About Malawi

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Malawi -- Geography --

Official name: Republic of Malawi
Capital: Lilongwe
Languages: English; Chichewa, Chinyanja, Chiyao
Population: 13 900 000; Malawi is among the world's most densely populated countries.
Territory: 118 000 sq km
Malawi is a landlocked country in southeastern Africa, bordered by Zambia to the northwest, Tanzania to the northeast and Mozambique to the south, southwest and southeast. The Great Rift Valley runs through the country from north to south, and to the east of the valley lies Lake Malawi (also called Lake Nyasa), making up over three-quarters of Malawi's eastern boundary. Lake Malawi is sometimes called the Calendar Lake as it is about 365 miles (587 km) long and 52 miles (84 km) wide. The Shire River flows from the south end of the lake and joins the Zambezi River 250 miles (400 km) farther south in Mozambique. The surface of Lake Malawi is located at 1,500 feet (457 m) above sea level, with a maximum depth of 2,300 feet (701 m), which means the lake floor is over 700 feet (213 m) below sea level at some points. In the mountainous sections of Malawi surrounding the Rift Valley, plateaus rise generally 3,000 to 4,000 feet (914 to 1,219 m) above sea level, although some rise as high as 8,000 feet (2,438 m) in the north. To the south of Lake Malawi lie the Shire Highlands, gently rolling land at approximately 3,000 feet (914 m) above sea level. In this area, the Zomba and Mlanje mountain peaks rise to respective heights of 7,000 feet (2,134 m) and 10,000 feet (3,048 m).
Climate: Malawi's climate is hot in the low-lying areas in the south of the country and temperate in the northern highlands. The altitude moderates what would be an otherwise equatorial climate. Between November and April the temperature is warm with equatorial rains and thunderstorms, with the storms reaching their peak severity in late March. After March, the rainfall rapidly diminishes and from May to September wet mists float from the highlands into the plateaus, with almost no rainfall during these months.

Malawi -- History --

The area of Africa now known as Malawi had a very small population of hunter gatherers before waves of Bantus began emigrating from the north around the 10th century. Although most of the Bantus continued south, some remained permanently and founded tribes based on common ancestry. By 1500 AD, the tribes had established a kingdom that reached from north of what is now Nkhotakota to the Zambezi River and from Lake Malawi to the Luangwa River in what is now Zambia. Soon after 1600, with the area mostly united under one native ruler, native tribesmen began encountering, trading with and making alliances with Portuguese traders and members of the military. By 1700, however, the empire had broken up into areas controlled by many individual tribes, which was noted by the Portuguese in their information gathering.
David Livingstone reached Lake Malawi (then Lake Nyasa) in 1859, and Malawi was originally known as Nyasaland under the rule of the British. In a prime example of what is sometimes called the "Thin White Line" of colonial authority in Africa, the colonial government of Nyasaland was formed in 1891. The administrators were given a budget of 10,000 pounds per year, which was enough to employ ten European civilians, two military officers, seventy Punjab Sikhs, and eighty-five Zanzibar porters. These few employees were then expected to administer and police a territory of around 94,000 square kilometers with between one and two million people.
In 1944, the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) was formed by the Africans of Nyasaland to promote local interests to the British government. In 1953, Britain linked Nyasaland with Northern and Southern Rhodesia in what was known as the Central African Federation (CAF), for mainly political reasons. The linking provoked opposition from African nationalists, and the NAC gained popular support. An influential opponent of the CAF was Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, a European-trained doctor working in Ghana who was persuaded to return to Nyasaland in 1958 to assist the nationalist cause. Banda was elected president of the NAC and worked to mobilize nationalist sentiment before being jailed by colonial authorities in 1959. He was released in 1960 and asked to help draft a new constitution for Nyasaland, with a clause granting Africans the majority in the colony's Legislative Counsel.
In 1961, Banda's Malawi Congress Party (MCP) gained the majority in the Legislative Counsel and Banda was elected prime minister in 1963. The Federation was dissolved in 1963, and on July 6, 1964, Nyasaland became independent from British rule and renamed itself Malawi. Under a new constitution, Malawi became a single-party state under MCP rule and Banda declared himself president-for-life in 1970. For almost 30 years, Banda ruled firmly, suppressing opposition to his party and ensuring that he had no personal opposition. Despite his political severity, however, Malawi's economy while Banda was president was often cited as an example of how a poor, landlocked, heavily populated, mineral-poor country could achieve progress in both agriculture and industrial development. While in office, and using his control of the country, Banda constructed a business empire that eventually produced one-third of the country's GDP and employed 10% of the wage-earning workforce.
Under pressure for increased political freedom, Banda agreed to a referendum in 1993, where the populace voted for a multiparty democracy. Following the elections, in late 1993, a presidential council was formed, the life presidency was abolished and a new constitution was put into place, effectively ending the MCP's rule. In 1994 the first multi-party elections were held in Malawi, and Bakili Muluzi became president. Muluzi remained president until 2004, when Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika was elected. Although the political environment is described as "challenging", as of 2009, the multi-party system still exists in Malawi. Multiparty parliamentary and presidential elections were held for the fourth time in Malawi in May 2009, and President Bingu wa Mutharika was successfully re-elected, despite charges of election fraud from his rival.

