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A bit about Malawi...


Geography

Malawi is located in southern/eastern Africa, landlocked between Mozambique (east and south), Zambia (west) and Tanzania (north). It spans over 118,484 square kilometres (45,747 square miles), making it roughly equivalent to the size of England.

Lake Malawi, which is the third largest in Africa, is approximately 580km long and 75km wide and accounts for a fifth of Malawi's total mass, which means that although the country is inland it enjoys a substantial coastal area to the east. The depth of the lake has been measured to over 700m (2,300ft): it is so deep that it has its own tide, and its tropical waters contain a wider variety of fish species than any other lake on Earth.

The Northern Region of Malawi is mountainous, filled with rocky valleys, thickly forested slopes, and peaks that reach over 2,500m (8,200ft). The Central Region, which contains the Capital and is the country's primary agricultural area, is predominantly a plateau over 1,000m (3,300ft) high. Agriculture currently accounts for over 35% of the national GDP, and approximately 90% of Malawians make their living through farming. The Southern Region is flat and mostly low-lying, other than the Zomba Plateau and Mount Mulanje (3,000m/10,000 ft)

Its population is approximately 16.4 million, which makes it one of Africa's most densely populated countries. There are five main cities: the Capital Lilongwe, Blantyre, Zomba, Karonga and Mzuzu. In 2000, 90% of the total population were living in rural areas, although urban populations are steadily growing and that number has reduced to 80% (2014 estimate).

 

International

The official language is English (educational, business and legal communities all deal in English) and the national language is Chichewa. The language predominantly spoken in the north, including in Ruarwe and its surrounding villages, is Chitumbuka.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries on Earth: it remains fundamentally dependent on international aid from institutions such as the World Bank and IMF, and has a GDP of $3.71 billion (2013 figures). The GDP value of Malawi represents just 0.01% of the world economy. The average minimum wage currently stands at just over 80p a day and life expentency is less than 60 years old (2014 estimate).

In 1990 just over half the country was living under the poverty line and today around 90% of Malawians earn below the US$2 a day threshold. Although this is improving Malawi is still considered to be one of the world’s poorest countries, ranking 160 out of 182 countries on the Human Development Index.

Health

Malawi's demographics are heavily complicated by the AIDS pandemic: in 2001, 15% of adults aged 15-49 were infected with HIV or AIDS, compared to 9% in Sub-Saharan Africa and 1.2% worldwide. The rate is currently at around 10%; roughly 250 new people are infected each day, and at least 70% of Malawian hospital beds are occupied by AIDS/HIV patients. It is expected to lower the country's GDP by at least 10% in the coming years.

Only 57% of the rural population have access to safe water, compared to 90% in urban areas. In 2002 the adult literacy rate was just 49% for females and 76% for males.

»     Life expectancy at birth is only 58 for men and 60 for women. This is an increase from 44 and 51 respectively in 2011.

»     The adult mortality rate is a whopping 600 per 1000 adults aged 15-59

»     Under 5 mortality is 71 per 1000 live births

»     Maternal mortality ratio is 510 per 100,000 live births

»     1 in 10 adults aged between 15-49 are HIV positive

»     Total expenditure on health per capita is $83 which equates to 9.2% of GDP

»     There are currently only 0.2 physicians per 10 000 of the population

Economics

The monetary unit is the Malawian Kwacha (MK): there are approximately MK650 for every £1 but this rate changes regularly due to a destabilising economy, which has been fuelled since 2010 by a number of factors such as continuous forex issues between 2010 and 2012, and the infamous 2013 Cashgate scandal which led to a gaping hole in the country's economy and the suspension of international donor aid.

Its chief exports are currently tobacco, tea, sugar and cotton. The Kwacha strengthens each year when the auction floors open for the prolific tobacco season - it is the nation's largest source of income and as the world's leading producer of burley leaf tobacco, today Malawian tobacco is found in nearly every blend of cigarette including Malboro brands. However, despite small bursts of growth tobacco is on a dying trend on a long-term, international scale, hence much emphasis has been placed recently on expanding other sectors such as agriculture, with huge funds invested by government and private sectors.

