Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.


Malawi (məläˈwē), officially Republic of Malawi, republic (2015 est. pop. 17,574,000), 45,200 sq mi (117,068 sq km), E central Africa. It borders on Zambia in the west, on Tanzania in the north, and on Mozambique in the east, south, and southwest. The capital is Lilongwe; Blantyre is its largest city and commercial capital.

Land and People

Malawi is long and narrow, and about 20% of its total area is made up of Lake Nyasa (Lake Malawi). Several rivers flow into Lake Nyasa from the west, and the Shire River (a tributary of the Zambezi) drains the lake in the south. Both the lake and the Shire lie within the Great Rift Valley. Much of the rest of the country is made up of a plateau that averages 2,500 to 4,500 ft (762–1,372 m) in height, but reaches elevations of c.8,000 ft (2,440 m) in the north and almost 10,000 ft (3,050 m) in the south. In addition to the capital and Blantyre, other cities include Mzuzu and Zomba.

Almost all of the country's inhabitants are Bantu-speakers, and about 90% are rural agriculturalists. The Tumbuka, Ngoni, and Tonga (in the north) and the Chewa, Yao, Nguru, and Nyanja (in the center and south) are the main subgroups. About 80% of the population is Christian (mostly Presbyterian and Roman Catholic), and roughly 13% is Muslim; others follow traditional beliefs. Chichewa, spoken by about 60% of the people, is the official language; other languages have regional importance.


Malawi is among the world's least developed countries, with most of the population involved in subsistence agriculture. The principal crops are corn, potatoes, cassava, sorghum, pulses, peanuts, and macadamia nuts. Tobacco, tea, sugarcane, cotton, and tung oil are produced on large estates; tobacco grown for export is particularly import to the economy. With the aid in part of foreign investment, Malawi has instituted a variety of agricultural development programs. Large numbers of cattle, goats, poultry, and pigs are raised.

There are small fishing and forest products industries. Deforestation has become a problem as the growing population uses more wood (the major energy source) and woodland is cleared for farms. Practically no minerals are extracted, but there are unexploited deposits of uranium, coal, and bauxite. Malawi's industry is limited to the processing of tobacco, tea, sugar, and lumber and the manufacture of basic comsumer goods.

Leading imports are foodstuffs, petroleum products, manufactured consumer goods, and transportation equipment; the principal exports are tobacco, tea, sugar, cotton, coffee, peanuts, wood products, and apparel. The chief trade partners are South Africa, the United States, and Mozambique. Most of the country's foreign trade is conducted via Salima, a port on Lake Nyasa, which is connected by rail with the seaport of Nacala in Mozambique.


Malawi is governed under the constitution of 1994. The president, who is both head of state and head of government, is popularly elected for a five-year term and is eligible for a second term. The unicameral legislature consists of the 193-seat National Assembly, whose members are also elected by popular vote for five-year terms. Administratively, Malawi is divided into 27 districts.


Early History and Colonialism

The first inhabitants of present-day Malawi were probably related to the San (Bushmen). Between the 1st and 4th cent. A.D., Bantu-speaking peoples migrated to present-day Malawi. A new wave of Bantu-speaking peoples arrived around the 14th cent., and they soon coalesced into the Maravi kingdom (late 15th–late 18th cent.), centered in the Shire River valley. In the 18th cent. the kingdom conquered portions of modern Zimbabwe and Mozambique. However, shortly thereafter it declined as a result of internal rivalries and incursions by the Yao, who sold their Malawi captives as slaves to Arab and Swahili merchants living on the Indian Ocean coast. In the 1840s the region was thrown into further turmoil by the arrival from S Africa of the warlike Ngoni.

In 1859, David Livingstone, the Scots explorer, visited Lake Nyasa and drew European attention to the effects of the slave trade there; in 1873 two Presbyterian missionary societies established bases in the region. Missionary activity, the threat of Portuguese annexation, and the influence of Cecil Rhodes led Great Britain to send a consul to the area in 1883 and to proclaim the Shire Highlands Protectorate in 1889. In 1891 the British Central African Protectorate (known from 1907 until 1964 as Nyasaland), which included most of present-day Malawi, was established. During the 1890s, British forces ended the slave trade in the protectorate. At the same time, Europeans established coffee-growing estates in the Shire region, worked by Africans. In 1915 a small-scale revolt against British rule was easily suppressed, but it was an inspiration to other Africans intent on ending foreign domination.

