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 (the commercial capital), Zomba, Mzuzu.
Terrain: Plateaus, highlands, and valleys. Lake Malawi (formerly referred to as Lake Nyasa) comprises about 20% of total area.
Climate: Predominately subtropical.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Malawian(s).
Population (2008 est.): 13,066,320 (preliminary results from the 2008 Malawi population and housing census).
Annual growth rate (2008): 2.8%.
Ethnic groups: Chewa, Nyanja, Tumbuka, Yao, Lomwe, Sena, Tonga, Ngoni, Ngonde, Asian, European.
Religions: Protestant 55%, Roman Catholic 20%, Muslim 20%, indigenous beliefs 3%, other 2%.
Languages: English (official), Chichewa (official), regional dialects, i.e., Chitumbuka, Chiyao, Chilomwe.
Education: Years compulsory--none. Enrollment (2006)--primary, 86%. Literacy (2004 est., age 15 and older)--69%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (2006)--72 deaths/1,000 live births. Life expectancy (at birth, 2005 est.)--40 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 (193 members). Although the Malawian constitution provides for a Senate, in practice the legislative branch's upper house does not exist. Judicial--High Court, Supreme Court of Appeal, subordinate Magistrate Courts.
Administrative subdivisions: 28 districts.
Political parties: Democratic Progressive Party (DPP, ruling party) United Democratic Front (UDF), Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Alliance for Democracy (AFORD), New Republican Party (NRP), National Democratic Alliance (NDA), People's Progressive Movement (PPM), People's Transformation Party (PETRA), and Congress for National Unity (CONU). MCP and UDF are the two main opposition parties in parliament.
Suffrage: Universal at 18 years of age.
Central government budget (2008/2009): $1.6 billion (MK 227.2 billion).
GDP (2008 est.): $3.8 billion.
Annual real GDP growth rate (2008 est.): 7.1%.
Per capita GNI (2008 est.): Approx. $289.
Avg. inflation rate (2008): 8.7%.
Natural resources: Limestone, uranium, coal, bauxite, phosphates, graphite, granite, black granite, vermilite, aquamarine, tourmaline, rubies, sapphires, rare earths.
Agriculture (approx. 34.7% of GDP): Products--tobacco, sugar, cotton, tea, corn, potatoes, cassava (tapioca), sorghum, coffee, rice, groundnuts. Arable land--34%, of which 86% is cultivated.
Industry (19.4% of GDP): Types--tea, tobacco, sugar, sawmill products, cement, consumer goods.
Trade (2005 est.): Exports--$578 million: tobacco, tea, sugar, coffee, peanuts, wood products. Partners--U.S., U.K., South Africa, Germany, Japan. Imports--$1.066 billion: 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--of 670,000 makes it the largest city in the country (preliminary results from the 2008 Malawi population and housing census). All government ministries and the parliament are located in Lilongwe. Blantyre remains Malawi's major commercial center with a population of 660,000. Malawi's President resides in Lilongwe. The Supreme Court is seated in Blantyre.
Malawi's climate is generally subtropical. A rainy season runs from November through April. There is little to no rainfall throughout most of the country from May to October. It is hot and humid from October to April along the lake and in the Lower Shire Valley.
Lilongwe is also hot and humid during 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 Yao word for "lake"). Although the British remained in control during the first half of the 1900s, this period was marked by a number of unsuccessful Malawian attempts to obtain independence. A growing European and U.S.-educated African elite became increasingly vocal and politically active--first through associations, and after 1944, through the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC).
During the 1950s, pressure for independence increased when Nyasaland was joined with Northern and Southern Rhodesia in 1953 to form the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. In July 1958, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda returned to the country after a long absence in the United States (where he had obtained his medical degree at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee in 1937), the United Kingdom (where he practiced medicine), and Ghana. He assumed leadership of the NAC, which later became the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). In 1959, Banda was sent to Gwelo Prison for his political activities but was released in 1960 to participate in a constitutional conference in London.
On April 15, 1961, the MCP won an overwhelming victory in elections for a new Legislative Council. It also gained an important role in the new Executive Council and ruled Nyasaland in all but name a year later. In a second constitutional conference in London in November 1962, the British Government agreed to give Nyasaland self-governing status the following year.
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 1994. The UDF won 82 of the 177 seats in the National Assembly and formed a coalition government with the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD). That coalition disbanded in June 1996, but some of its members remained in the government. The President was referred to as Dr. Muluzi, having received an honorary degree at Lincoln University in Missouri in 1995. Malawi's newly written constitution (1995) eliminated special powers previously reserved for the Malawi Congress Party. Accelerated economic liberalization and structural reform accompanied the political transition.
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.
Malawi saw its first transition between democratically elected presidents in May 2004, when the UDF's presidential candidate Bingu wa Mutharika defeated MCP candidate John Tembo and Gwanda Chakuamba, who was backed by a grouping of opposition parties. European Union and Commonwealth observers said although voting passed peacefully, they were concerned about "serious inadequacies" in the poll. The UDF also did not win a majority of seats in parliament, as it had done in 1994 and 1999 elections. Through the politicking of party chairperson and former President Bakili Muluzi, the party successfully secured a majority by forming a "government of national unity" with several opposition parties. President Bingu wa Mutharika left the UDF party on February 5, 2005, citing differences with the UDF, particularly over his anti-corruption campaign. He formed the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) shortly thereafter, attracting a number of UDF and independent members of parliament (MPs) to his new party. The DPP, however, also failed to acquire enough support for a majority in parliament, and continued to face stiff opposition.
