Malawi, a country in southeastern Africa. It is bordered by Mozambique, Zambia, and Tanzania. The total area is 45,747 square miles (118,484 km2). About a fifth of the area is inland water.
The eastern half of Malawi lies mainly in the Great Rift Valley, a deep trough running through eastern Africa. In the valley, and largely in Malawi, is Lake Nyasa (also called Lake Malawi), the third largest lake in Africa. The rest of the country consists of plateaus and scattered highlands, the loftiest parts rising 8,000 to nearly 10,000 feet (2,400 to 3,000 m) above sea level. The chief river is the Shire, which flows southward out of Lake Nyasa.
Malawi's climate is tropical and varies mainly with elevation. The rift valley is warm to hot and often humid; the extreme southern part is especially sultry and oppressive. Outside of the rift valley, especially at higher elevations, the climate is more moderate. Rainfall totals about 30 to 60 inches (760 to 1,520 mm) a year, depending on locality. Virtually all of it occurs from November through April—the warmest period of the year. The rest of the year is dry.
Savannas cover most of the land. Forests are found primarily in the more elevated regions of the highlands. Wildlife includes a variety of large and small mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish. Because of the encroachment of humans, most of the large mammals, such as elephants, lions, and hartebeest, are rarely found outside of game reserves.
|Facts in brief about Malawi|
|Official languages: Chichewa and English.|
|Area: 45,747 mi2 (118,484 km2).|
|Population: Current estimate—13,630,000; density, 298 per mi2 (115 per km2); distribution, 83 percent rural, 17 percent urban. 1998 census—9,933,868.|
|Chief products: Agriculture—corn, cotton, hides and skins, peanuts, sorghum, sugar cane, tea, tobacco. Manufacturing and processing—bricks, cement, cotton goods, food processing.|
|Flag: Malawi's flag has three horizontal stripes, black, red, and green (top to bottom). A red rising sun is on the top black stripe.|
|Money: Basic unit—Malawian kwacha. One hundred tambala equal one kwacha.|
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in Africa. About 85 per cent of the people live in rural areas. Most farm at a subsistence level. Corn is the staple food; tobacco and tea are the chief exports. Some of Malawi's export crops are grown on large commercial estates, or plantations. Fishing in Lake Nyasa is also significant. Manufacturing consists primarily of processing agricultural products and making bricks, cement, and cotton goods.
Less than 10 per cent of the roads in Malawi are paved. But railways and hard-surfaced roads link the principal cities and farming areas and provide access to ports in Mozambique. The main airports are at Lilongwe and Blantyre.
Nearly all the people of Malawi belong to various Bantu groups, two of which—the Chewa and Nyanja—make up about half the population. The non-Africans are mainly of British and East Indian origin. The population density—about 298 persons per square mile (115 per km2) of land—is one of the highest in Africa. Most of the people live in villages. The chief cities are Blantyre, the principal commercial center; Lilongwe, the capital; and Zomba, the former capital.
English and Chichewa (a Bantu tongue) are official languages. About half the people are animists; a quarter, Christians; and a quarter, Muslims. Less than half the school-age children attend primary school, and less than a tenth, secondary school. Higher education is provided at the University of Malawi.
Under the constitution of 1995, Malawi is a republic. The president and members of parliament are elected for five-year terms.
Beginning in the 1200's, the area that is now Malawi was a center of Arab slave trade. Britain intervened in the 1870's and made the region, which it called Nyasaland, a protectorate in 1891, a status maintained for some 60 years. Nyasaland was in a federation with the Rhodesias from 1953 until 1962.
In 1964 Nyasaland became independent, taking the name Malawi from 17th-century inhabitants of the territory. The nation became a republic within the British Commonwealth in 1966. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, after leading the country to independence and becoming its first president, eliminated all political opposition. Under pressure from the West, which halted foreign aid, Banda held a referendum in 1993 on his rule; he lost when the people voted for multiparty democracy. In 1994 elections, Banda was voted out of office.