha has also had some effect on electricity supply in the country, as spare parts can be expensive and difficult to obtain. These factors have at times led to load shedding of electricity and therefore an irregular availability of power.
Malawi’s small industrial sector is geared largely to processing agricultural products and to the manufacture of import substitutes (goods produced locally, often from imported materials, meant to replace products that were once purchased from abroad); construction and mining (mainly lime for cement and some coal) are also pursued. Although only a fraction of the workforce is employed in the sector, it accounts for some one-fifth of the Malawian GDP.
Development of the country’s industrial base was accorded high priority at independence, and Malawi now satisfies much of its own domestic need for products such as cotton textiles, canned foodstuffs, beer, edible oils, soaps, sugar, radios, hoes, and shoes. However, the cost of machinery parts, equipment, and other imports needed for use in industry has made some of the locally manufactured items particularly expensive. Furthermore, an easing of import restrictions has led to an influx of cheaper goods, which have effectively competed against local products. The textile industry has particularly suffered from imported secondhand clothes, which many Malawians find more affordable than those produced domestically.
The Reserve Bank of Malawi is the central bank of the country; it issues the national currency, the Malawian kwacha, and advises the government on monetary policy. In addition, there are a number of commercial banks, the majority of which are centred in Blantyre. There are several insurance companies operating in the country, the largest of which, NICO Holdings Limited (formerly the National Insurance Company), was privatized in 1996.
The Malawi Stock Exchange (MSE), established in 1994 with aid from the IMF, the World Bank, and a development bank with links to the Dutch government, opened its doors to traders in 1996. A member of the African Securities Exchange Association, the MSE has a diverse supervising committee, including government and central bank representatives.
More than two-fifths of Malawi’s foreign-exchange earnings are derived from exports of tobacco, of which Malawi is a leading producer. Sugar, tea, and cotton are also major exports; principal imports include chemicals and chemical products, petroleum products, consumer goods, machinery and transport equipment, and food. South Africa is Malawi’s most significant trading partner, although sizable trade is also conducted with the United States, India, and Germany, as well as with a number of neighbouring African countries.
Services contribute substantially to Malawi’s GDP, and this sector grew consistently in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Malawi’s natural wealth—including its parks and reserves, biodiversity, and pleasant climate—is considered a source of great tourism potential. A variety of sites have been marked by the government for development as ecotourism destinations.
- Labour and taxation
More than four-fifths of labourers work in the agricultural sector. All Malawians except those employed in the army or police force are permitted to join unions. Trade unions and employer associations are connected with enterprises such as the tea, sugar, and tobacco plantations and the building and construction industry. Since the early 1990s, trade unions have increased in number, and their umbrella organization, the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions, has become an effective voice for workers in the country. The Ministry of Labour plays a significant role in maintaining good relations between employers and employees.
Tax revenue is derived from multiple sources: employees pay an income tax, local companies pay taxes at a fixed rate of chargeable income, and companies incorporated outside Malawi pay an additional tax. In the execution of monetary policy, the IMF and the World Bank have been working with the Malawi government to ensure fiscal discipline, including a more efficient way of collecting tax revenue; the Malawi Revenue Authority was established to oversee the latter.
- Transportation and telecommunications
Malawi has road connections to Lusaka, Zamb., by way of Mchinji and Chipata, Zamb.; to Johannesburg, S.Af., by way of Mwanza and Tete, Mozam., and Harare, Zimb.; and to several points on the Mozambique border. The backbone of the road system is represented by a road running from Blantyre in the south to Lilongwe in the centre and through to Mzuzu in the north, where it joins a lakeshore road that ran roughly parallel to it until that point. From Mzuzu the road continues on to Karonga and crosses the Songwe River into Tanzania, where it connects with the highway to Dar es Salaam. During the Mozambican civil war, the Dar es Salaam–Karonga route was used to transport cargo, especially oil, which was transferred to lake barges at Chilumba and then shipped south to Chipoka and Monkey Bay. The feeder roads, most of which are in the rural areas, are not as developed as the main highways. Almost half of all roadways in the country are paved.