In 1944 the protectorate's first political movement, the moderate Nyasaland African Congress, was formed, and in 1949 the government admitted the first Africans to the legislative council. In 1953 the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (linking Nyasaland, Northern Rhodesia, and Southern Rhodesia) was formed, over the strong opposition of Nyasaland's African population, who feared that the more aggressively white-oriented policies of Southern Rhodesia (see Zimbabwe) would eventually be applied to them.

The Banda Regime and Modern Malawi

In the mid-1950s the congress, headed by H. B. M. Chipembere and Kanyama Chiume, became more radical. In 1958, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda became the leader of the movement, which was renamed the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) in 1959. Banda organized protests against British rule that led to the declaration of a state of emergency in 1959–60. The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was ended in 1963, and on July 6, 1964, Nyasaland became independent as Malawi.

Banda led the country in the era of independence, first as prime minister and, after Malawi became a republic in 1966, as president; he was made president for life in 1971. He quickly alienated other leaders by governing autocratically, by allowing Europeans to retain considerable influence within the country, and by refusing to oppose white-minority rule in South Africa. Banda crushed a revolt led by Chipembere in 1965 and one led by Yatuta Chisiza in 1967.

Arguing that the country's economic well-being depended on friendly relations with the white-run government in South Africa, Banda established diplomatic ties between Malawi and South Africa in 1967. In 1970, Prime Minister B. J. Vorster of South Africa visited Malawi, and in 1971 Banda became the first head of an independent black African nation to visit South Africa. This relationship drew heavy public criticism. Nonetheless, Malawi enjoyed considerable economic prosperity in the 1970s, attributable in large part to foreign investment.

Throughout the decade, Malawi became a refuge for antigovernment rebels from neighboring Mozambique, causing tension between the two nations, as did the influx (in the late 1980s) of more than 600,000 civil war refugees, prompting Mozambique to close its border. The border closure forced Malawi to use South African ports at great expense. In the face of intense speculation over Banda's successor, he began to eliminate powerful officials through expulsions and possibly assassinations.

In 1992, Malawi suffered the worst drought of the century. That same year there were violent protests against Banda's rule, and Western nations suspended aid to the country. In a 1993 referendum Malawians voted for an end to one-party rule, and parliament passed legislation establishing a multiparty democracy and abolishing the life presidency. In a free election in 1994, Banda was defeated by Bakili Muluzi, his former political protégé, who called for a policy of national reconciliation. Muluzi formed a coalition cabinet, with members from his own United Democratic Front (UDF) and the rival Alliance for Democracy (AFORD). Disillusioned with the coalition, AFORD pulled out of the government in 1996. When Muluzi was reelected in 1999, AFORD joined the MCP in an unsuccessful court challenge of his election.

In 2002, Muluzi began a campaign to have the constitution changed so he could run for a third term, but the move sparked political and popular opposition and was abandoned the next year. In late 2003, AFORD again formed an alliance with the UDF. Aided by a split in the opposition, the UDF candidate, Bingu wa Mutharika, won the 2004 presidential election. The UDF, however, failed to win even a plurality in parliament, but Mutharika formed a majority coalition with independents and the small National Democratic Alliance.

Mutharika launched an anticorruption campaign that alienated many in the UDF, including former president Muluzi, and in 2005 Mutharika left the UDF and established the Democratic Progressive party (DPP). Mutharika subsequently faced abortive attempts by the UDF to impeach him. A crop failure in 2005 resulted in a drastic food shortage in the country and high food prices, and led to new policies designed to increase agricultural production.

In Feb., 2006, the president dismissed Vice President Cassim Chilumpha, a Muluzi ally, but Chilumpha appealed the dismissal to Malawi's high court, on the grounds that only parliament could remove him. In March, the court suspended the dismissal pending its decision. The next month, however, the vice president was arrested and charged with treason. In July, former president Muluzi was arrested on corruption charges, but the charges were dropped a month later. A high court panel ruled in Dec., 2006, that the president did not have the right to dismiss the vice president. Subsequently, President Mutharika, in his 2007 New Year's message, accused opposition parties and the judiciary of dividing the nation; he also accused the judiciary of bias against the government. Relations between the president and opposition parties were acrimonious into 2008; in May, 2008, the government charged several opposition figures with plotting a coup.

