Malawi country profile

·3 min read
Map of Malawi
Map of Malawi

Malawi, a largely agricultural country, is making efforts to overcome decades of underdevelopment.

For the first 30 years of independence Malawi was run by an authoritarian and quixotic President Hastings Kamuzu Banda, but democratic institutions have taken hold since he relinquished power in the mid-1990s.

Most Malawians rely on subsistence farming, but the food supply situation is precarious because of the climate.

In recent years the country has achieved significant economic growth.


  • Capital: Lilongwe

  • Area: 118,484 sq km

  • Population: 20.5 million

  • Languages: English, plus Chewa, Lambya, Lomwe, Ngoni, Nyakyusa, Nyanja, Sena, Tonga, Tumbuka, Yao

  • Life expectancy: 60 years (men) 67 years (women)


President: Lazarus Chakwera

Mr Chakwera was sworn in as president in June 2020, ending a period of turmoil after annulled elections the previous year.

A Christian preacher and theologian, he beat the incumbent president Peter Mutharika in a re-run of the 2019 poll, which the courts decided had seen widespread irregularities.

President Chakwera has pledged to try to unite the country after the bruising political stand-off.


Newspaper vendor in Malawi
Newspaper vendor in Malawi

Radio is the leading medium and state-run Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) is the main national broadcaster.

The mid-1990s saw the start of a new era for press freedom in Malawi, with the emergence of independent newspapers and radio stations.

However, newspapers are published in English, which limits their reach in a country where many do not speak the language.


The late President Hastings Kamuzu Banda
Hastings Kamuzu Banda ruled Malawi for three decades after independence

Some key dates in Malawi's history:

1480 - Bantu tribes unite several smaller political states to form the Maravi Confederacy which at its height includes large parts of present-day Zambia and Mozambique plus the modern state of Malawi.

17th Century - Portuguese explorers arrive from the east coast of present-day Mozambique.

1850 - Scottish missionary David Livingstone's exploration of the region paves the way for missionaries, European adventurers, traders.

1891 - Britain establishes the Nyasaland and District Protectorate.

1915 - Chilembwe uprising. A rebellion against British colonial rule led by John Chilembwe, a US-educated Baptist minister, motivated by grievances including forced labour, racial discrimination and new demands imposed on people following the outbreak of World War One. It is militarily suppressed. Chilembwe and up to 90 are either killed or later executed.

1953 - Despite strong opposition from the Nyasaland African Congress and white liberal activists, Britain combines Nyasaland with the Federation of Northern and Southern Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe respectively).

1964 - Nyasaland declares independence as Malawi. Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, "the black messiah", becomes president and rules over a one-party state for the next three decades.

1994 - Bakili Muluzi is elected president in first multi-party elections since independence. He immediately frees political prisoners and re-establishes freedom of speech.

2011 - Police kill 19 people in two days of protests against the way the economy is managed. Britain suspends aid over governance concerns. US follows suit.

2012 - President Bingu wa Mutharika dies in office, is succeeded by vice-president Joyce Banda.

2014 - Peter Mutharika, brother of Bingu wa Mutharika, wins presidential election.

2020 - Opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera beats Peter Mutharika in rescheduled elections, after the previous year's poll was annulled over vote-tampering.

Lake Malawi shore
Lake Malawi is important for fishing as well as transport