Of Malawi’s two railway links to the sea, the first stretches from Lilongwe eastward to Salima on the Lake Malawi shore and southward through Blantyre to the port of Beira on the Mozambique coast; an extension from Lilongwe to Mchinji, on the Zambia border, was completed in 1980. The second railroad joins the Salima-Blantyre line at Nkaya Junction to the south of Balaka and travels due east to link with the Mozambique Railways system at Cuamba, Mozam., whence it continues to the port of Nacala. Increased guerrilla activity in Mozambique after 1981, including attacks on these rail lines, forced Malawi to seek alternative, much longer routes to the sea, first through South Africa and then through Tanzania, adding substantially to its freight transport costs. With the end of the civil war in Mozambique in the early 1990s, traffic through that country slowly resumed as rehabilitation of the infrastructure was undertaken.
Of the rivers, only the Shire is partially navigable, all others being broken by rapids and cataracts. Lake Malawi has long been used as a means of inexpensive transportation. A passenger and cargo service that operates on the lake is linked to the Chipoka railway junction about 17 miles (27 km) south of Salima. The main ports on the lake include Monkey Bay, Nkhotakota, Nkhata Bay, Likoma Island, Chilumba, and Karonga.
Air Malawi, the national airline, provides foreign and domestic service. There are several airports in the country, including the primary international airport at Lilongwe and the Chileka airport, situated just north of Blantyre.
The domestic telephone system consists mostly of landlines and microwave radio links and radio communication stations. For international linkages, satellite earth stations are used. Within Malawi there is a serious shortage of landlines, and it is difficult to maintain the infrastructure; both issues are exacerbated by the theft of cables, and efforts to bring information technology to the more remote parts of the country have been hindered. Although mobile cellular telephone use is on the increase, service is generally limited to urban areas.
Government and Society of Malawi
Malawi is governed under the constitution of 1994. The president, who is both head of state and head of government, is popularly elected for a five-year term and is eligible for a second term. The unicameral legislature consists of the 193-seat National Assembly, whose members are also elected by popular vote for five-year terms. Administratively, Malawi is divided into 27 districts.
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 five years. The members of the cabinet are appointed by the president. Malawi's National Assembly has 193 seats, all directly elected to serve five-year terms. The constitution also provides for a second chamber, a Senate of 80 seats, but to date no action has been taken to create it. 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 28 districts within three regions administered by regional administrators and district commissioners who are appointed by the central government. In the first local elections in the multiparty era, which took place in 2000, the UDF party won 70 percent of the seats.
In the third multiparty presidential and parliamentary elections, European Union and Commonwealth observers noted "serious inadequacies" in the poll. The authorities at times interfered with opposition party functions or used violence to disperse crowds. Individuals, however, were generally free to criticize the government without fear of reprisal. The government-owned radio and television stations dominate media coverage and clearly favor the president and his party, but a broad spectrum of opinion is available in newspapers and other independent media.
Concerns were raised in 2006 about President Mutharika's growing ties to Zimbabwe. Opposition leaders said he diverted UN food aid to Zimbabwe. The president's wife is Zimbabwean.
- Human rights
Although the government generally respects human rights, there are problems in some areas, including use of excessive force by police; harsh prison conditions; limits on freedom of the press, speech, and assembly; discrimination and violence against women, trafficking in women and children, especially for sexual exploitation; and child labor in agriculture and domestic service, largely as a result of extreme poverty.
- Foreign relations
Malawi 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, Libya, 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 United Nations organizations.
Culture Life of Malawi
- Daily life and social customs
Many Malawians observe holidays celebrated by Christian societies throughout the world, including Easter and Christmas. Holidays celebrated by the Muslim community—including ʿĪd al-Fiṭr, which marks the end of Ramadan, and ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā, which marks the culmination of the hajj—are governed by the lunar calendar. In addition to these, other holidays include John Chilembwe Day on January 15, in honour of the missionary who was a forerunner of Malawian nationalism; Martyrs’ Day on March 3, commemorating those who lost their lives in a 1959 uprising against the British colonial administration; Freedom Day on June 14, in honour of the many Malawians who struggled for the country’s transition to a multiparty democracy during the early 1990s; Republic Day on July 6, commemorating Malawian independence; Labour Day on May 1; and Mother’s Day, which is celebrated in October.