Mutharika was reelected by a landslide in the May, 2009, elections; the DPP won a majority in parliament as well. His main opponent, John Tembo of the Malawi Congress party, accused the DPP of rigging the election; international observers said the president had monopolized state media coverage of the campaign. Muluzi, who had sought to run but was barred, supported Tembo. In July, 2011, economic problems and the government's increasing intolerance for criticism and dissent led to demonstrations that were bloodily suppressed by the police; the use of violence renewed local unhappiness with Mutharika and led to international criticism and some suspension of aid.

Mutharika died in Apr., 2012, and was succeeded by his vice president, Joyce Banda. Banda had become critical of Mutharika and had been expelled from the DPP; Mutharika's attempts to remove her as vice president had been unsuccessful. (In Mar., 2013, a number of DPP officials including Peter Mutharika, the president's brother, were charged with treason for allegedly seeking to prevent Banda from succeeding to the presidency.) Banda instituted austerity policies recommended by the International Monetary Fund, which initially led to increased inflation in the country. The measures were designed in part to restore needed international aid.

In Sept., 2013, the shooting of the country's budget director led to the discovery of the Cashgate scandal, involving the theft of millions of dollars of government funds by more than 60 suspects; the budget director was believed to have been targeted because of his opposition to such looting. Banda reshuffled her cabinet as result, dismissing her finance minister. In the May, 2014, presidential election, Banda, hurt by the Cashgate scandal, placed third; Peter Mutharika won with 36% of the vote. Alleging vote fraud, Banda sought unsuccessfully to have the vote count suspended. No party won a majority in parliament. The DPP narrowly won the largest number of seats (50) but an even larger number of independents were elected. The treason charge and related charges against Mutharika were discontinued after his election. Mutharika was reelected in May, 2019, with 38% of the vote. Both his main opponents alleged that the vote was marred by irregularities and challenged the result in court, and in Feb., 2020, the constitutional court overturned the vote and called for a new election, but allowed Mutharika to remain in office. In June, Lazarus Chakwera, leader of the MCP and the candidate of the opposition Tonse Alliance, easily defeated Mutharika.

Flooding in Malawi in Jan., 2015, left some 230,000 people displaced and affected more than twice that number; roughly half the country was declared a disaster area. Severe flooding occurred again in Mar., 2019, with half the country's districts affected. Malawi suffers from a high AIDS infection rate, with roughly one seventh of the population affected.


See R. I. Rotberg, The Rise of Nationalism in Central Africa (1966); J. G. Pike, Malawi (1968); B. Pachai, The Early History of Malawi (1972); M. Chanock, Law, Custom, and Social Order: The Colonial Experiences in Malawi and Zambia (1985); R. Sanders, Malawi (1988).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a former British possession in East Africa. The area came under British control in the late 19th century. Between 1953 and 1963 it was part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, which was created by Great Britain. In 1964 it became the independent state of Malawi.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The party attracted traditional leaders and trade unionists, all of whom opposed the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. In March 1953, Nkumbula burned the British White Paper on Federation, called the nation to boycott the regulations of the federation, and called for two days of national prayers, to take place in April, during which all Africans would strike.
Similarly, when the Northern Rhodesian African National Congress under Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula declared Two Days of Prayer in 1953 in protests against the introduction of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, African Assistants at the Institute organised a work boycott with the full support of the organisation.
The freedom fighters of Nyasaland, the British protectorate of Central Africa, were tried by Lyall-Grant following the 1915 rebellion that was led by Rev.
These were likely the surviving military presence in what was then named Nyasaland.
Malawi (officially 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 Mozambique on the east, south and west.
Principal, Architectural and Town Planning Consultancy, Rhodesia; Head, Town Planning Department, Nyasaland Government; Leader, UN Regional Planning Mission to Uganda; UN Planning Adviser, Government of Malawi.
Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe were previously part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and it is claimed that assets belonging to Malawi and Zambia remained in Harare after the Federation was dissolved on the last day of 1963.
(8) The effects of Paederus species have been reported in Leopoldville (Kinshasa) in 1921), (9) in Freetown in 1925, (10) India in 1933, (11) Sudan in 1958, (12) and in Nyasaland (now Malawi) and Tsumeb (Namibia) in 1962.
After the breakup of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, and consequently the termination of the currency union between Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland (now Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi), the Parliament of Southern Rhodesia enacted the "Reserve Bank of Rhodesia Act" on November 16, 1964, creating a central bank, the Reserve Bank of Rhodesia, and replacing the Central African pound with the Rhodesian pound.