Malawi Travel Information

Photo Established in 1891, the British protectorate of Nyasaland became the independent nation of Malawi in 1964. After three decades of one-party rule, the country held multiparty elections in 1994 under a provisional constitution, which took full effect the following year. National multiparty elections were held again in 1999.

GEOGRAPHY

Malawi is situated in southeastern Africa. The Great Rift Valley traverses the country from north to south. In this deep trough lies Lake Malawi, the third-largest lake in Africa, comprising about 20% of Malawi's area. The Shire River flows from the south end of the lake and joins the Zambezi River 400 kilometers (250 mi.) farther south in Mozambique. East and west of the Rift Valley, the land forms high plateaus, generally between 900 and 1,200 meters (3,000-4,000 ft.) above sea level. In the north, the Nyika Uplands rise as high as 2,600 meters (8,500 ft.); south of the lake lie the Shire Highlands, with an elevation of 600-1,600 meters (2,000-5,000 ft.), rising to Mts. Zomba and Mulanje, 2,130 and 3,048 meters (7,000 and 10,000 ft.). In the extreme south, the elevation is only 60-90 meters (200-300 ft.) above sea level.

PEOPLE

Malawi derives its name from the Maravi, a Bantu people who came from the southern Congo about 600 years ago. On reaching the area north of Lake Malawi, the Maravi divided. One branch, the ancestors of the present-day Chewas, moved south to the west bank of the lake. The other, the ancestors of the Nyanjas, moved down the east bank to the southern part of the country.
The Chewas constitute 90% of the population of the central region; the Nyanja tribe predominates in the south and the Tumbuka in the north. In addition, significant numbers of the Tongas live in the north; Ngonis--an offshoot of the Zulus who came from South Africa in the early 1800s--live in the lower northern and lower central regions; and the Yao, who are mostly Muslim, live along the southeastern border with Mozambique.

HISTORY

Hominid remains and stone implements have been identified in Malawi dating back more than 1 million years, and early humans inhabited the vicinity of Lake Malawi 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. Human remains at a site dated about 8000 BC show physical characteristics similar to peoples living today in the Horn of Africa. At another site, dated 1500 BC, the remains possess features resembling Negro and Bushman people.
On June 15, 1999, Malawi held its second democratic elections. Dr. Bakili Muluzi was re-elected to serve a second 5-year term as President, despite an MCP-AFORD Alliance that ran a joint slate against the UDF. As of October 2001, the UDF holds 96 seats in the National Assembly, while the AFORD holds 30, and the MCP holds 61. Six seats are held by members of the recently formed NDA party. The National Assembly has 193 members, of whom just under 10% are women.. The next presidential elections are scheduled to take place in May 2004.

ECONOMY

Malawi is a landlocked, densely populated country. Its economy is heavily dependent on agriculture. Malawi has few exploitable mineral resources. Its two most important export crops are tobacco and tea. Traditionally Malawi has been self-sufficient in its staple food, maize, and during the 1980s exported substantial quantities to its drought-stricken neighbors. Agriculture represents 36% of the GDP, accounts for over 80% of the labor force, and represents about 80% of all exports. Nearly 90% of the population engages in subsistence farming. Smallholder farmers produce a variety of crops, including maize (corn), beans, rice, cassava, tobacco, and groundnuts (peanuts). Financial wealth is generally concentrated in the hands of a small elite. Malawi's manufacturing industries are situated around the city of Blantyre.

U.S.-MALAWIAN RELATIONS

The transition from a one-party state to a multi-party democracy significantly strengthened the already cordial U.S. relationship with Malawi. Significant numbers of Malawians study in the United States. The United States has an active Peace Corps program and an Agency for International Development (USAID) mission in Malawi.

Important: Travel to Malawi may require a travel visa. Whether a visa is required for travel depends on citizenship and purpose of journey. Please be sure to review Travisa's Malawi visa instructions for details. Visa instructions for other countries are available on our do I need a visa page.

Country Statistics

Full country name: Republic of Malawi
Capital city: Lilongwe
Area: 118,484 sq km
Population: 16,323,044
Ethnic groups: Chewa 32.6%, Lomwe 17.6%, Yao 13.5%, Ngoni 11.5%, Tumbuka 8.8%, Nyanja 5.8%, Sena 3.6%, Tonga 2.1%, Ngonde 1%, other 3.5%
Languages: Chichewa
Religions: Christian 82.7%, Muslim 13%, other 1.9%, none 2.5%
Government: multiparty democracy
Chief of State: President Joyce BANDA
Head of Government: President Joyce BANDA
GDP: 13.76 billion
GDP per captia: 900
Annual growth rate: 4.3%
Inflation: 7.6%
Agriculture: tobacco, sugarcane, cotton, tea, corn, potatoes, cassava
Major industries: tobacco, tea, sugar, sawmill products, cement, consumer goods
Natural resources: limestone, arable land, hydropower, unexploited deposits of uranium, coal, and bauxite
Location: Southern Africa, east of Zambia, west and north of Mozambique
Trade Partners - exports: Canada 12.4%, Zimbabwe 8.9%, Germany 8.8%, South Africa 6.4%, US 6.1%, Russia 6%, Egypt 5%, UK 4.2%, China 4.1%
Trade Partners - imports: South Africa 31%, India 10.6%, Zambia 9.4%, China 8.7%, Tanzania 5.7%, US 5.1%