Malawi -- Economy --

MMalawi is among the world's least developed and most densely populated countries. The economy is heavily agriculture-based, with around 85% of the population living in rural areas. More than one-third of GDP and 90% of export revenues come from agriculture. The economy of Malawi has in the past been dependent on substantial economic aid from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and individual nations. In December 2000, the IMF stopped aid disbursements due to corruption concerns, and many individual donors followed suit, resulting in an almost 80% drop in Malawi's development budget. However, in 2005, Malawi was the recipient of over US$575 million in aid. The Malawian government faces challenges in developing a market economy, improving environmental protection, dealing with the rapidly growing HIV/AIDS problem, improving the education system and satisfying its foreign donors that it is working to become financially independent. Improved financial discipline has been seen since 2005 under the leadership of President Mutharika and Financial Minister Gondwe. As of 2008, it was estimated that Malawi had a GDP of $4.082 billion, with a per capita GDP of $299 and inflation estimated at around 7.9%. Agriculture accounts for 35% of GDP, industry for 19% and services for the remaining 46%. Malawi has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the world, although economic growth was estimated at 9.7% in 2008 and strong growth is predicted by the International Monetary Fund for 2009. The poverty rate in Malawi is decreasing through the work of the government and supporting organizations, with people living under the poverty line decreasing from 54% in 1990 to 40% in 2006, and the percentage of "ultra-poor" decreasing from 24% in 1990 to 15% in 2007.
A typical road in MalawiThe main agricultural products of Malawi include tobacco, sugarcane, cotton, tea, corn, potatoes, sorghum, cattle and goats. The main industries are tobacco, tea and sugar processing, sawmill products, cement and consumer goods. The industrial production growth rate is estimated at 4.4% (2007). The electricity of the country is 96.7% hydroelectric and 3.3% fossil fuels (2001). The country makes no significant use of natural gas. As of 2005, Malawi does not import or export any electricity, but does import all its petroleum, with no production in country. Beginning in 2006, the country began mixing unleaded petrol with 10% ethanol, produced in-country at two plants, to reduce dependence on imported fuel. In 2008, Malawi began testing cars that ran solely on ethanol, and initial results are promising, and the country is continuing to increase its use of ethanol.
As of 2007, Malawi exports an estimated US$604 million in goods per year. The country's heavy reliance on tobacco (it accounts for about 70% of export revenues) places a heavy burden on the economy as world prices decline and the international community increases pressure to limit tobacco production. The country also relies heavily on tea, sugar and coffee, with these three plus tobacco making up more than 90% of Malawi's export revenue. Malawi's dependence on tobacco is growing, with the product jumping from 53% to 70% of export revenues between 2007 and 2008. Other exported goods are cotton, peanuts, wood products and apparel. The main destination locations for the country's exports are South Africa, Germany, Egypt, Zimbabwe, the United States, Russia and the Netherlands. Malawi currently imports an estimated US$866 million in goods per year, with the main commodities being food, petroleum products, consumer goods and transportation equipment. The main countries that Malawi imports from are South Africa, India, Zambia, Tanzania, the US and China.
In 2006, in response to disastrously low agricultural harvests, Malawi began a program of fertilizer subsidies that were designed to re-energize the land and boost crop production. It has been reported that this program, championed by the country's president, is radically improving Malawi's agriculture, and causing Malawi to become a net exporter of food to nearby countries. Also in 2006, international superstar Madonna started a foundation, known as Raising Malawi, that focuses on raising money and building infrastructure to help AIDS orphans in Malawi. The organization built an orphan-care center, and Madonna financed a documentary about the hardships experienced by Malawian orphans. Raising Malawi also works with the Millennium Villages Project to improve education, health care, infrastructure and agriculture in Malawi.