Malawi held presidential and parliamentary elections on May 19, 2009. Mutharika was declared the winner of the presidential election.
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, a Supreme Court of Appeal, and a constitutional court. Local government is carried out in 28 districts within three regions administered by regional administrators and district commissioners who are appointed by the central government. 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. The second round of constitutionally-mandated local elections, originally scheduled for May 2005, was cancelled by the government and have yet to be held.
Principal Government Official
President--Bingu wa Mutharika
Malawi maintains an embassy in the United States at 1029 Vermont Avenue, NW, Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20005 (tel. 202-721-0270; fax 202-721-0288). Malawi's Permanent Mission to the United Nations is located at 866 UN Plaza, Suite 486, New York, NY 10017 (tel.: 212-317-8738/8718; fax: 212-317-8729; e-mail: Malawinewyork@aol.com or MalawiU@aol.com). Malawi also maintains an Honorary Consulate in Los Angeles at 44970 Via Renaissance, Temecula, California 92590 (office number, 951-676-2476; fax number, 951-676-1568; and e-mail, email@example.com).
Malawi is a landlocked, densely populated country. Its economy is heavily dependent on agriculture. Malawi has few exploitable mineral resources. Its most important export crops are tobacco, tea, and sugar. 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 34.7% of the GDP 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). The agricultural sector contributes about 63.7% of total income for the rural population, 65% of manufacturing sector's raw materials, and approximately 87% of total employment. 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 50% 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 transportation, 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 telecommunications, have begun to render the investment environment more attractive.
Malawi has undertaken economic structural adjustment programs supported by the World Bank, 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.
In August 2005 the IMF approved a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) for Malawi. In August 2006 Malawi successfully reached the completion point under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, resulting in debt relief from multilateral and Paris Club creditors. Over $2 billion in debt has since been cancelled, enabling the government to increase expenditures for development. Real GDP increased by an estimated 7.1% in 2008. Inflation has been largely under control since 2003, averaging 10% in that year and 7% in 2007. Discount and commercial lending rates have also declined from 40%-45% in 2003 to 22.5% currently. The government has allowed some adjustment to the exchange rate, although the Kwacha’s rate against the dollar has not changed since 2004. As of January 2008 the Kwacha had depreciated to 140 to the U.S. dollar. The Kwacha is now generally considered overvalued and with imports still heavily outweighing exports, the country continues to suffer from a severe shortage of foreign exchange.
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.
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, 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, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, 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 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, African Union, 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, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 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 was the first southern African country to receive peacekeeping training under the U.S.-sponsored African Crisis Response Force Initiative (ACRI) and has joined the 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. The U.S. Government has provided approximately $70 million annually in development assistance to Malawi under USAID's Country Strategic Plan (CSP). The primary goal of USAID assistance is poverty reduction and increased food security through broad-based, market-led economic growth, focusing on four areas: sustainable increases in rural incomes, increased civic involvement in the rule of law, improved access to and quality of health services, and improved access to quality basic education. The USAID program is implemented in partnership with the Government of Malawi, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), other U.S. Government agencies, U.S. private voluntary organizations, contractors, and other partners, including the private sector through public-private partnerships.
USAID's program to increase rural incomes includes training and technical assistance to promote growth in the agricultural sector, including through public-private partnerships. USAID has also supported microfinance institutions providing financial services. In support of democracy and governance, U.S. assistance supports fighting corruption, improving fiscal responsibility, and establishing a more transparent and effective judiciary. As a result of progress made in the fight against corruption, Malawi qualified as a compact-eligible country under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) in December 2007. The government is currently working on compact development.
USAID continues to support the Sector Wide Approach to Health (SWAP) through discrete initiatives aimed at "increased use of improved health behaviors and services" for maternal, child, and reproductive health, including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Together with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USAID’s continuing implementation of President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) supported programs is having a substantial impact on health indicators in the country.
Improving the quality and efficiency of basic education remain the major development challenges in the Malawi education system. USAID continues to fund activities that target quality of and access to the primary education sub-sector level, which is having a positive effect at both the local and national levels. At the local level, USAID-funded activities are helping communities and parents make more informed decisions to improve the quality of primary schooling.
The United States is the largest contributor to the World Food Program (WFP) in Malawi, providing over $100 million in food and other emergency assistance through WFP since early 2002. USAID will coordinate requests to the U.S. Government for humanitarian assistance, and WFP will handle the logistics of import and distribution.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) operates two programs within Malawi: Global AIDS Program (GAP) and Malawi Malaria Program (MMP).
The CDC GAP office started in November 2001 with an emphasis on establishing long-term working relationships with the Malawi Government, the National AIDS Commission (NAC) and the Ministry of Health (MOH). The major areas of focus during the initial phase included strengthening Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT), HIV surveillance, evaluation, infrastructure, and capacity-building activities.
The CDC MMP, jointly funded by USAID and CDC, has evolved to provide more support to the national prevention and control program. CDC MMP has supported the work of the National Malaria Control Programme in developing the country strategic plan for Roll Back Malaria (RBM), developing the national "Malaria Policy," developing guidelines for the management of the insecticide-treated net (ITN) program, and participating in other national program activities.
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 2,200 Americans have served as Peace Corps volunteers in Malawi. Currently, there are about 140 volunteers working in health, education, and environment.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Peter W. Bodde
Deputy Chief of Mission--Kevin Sullivan
USAID Mission Director--Curt Reintsma
Peace Corps Director--Victor Barbiero
Centers for Disease Control Director--Austin Demby
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- (0)1 773 166/342/367; fax +265- (0)1 772-471).