The Republic of Malawi in south-east Africa is a country formerly known as Nyasaland. Bordered by Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique it is 45,560 sq mi with a population of nearly 14 million people.
First colonised by migrating tribes of Bantu in the 10th century, Malawi has a long and interesting past. British colonies took to the area in 1891, and in 1953 it became part of the semi-independent Central African Federation. This was dissolved 10 years later and Malawi gained independence, and its current name, in 1964. Malawi now has its first female president Joyce Banda, who leads the democratic, multi-party government, and has a small military force of army, navy and air personnel. The country’s modern policy is pro-Western and representatives stand for Malawi in many international organisations.
The area that is now Malawi was home to a small population of hunter-gatherers before the Bantu peoples emigrated there around the 10th century. By 1500 these tribes established a large kingdom, but soon after the turn of the nest century native tribesman began to encounter Portuguese traders and military personnel and were trading and making allegiances with them. By 1700 the empire was broken up into individual tribes.
Medical missionary and explorer David Livingstone reached Lake Malawi in 1859 and identified one area as suitable for a European settlement. Several religious missions were established in the region and in 1889 a British protectorate was proclaimed over the Shire Highlands, south of the lake. In 1907 the protectorate was re-named Nyasaland and it retained this until the end of British rule.
The Nyasaland African Congress was formed in 1944, and a few years later the country was lined with Northern and Southern Rhodesia in the Central African Federation. This lasted until 1963 and Nyasaland became an independent country under the name Malawi a year later.
The Malawi Congress Party had gained a majority in elections in 1961 and Hastings Kamuzu Banda became Prime Minister in 1963. With a new constitution, the country become a single-party state under MCP rule in 1966, and four years later Banda declared himself president for life. He held a firm rule for three decades but the country’s economy, agriculture and industrial development progressed impressively.
A referendum in 1993 saw the people of Malawi vote for a multi-party democracy. Life presidency was abolished and a new constitution formed. Bakili Muluzi became president, followed by Dr Bingu wa Mutharika. Vice president Joyce Banda is now head of state following Mutharika’s death from a heart attack in 2012.
Environment, economy and health
Malawi is one of the world’s least developed countries with an economy based on agriculture. The government relies heavily on outside aid, which has fallen over the past 12 years, leaving it facing huge challenges in building and expanding, improving health care and achieving financial independence.
The people of Malawi face a low life expectancy and infant mortality rates are high. There is also a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS. The population is diverse, with natives, Asian and European people speaking different languages and practising different religions.