The Republic of Malawi is a landlocked country in southeast Africa that was formerly known as Nyasaland. It is bordered by Zambia to the northwest, Tanzania to the northeast, and it borders Mozambique on the east, south and west. The country is separated from Tanzania and Mozambique by Lake Malawi. Its size is over 118,000 km² with an estimated population of more than 13,900,000. Its capital is Lilongwe, the biggest city is Blantyre. The name Malawi comes from the Maravi, an old name of the Nyanja people that inhabit the area.
Malawi was first settled during the 10th century and remained under native rule until 1891 when it was colonized by the British, who ruled the country until 1964. Upon gaining independence it became a single-party state under the presidency of Hastings Banda, who remained president until 1994, when he was ousted from power. Bingu Mutharika, elected in 2004, is the current president. Malawi has a democratic, multi-party government. Malawi has a small military force that includes an army, a navy and an air wing. Malawi's foreign policy is pro-Western and includes positive diplomatic relations with most countries and participation in several international organizations.
Malawi is among the world's least developed and most densely populated countries. The economy is heavily based in agriculture, with a largely rural population. The Malawian government depends heavily on outside aid to meet development needs, although this need (and the aid offered) has decreased since 2000. The Malawian government faces challenges in growing the economy, improving education, health care and the environmental protection and becoming financially independent. Malawi has several programs developed since 2005 that focus on these issues, and the country's outlook appears to be improving, with improvements in economic growth, education and healthcare seen in 2007 and 2008.
Malawi has a low life expectancy and high infant mortality. There is a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, which is a drain on the labor force and government expenditures, and is expected to have a significant impact on gross domestic product (GDP) by 2010. There is a diverse population of native peoples, Asians and Europeans, with several languages spoken and an array of religious beliefs. Although there was tribal conflict in the past, by 2008 it had diminished considerably and the concept of a Malawian nationality had begun to form. Malawi has a culture combining native and colonial aspects, including sports, art, dance and music.
Malawi’s big draw is the lake: a magnificent shard of crystal water stretching some 500km along Malawi’s eastern border, separating it from the wild and mountainous coast of Mozambique and Tanzania. Isolated villages pepper the northern lakeshore and the beautiful Liwonde National Park rests at its southern tip. Around 500 species of fish inhabit the lake and the freshwater diving and snorkelling here are excellent. Malawi’s not just for water babies and sun worshippers though; there’s plenty here to keep you active and Malawi’s landscape is surprisingly diverse. Head for the misty heights of Mount Mulanje or to the Nyika National Park, where you'll find sheer escarpments, dramatic peaks, endless rolling grassland and some of the most enjoyable hiking routes in the whole of Africa.
Many travellers only pass through the country for a couple of days, intent on racing through to Africa’s ‘bigger’ attractions. This is a shame, as Malawi has much to offer. Take time to explore the highland wilderness, dive and swim in the lake’s warm waters, or simply soak up the vibrant local flavour and you’re sure to find yourself seduced.
Location: Southeast Africa.
Time: GMT + 2.
Area: 118,484 sq km (45,747 sq miles).
Population: 13.6 million (CIA estimate 2007).
Population Density: 114.8 per sq km.
Capital: Lilongwe. Population: 597,619 including suburbs (2003).
Geography: Malawi shares borders to the north and northeast with Tanzania, to the south, east and southwest with Mozambique and to the west with Zambia. Lake Malawi, the third largest lake in Africa, is the dominant feature of the country, forming the eastern boundary with Tanzania and Mozambique. The scenery varies in the country’s three regions. The Northern Region is mountainous, with the highest peaks reaching over 2,500m (8,200ft), and features the rolling Nyika Plateau, rugged escarpments, valleys and the thickly forested slopes of the Viphya Plateau. The Central Region is mainly a plateau, over 1,000m (3,300ft) high, with fine upland scenery. This is the country’s main agricultural area. The Southern Region is mostly low-lying except for the 2,100m- (6,890ft-) high Zomba Plateau south of Lake Malawi and the huge, isolated Mulanje Massif (3,000m/10,000ft) in the southeast. The variety of landscape and the wildlife it supports make this relatively unspoilt country particularly attractive to visitors.
Government: Republic since 1966. Gained independence from the UK in 1964.
Head of State: President Bingu Wa Mutharika since 2004.
Language:English and Chichewa are both official. Chichewa is widely spoken but the language of the business community is English.
Religion: 80% are Christian, 13% Muslim. A recorded 4.3% of the remaining 7% have no religion (1998 census).
Electricity: 230 volts AC, 50Hz. The standard plug is square three-pin.
Social Conventions: Despite the large number of tribal backgrounds in the Malawi population, integration is well established and visitors need not be aware of any social differences. The white population is very small in number. There are some religious differences, most noticeable among the Muslim population and especially as far as alcohol consumption is concerned. Malawians place emphasis on the importance of shaking hands on meeting and departing. The special handshake, which includes grasping the thumb and putting the other hand on the forearm, is best avoided unless practised. Children and some women may curtsey as a greeting or if being made a presentation. Offering a soft drink to a visitor is common at meetings. Malawians tend to be conventional rather than casual in their dress, especially in formal gatherings. The strict dress code of Dr Banda’s days are gone but modest dress should be worn unless at the beach or playing sport.
Climate: Varies from cool in the highlands to warm around Lake Malawi. Winter (May to July) is dry and nights can be chilly, particularly in the highlands. The rainy season runs from November to March. Around Lake Malawi, in winter, the climate is particularly dry with pleasant cooling breezes.
Required Clothing: Lightweights are worn all year in the Lake Malawi area, with warmer clothes advised in the mountains, particularly during winter and on chilly evenings elsewhere. Visitors to Nyika and Zomba should note that the nights can be cold. Dark or ‘natural’ coloured clothing should be worn for game viewing.