- The arts
Various traditional arts and crafts, including sculpture in wood and ivory, form part of Malawi’s material and aesthetic culture. A variety of musical forms, both local and international, are also important. One of the most distinctive features of Malawian culture is the enormous variety of traditional songs and dances that feature the drum as the major musical instrument. Among the most notable of these dances are ingoma and gule wa mkulu, performed by men, and chimtali and visekese, performed by women.
Through domestic broadcasts and international broadcasts received by way of shortwave radio, Malawians—especially those of the younger generations—have always been part of world pop culture and enjoy many international musical artists. Western popular music forms a major repertoire on local radio. It is associated with the more modern urban nightclubs, and most town-based local artists play it rather than music with a strictly African-sounding beat. African styles of pop music are also very popular among all ages in Malawi, however, and, because of strong historical ties with South Africa, township music such as mbaqanga has always occupied a significant place in the Malawian musical culture. Equally notable is the popularity of Congolese music (a mixture of traditional African rhythms and instruments and those borrowed from other cultures), which, along with mbaqanga, tends to be played in both villages and bars in the urban centres.
- Cultural institutions
Important artifacts of Malawian history, art, and culture are preserved in the country’s museums, including the Malawi Museum, also known as the Chichiri Museum, in Blantyre; the Lake Malawi Museum, which displays ethnographic and historical exhibits, in Mangochi; the Cultural Museum Center, which features items of natural and cultural significance, in Karonga; and the Chamare Museum at Mua Catholic Mission, which specializes in arts and crafts and has training facilities for prospective sculptors. In addition, Malawian cultural expression is also preserved in situ at such locations as the Chongoni rock-art area (designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006), where more than 100 sites feature rock paintings by agriculturalists and hunter-gatherers, the oldest of which may date back to the 6th century bce.
The Malawi National Dance Troupe (formerly the Kwacha Cultural Troupe), formed in 1987, works to preserve the performing arts culture of various ethnic groups; the Chancellor College Travelling Theatre (affiliated with the University of Malawi), the Wakhumbata Theatre Ensemble, and other groups in Blantyre and Lilongwe have been an effective means of bringing traditional and modern plays to rural and urban populations.
- Sports and recreation
Most people in rural Malawi spend their time attending to their farms; when they are not doing so—which is usually in the dry months—they may visit their friends or go to local school football (soccer) matches, often played on weekends on rough and uneven grounds. In many areas men play bawo, similar to checkers. Dance competitions, pitting teams from different areas against one another, are also popular in rural Malawi. Football, boxing, netball, cinema, and theatre arts play a major role in the leisure life of urban Malawians.
National football squads frequently compete in matches in neighbouring countries, but, because of a shortage of travel funds, they seldom venture far. In September 1999 the government awarded the Malawi Council of Sports a sizable grant to improve the country’s sporting infrastructure and allow Malawian teams to travel abroad more regularly. Malawian athletes have distinguished themselves in the sport of netball and have sent teams to the World Netball Championships and to the African Games. Malawi formed a national Olympic committee in 1968 and was recognized by the International Olympic Committee that year. Malawian athletes have attended most Summer Games since that time but did join in the boycotts of the 1976 and 1980 games.
- Media and publishing
A variety of publications are circulated in Malawi. Widely read publications include The Daily Times, published in English; Malawi News, a weekly published in Chewa and English; The Nation, a daily published in English and Nyanja; The Mirror, a weekly published in English and Nyanja; and Odini, published fortnightly in Chewa and English. Of the periodicals in distribution, Boma Lathu, which is published quarterly in Chewa by the Ministry of Information, is the most widely circulated; Moni Magazine and This Is Malawi—monthlies published in both Chewa and English—are also important.