There are approximately five commercial banks in Malawi and around a third of commercial activity is dominated by manufacturing, mainly invested in by the minority Asian community.

Although the country has been stagnated economically in recent years, between 2007 and 2010 real progress was made in achieving economic growth, and consequently health care, education and environmental conditions all improved. In addition, Malawi's hot climate and lush landscape have seen rapid gains recently in the industry, with visitor numbers climbing over the years (a large portion coming from South Africa or Zimbabwe). Efforts are being made to expand facilities and enhance long-term significant investment in industry.
   

History/Politics

During pre-colonial times, Malawi had a small hunter-gatherer population until the 10th century, when hoards of Bantus began emigrating from the north. By 1500 the tribes had established a kingdom, and soon after 1600 the area stretching from Nkhotakota to the Zambezi River to Zambia was mostly united under one ruler.

Alliances with Portuguese traders began, and by 1700 the empire had begun to fragment into regions controlled by individual tribes.

The British missionary David Livingstone reached Lake Malawi (then Lake Nyasa) in 1859, and Malawi was named Nyasaland under British rule.

Malawi became a British colony as the protectorate of Nyasaland in 1891. The Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) was formed in 1944 and after 1958 Hastings Kamuzu Banda was elected its president.

Malawi gained independence on July 6th 1964 after a decade of anti-colonial activity. It became a Republic in 1966.


From 1963 Banda remained the first and only leader for over 30 years on behalf of his Malawi Congress Party (MCP). He declared himself president-for-life in 1970 but mounting political pressure in the late 1980s and widespread demonstrations in 1992 eventually forced him to concede to a referendum calling for a multiparty democracy.

The first multi-party elections were held in Malawi in 1994 and were won by Bakili Muluzi, leader of the free-market-promoting United Democratic Front (UDF).

The Muluzi government was seen as an advocate for democracy, initially committed to a programme of structural reform aimed at reducing poverty and stimulating the economy, with a renewed emphasis on education and health. His time as President, however, was tainted by controversy and rumour, although he still remains popular in the southern part of the country.

In 2004 Muluzi stepped down and was succeeded by UDF's Bingu wa Mutharika. Muluzi was later arrested on fraud and corruption charges, although he was never charged. In 2005 Mutharika broke away from the UDF to form the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and in May 2009 he won a Presidential election against six other candidates, including the first ever female to run.

Mutharika's time as President was very successful for his first term of service, however upon re-election Malawi started to see some devastating economic issues arise for both businesses and individuals, such as exponentially rising food costs, unavailability of foreign exchange (pushing the black-market exhange rates to record highs), and nationwide fuel-shortages from 2010 that lasted for nearly two years.

On April 5th 2012 Bingu wa Mutharika died suddenly of a heart attack. He was constitutionally succeeded by his estranged vice president, Joyce Banda, who became Malawi's first female head of state and the African continent's second. Banda had been previously expelled from the DPP in 2011 for refusing to endorse Mutharika's brother (Peter) as successor to Bingu in the upcoming 2014 presidential elections, and in response had formed her own party, The Peoples Party (PP).

Banda had been known as a grassroots women's rights activist, and before her active career in politics she founded a number of charitable foundations and social enterprises such as Young Women Leaders Network and the Hunger Project. Although she was initially hailed by the West as an example of good leadership, in Malawi her reputation was marred by both the major Cashgate corruption scandal in 2013, and the implementation of internal policy changes which were driven predominantly by external influence (e.g. unpegging of MK from USD in 2012, reforms on homosexuality laws in 2013, etc.).

Banda served the country for just over a year, and on 31st May 2014 the leader of the DPP Peter wa Mutharika was declared the winner of Malawi's disputed presidential election, obtaining 36.4% of the vote.
 
Although the political atmosphere is still very challenging, Malawi is one of the few African countries equipped with moderately stable politics, a liberalised economy and a growing sector in industry.