Malawi -- Culture --

The name "Malawi" comes from the Maravi, a Bantu people who immigrated from the southern Congo around 1400 AD. Upon reaching northern Lake Malawi, the group divided, with one group moving south down the west bank of the lake to become the tribe known as the Chewa, while the other group, the ancestors of today's Nyanja tribe, moved along the east side of the lake to the southern section of Malawi. Tribal conflict and continuing migration prevented the formation of a society that was uniquely and cohesively Malawian until the dawn of the 20th century. Over the past century, ethnic distinctions have diminished to the point where there is no significant inter-ethnic friction, although regional divisions still occur. The concept of a Malawian nationality has begun to form around a predominantly rural people who are generally conservative and traditionally nonviolent.
The Malawian flag is made up of three equal horizontal stripes of black, red and green with a red rising sun superimposed in the center of the black stripe. The black stripe represents the African people, the red represents the blood of martyrs for African freedom, green represents Malawi's ever-green nature and the rising sun represents the dawn of freedom and hope for Africa.
A strong part of Malawi's culture is its dances, and the National Dance Troupe (formerly the Kwacha Cultural Troupe) was formed in November 1987 by the government.Traditional music and dances can be seen at initiation rites, rituals, marriage ceremonies and celebrations. Soccer is the most common sport in Malawi, introduced there during British colonial rule. Basketball is also growing in popularity. The native tribes of Malawi have a rich tradition of basketry and mask carving, and some of these goods are used in traditional ceremonies still performed by native peoples. Wood carving and oil painting are also popular in more urban centers, with many of the items produced being sold to tourists. There are several internationally recognized literary figures from Malawi, including poet Jack Mapanje, history and fiction writer Paul Zeleza and authors Legson Kayira, Felix Mnthali, Frank Chipasula and David Rubadiri.

Malawi -- Political system, law and government --

Malawi is a democratic, multi-party government, currently under the leadership of President Bingu wa Mutharika. The current constitution was put into place on May 18, 1995. The branches of the government consist of executive, legislative and judicial. The executive includes a president who is both chief of state and head of government, first and second vice presidents and a cabinet. The president is elected every five years, and the vice president is elected with the president. A second vice president may be appointed by the president if he so chooses, although he must be from a different party. The members of the cabinet are appointed by the president and can be from either inside or outside of the legislature.
The legislative branch consists of a unicameral National Assembly of 193 members who are elected every five years, and although the Malawian constitution provides for a Senate of 80 seats, one does not exist in practice. If created, the Senate would provide representation for traditional leaders and a variety of geographic districts, as well as special interest groups including the disabled, youth and women. The independent judicial branch is based upon the English model and consists of a constitutional court, a High Court, a Supreme Court of Appeal and subordinate Magistrate Courts. There are currently nine political parties, with the Democratic Progressive Party acting as the ruling party and the Malawi Congress Party and the United Democratic Front acting as the main opposition parties in the National Assembly. Suffrage is universal at 18 years of age, and the central government budget for 2007/2008 is $1.24 billion dollars.
Malawi is composed of three regions (the Northern, Central and Southern regions), which are divided into 28 districts, and further into approximately 250 traditional authorities and 110 administrative wards. Local government is administered by central government-appointed regional administrators and district commissioners. For the first time in the multi-party era, local elections took place on November 21, 2000, with the UDF party winning 70% of the available seats. There was scheduled to be a second round of constitutionally-mandated local elections in May 2005, but these were canceled by the government. In February 2005, President Mutharika split with the United Democratic Front and began his own party, the Democratic Progressive Party, which has attracted reform-minded officials from other parties and is winning elections across the country as of 2006. As of 2008, President Mutharika has implemented reforms to address the country's major corruption problem, with at least five senior UDF party members facing criminal charges. In 2008, Malawi was ranked 11th of all countries in sub-Saharan Africa in the 2008 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, an index that measures several variables to provide a comprehensive view of the governance of African countries.
The military of Malawi consists of an army, a navy and an air wing, all considered to form different sections of the Malawian Army. Between the three forces there are approximately 5,500 military personnel, 1,500 paramilitary police and 80 aircraft, none of which are combat aircraft. The navy division is based out of Monkey Bay on Lake Malawi.

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