The state-owned Malawi Broadcasting Corporation is the major radio broadcaster in the country. Until 1994, programs were broadcast only in Chewa and English; programs have since been made available in additional languages, including Yao, Tumbuka, Lomwe, Sena, and Tonga. There are also a number of commercial radio stations in operation, some of which are operated by the country’s various religious organizations. TV Malawi, the first television establishment, started operating in 1999, initially in Blantyre and Lilongwe. Until that time, only those with satellite dishes and access to M-Net, a South African subscription television service, had any access to this form of entertainment. TV Malawi broadcasts both local and international programming.
History of Malawi
Early History and Colonialism
The first inhabitants of present-day Malawi were probably related to the San (Bushmen). Between the 1st and 4th cent. A.D., Bantu-speaking peoples migrated to present-day Malawi. A new wave of Bantu-speaking peoples arrived around the 14th cent., and they soon coalesced into the Maravi kingdom (late 15th–late 18th cent.), centered in the Shire River valley. In the 18th cent. the kingdom conquered portions of modern Zimbabwe and Mozambique. However, shortly thereafter it declined as a result of internal rivalries and incursions by the Yao, who sold their Malawi captives as slaves to Arab and Swahili merchants living on the Indian Ocean coast. In the 1840s the region was thrown into further turmoil by the arrival from S Africa of the warlike Ngoni.
In 1859, David Livingstone, the Scots explorer, visited Lake Nyasa and drew European attention to the effects of the slave trade there; in 1873 two Presbyterian missionary societies established bases in the region. Missionary activity, the threat of Portuguese annexation, and the influence of Cecil Rhodes led Great Britain to send a consul to the area in 1883 and to proclaim the Shire Highlands Protectorate in 1889. In 1891 the British Central African Protectorate (known from 1907 until 1964 as Nyasaland), which included most of present-day Malawi, was established. During the 1890s, British forces ended the slave trade in the protectorate. At the same time, Europeans established coffee-growing estates in the Shire region, worked by Africans. In 1915 a small-scale revolt against British rule was easily suppressed, but it was an inspiration to other Africans intent on ending foreign domination.
In 1944 the protectorate's first political movement, the moderate Nyasaland African Congress, was formed, and in 1949 the government admitted the first Africans to the legislative council. In 1953 the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (linking Nyasaland, Northern Rhodesia, and Southern Rhodesia) was formed, over the strong opposition of Nyasaland's African population, who feared that the more aggressively white-oriented policies of Southern Rhodesia (see Zimbabwe) would eventually be applied to them.
The Banda Regime and Modern Malawi In the mid-1950s the congress, headed by H. B. M. Chipembere and Kanyama Chiume, became more radical. In 1958, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda became the leader of the movement, which was renamed the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) in 1959. Banda organized protests against British rule that led to the declaration of a state of emergency in 1959–60. The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was ended in 1963, and on July 6, 1964, Nyasaland became independent as Malawi.
Banda led the country in the era of independence, first as prime minister and, after Malawi became a republic in 1966, as president; he was made president for life in 1971. He quickly alienated other leaders by governing autocratically, by allowing Europeans to retain considerable influence within the country, and by refusing to oppose white-minority rule in South Africa. Banda crushed a revolt led by Chipembere in 1965 and one led by Yatuta Chisiza in 1967.
Arguing that the country's economic well-being depended on friendly relations with the white-run government in South Africa, Banda established diplomatic ties between Malawi and South Africa in 1967. In 1970, Prime Minister B. J. Vorster of South Africa visited Malawi, and in 1971 Banda became the first head of an independent black African nation to visit South Africa. This relationship drew heavy public criticism. Nonetheless, Malawi enjoyed considerable economic prosperity in the 1970s, attributable in large part to foreign investment.
Throughout the decade, Malawi became a refuge for antigovernment rebels from neighboring Mozambique, causing tension between the two nations, as did the influx (in the late 1980s) of more than 600,000 civil war refugees, prompting Mozambique to close its border. The border closure forced Malawi to use South African ports at great expense. In the face of intense speculation over Banda's successor, he began to eliminate powerful officials through expulsions and possibly assassinations.
