Background Notes: Malawi
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,
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 (2000 est.): 10 million.
Annual growth rate (2000 est.): 2.0%.
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 (1999 est., age 15 and older) 58%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (1999 est.)--132.14 deaths/1,000 live births.
Life expectancy at birth (1999 est.)--36.3 yrs.
Type: multiparty 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). MCP and AFORD are the
two 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. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is a political opposition
group which plans to seek party status in the near future.
Suffrage: Universal at 18 years of age.
Central government budget (1999/00 est.): Revenues and grants--$490 million
(MK 21.5 billion); expenditures--$523 million (MK 22.9 billion).
Defense (1999/00 est.): 3.8% of recurrent budget, and 1.1% of development
Flag: Horizontal tricolor of black, red, and green with a rising sun in the
center of the black stripe.
GDP (2000 est.): Approx. $2273.36 million.
Annual real GDP growth rate (2000 est.): 2.1%.
Per capita GDP (2000 est.): approx. $180.
Avg. inflation rate (2000): 30.4%.
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,
Trade (2000 est.): Exports--$504 million: tobacco, tea, sugar, coffee,
peanuts, wood products. Partners-US, South Africa, Germany, Japan.
Imports--796.3 million: food, petroleum products, semi-manufactures,
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
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
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 5 o-14 o C (41o-57 o F).
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
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
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
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
On June 15, 1999, Malawi held its second democratic elections. Dr. Bakili
Muluzi was re-elected to serve a second 5-year term as President, despite an
MCP-AFORD Alliance that ran a joint slate against the UDF. As of October
2001, the UDF holds 96 seats in the National Assembly, while the AFORD holds
30, and the MCP holds 61. Six seats are held by independents who represent
the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) opposition group. The NDA is not
recognized as an official political party at this time. The National
Assembly has 193 members, of whom 17 are women, including one of the Deputy
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
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
Principal Government Officials
State President--Dr. Bakili Muluzi
First Vice President--Mr. Justin C. Malewezi
Second Vice President--Vacant
Agriculture and Irrigation--Aleke Banda
Commerce and Industry--Peter Kaleso
Education--Dr. George Nga Mtafu
Finance--Dr. Mathias A.P. Chikaonda
Foreign Affairs--Lilian Patel
Forestry, Fisheries, and Environmental Affairs--Harry Thomson
Health and Population--Yusuf Mwawa
Home Affairs and Internal Security--Monjeza Maluza
Justice and Constitutional Affairs--Peter Fachi
Labor and Vocational Training--Alice Sumani
Lands and Housing--Thengo Maloya
Local --Patrick Mbewe
Minister of State Responsible for People with Disabilities--Susan Chitimba
Minister of State Responsible for Statutory Bodies--Bob Khamisa
Minister of State Responsible for Presidential Affairs--Dr. Dumbo Lemani
Tourism, Parks, and Wildlife--Dr. Ken Lipenga
Water Development--Lee Mlanga
Gender, Youth and Community Services--Mary Kaphwereza Banda
Transport and Public Works--Kaliyoma Phumisa
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's 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
Real GDP grew by 3.6% in 1999 and 2.1% in 2000. The government's monetary
policy has been expansionary, and the average annual inflation has hovered
around 30% in 2000 and 2001, keeping discount and commercial bank rates high
(the discount rate was 47% in December 2000). In the second half of 2001,
the Kwacha strengthened sharply against the U.S. dollar, moving from 80 to
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
Malawi assumed 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 has an active slate of peacetime engagement military-to-military
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
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.
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, some 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 98 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
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
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 in Malawi
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).
See http://www.state.gov/r/pa/bgn/ for all Background notes
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