In 1992, Malawi suffered the worst drought of the century. That same year there were violent protests against Banda's rule, and Western nations suspended aid to the country. In a 1993 referendum Malawians voted for an end to one-party rule, and parliament passed legislation establishing a multiparty democracy and abolishing the life presidency. In a free election in 1994, Banda was defeated by Bakili Muluzi, his former political protégé, who called for a policy of national reconciliation. Muluzi formed a coalition cabinet, with members from his own United Democratic Front (UDF) and the rival Alliance for Democracy (AFORD). Disillusioned with the coalition, AFORD pulled out of the government in 1996. When Muluzi was reelected in 1999, AFORD joined the MCP in an unsuccessful court challenge of his election.
In 2002, Muluzi began a campaign to have the constitution changed so he could run for a third term, but the move sparked political and popular opposition and was abandoned the next year. In late 2003, AFORD again formed an alliance with the UDF. Aided by a split in the opposition, the UDF candidate, Bingu wa Mutharika, won the 2004 presidential election. The UDF, however, failed to win even a plurality in parliament, but Mutharika formed a majority coalition with independents and the small National Democratic Alliance.
Mutharika launched an anticorruption campaign that alienated many in the UDF, including former president Muluzi, and in 2005 Mutharika left the UDF and established the Democratic Progressive party (DPP). Mutharika subsequently faced abortive attempts by the UDF to impeach him. A crop failure in 2005 resulted in a drastic food shortage in the country and high food prices, and led to new policies designed to increase agricultural production.
In Feb., 2006, the president dismissed Vice President Cassim Chilumpha, a Muluzi ally, but Chilumpha appealed the dismissal to Malawi's high court, on the grounds that only parliament could remove him. In March, the court suspended the dismissal pending its decision. The next month, however, the vice president was arrested and charged with treason. In July, former president Muluzi was arrested on corruption charges, but the charges were dropped a month later. A high court panel ruled in Dec., 2006, that the president did not have the right to dismiss the vice president. Subsequently, President Mutharika, in his 2007 New Year's message, accused opposition parties and the judiciary of dividing the nation; he also accused the judiciary of bias against the government. Relations between the president and opposition parties were acrimonious into 2008; in May, 2008, the government charged several opposition figures with plotting a coup.
Mutharika was reelected by a landslide in the May, 2009, elections; the DPP won a majority in parliament as well. His main opponent, John Tembo of the Malawi Congress party, accused the DPP of rigging the election; international observers said the president had monopolized state media coverage of the campaign. Muluzi, who had sought to run but was barred, supported Tembo. In July, 2011, economic problems and the government's increasing intolerance for criticism and dissent led to demonstrations that were bloodily suppressed by the police; the use of violence renewed local unhappiness with Mutharika and led to international criticism and some suspension of aid.
Mutharika died in Apr., 2012, and was succeeded by his vice president, Joyce Banda. Banda had become critical of Mutharika and had been expelled from the DPP; Mutharika's attempts to remove her as vice president had been unsuccessful. (In Mar., 2013, Mutharika's brother and other DPP officials were charged with treason for allegedly seeking to prevent Banda from succeeding to the presidency.) Banda instituted austerity policies recommended by the International Monetary Fund, which initially led to increased inflation in the country. The measures were designed in part to restore needed international aid.
In Sept., 2013, the shooting of the country's budget director led to the discovery of the Cashgate scandal, involving the theft of millions of dollars of government funds by more than 60 suspects; the budget director was believed to have been targeted because of his opposition to such looting. Banda reshuffled her cabinet as result, dismissing her finance minister. Malawi suffers from a high AIDS infection rate, with roughly one seventh of the population affected.
Malawi Area: 118,484 sq km (45,747 sq mi) Population (2005 est.): 12,707,000 Capital: Lilongwe; judiciary meets in Blantyre Head of state and government: President Bingu wa Mutharika In February ...>>>Read On<<<
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