Currently viewing country profile for Malawi
Malawi, a largely agricultural country, is making efforts to overcome decades of underdevelopment and the more recent impact of a growing HIV-Aids problem.
For the first 30 years of independence it was run by the authoritarian and quixotic President Hastings Kamuzu Banda, but democratic institutions have taken a firm hold since he relinquished power in the mid-1990s.
After President Banda lost the first democratic presidential election in 1994 his successor, Bakili Muluzi, established a far more open form of government. Corruption, poverty and the high rate of HIV-Aids continued to hamper development and fostered discontent with the new authorities.
Most Malawians rely on subsistence farming, but the food supply situation is precarious and the country is prone to natural disasters of both extremes - from drought to heavy rainfalls - putting it in constant need of thousands of tonnes of food aid every year.
Malawi has been urged by world financial bodies to free up its economy, and has it has privatised many loss-making state-run corporations.
Since 2007 the country has made real progress in achieving economic growth as part of programmes instituted by the government of President Mutharika in 2005. Healthcare, education and environmental conditions have improved, and Malawi has started to move away from reliance on overseas aid.
Its single major natural resource, agricultural land is under severe pressure from rapid population growth, although the government's programme of fertilizer subsidies has dramatically boosted output in recent years, making Malawi a net food exporter.
Tens of thousands of Malawians die of Aids every year. After years of silence, the authorities spoke out about the crisis. A programme to tackle HIV-Aids was launched in 2004, with President Muluzi revealing that his brother had died from the disease.
- Full name: The Republic of Malawi
- Population: 15.6 million (UN, 2010)
- Capital: Lilongwe
- Area: 118,484 sq km (45,747 sq miles)
- Major languages: English, Chichewa (both official)
- Major religions: Christianity, Islam
- Life expectancy: 56 years (men), 57 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 Malawi kwacha (MK) = 100 tambala
- Main exports: Tobacco, tea, sugar, cotton
- GNI per capita: US $280 (World Bank, 2009)
- Internet domain: .mw
- International dialling code: +265
President: Joyce Banda
oyce Banda became southern Africa's first woman leader in April 2012 when she stepped into the shoes of her predecessor when he died after a heart attack.
The two-day delay in the official announcement of Bingu wa Mutharika's death prompted fears of a power struggle. But the smooth promotion of vice-president Banda to the presidency, as prescribed by the constitution, was praised at home and abroad.
Ms Banda was hailed for offering an olive branch to Mr Mutharika's backers after two days of political uncertainty in which the former leader's inner circle tried to block her from assuming the post.
Ms Banda became Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2006 and the country's first female vice president in 2009.
However, she fell out with President Mutharika and was expelled from the the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in a succession battle.
She went on to form the People's Party, and resisted attempts to deprive her of the vice-presidency.
Ms Banda is recognised for her work as a supporter of women's rights. In 2011 she was named by Forbes Magazine as Africa's third most powerful female politician after Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Nigerian Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Mr Mutharika died amid demands for his resignation and threats of unrest, following anti-government protests in 2011 when police shot 19 people dead.
The former World Bank economist was re-elected with a sweeping majority in 2009 but was increasingly accused of wrecking the economy and autocratic crack downs. His feuds with donors and lenders let the aid-dependent economy to be hamstrung.
Ms Banda has taken immediate steps to restore relations with the International Monetary Fund, including a bold devaluation of the currency by a third.
Radio is the chief source of information for many Malawians. State-run MBC is the main national broadcaster. Television was introduced in 1999.
Privately-owned publications present a range of opinions, although the government has used libel and other laws to put pressure on newspaper journalists.
BBC World Service is available on FM in Blantyre (98.7), Lilongwe (98.0) and Mzuzu (87.9).
By early 2008, around 1% of Malawians were using the internet (ITU).
- The Nation - daily
- The Daily Times - private
- Malawi News - private weekly
- Boma Lathu - monthly, Chichewa-language
- Television Malawi (TVM) - state-run
- Malawi Broadcasting Corporation - state-run, operates national networks Radio One and Radio Two
- Capital Radio - privately-owned
- MIJ FM - Blantyre-based, operated by Malawi Institute of Journalism
- FM 101 - privately-owned
- Zodiac Broadcasting Station (ZBS) - privately-owned
- Radio Maria - Catholic station
- Malawi News Agency (Mana) - state-run
A chronology of key events:
1st century AD - Bantu-speaking tribes invade the region inhabited by Twa and Fulani tribes.
13-15th centuries - Further migrations of Bantu-speaking people to the area. New settlers work with iron and dominate earlier inhabitants who are considered to be "stone-age".
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.
1790-1860 - Slave trade increases dramatically.
1850 - Scottish missionary David Livingstone's exploration of the region paves the way for missionaries, European adventurers, traders.
1878 - Livingstonia Central African Mission Company from Scotland begins work to develop a river route into Central Africa to enable trade.
1891 - Britain establishes the Nyasaland and District Protectorate.
1893 - Name is changed to the British Central African Protectorate. White European settlers are offered land for coffee plantations at very low prices. Tax incentives force Africans to work on these plantations for several months a year, often in difficult conditions.
1907 - British Central African Protectorate becomes Nyasaland.
1915 - Reverend John Chilembwe leads a revolt against British rule, killing the white managers of a particularly brutal estate and displaying the head of one outside his church. He is shot dead by police within days.
1944 - Nationalists establish the Nyasaland African Congress.
1953 23 October - 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).
1958 - Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, "the black messiah", denounces the federation and returns from the US and the UK, where he has been studying, to lead the Nyasaland African Congress.
1959 - Violent clashes between the Congress supporters and the colonial authorities lead to the banning of the organisation. Many leaders, including Banda, are arrested and a state of emergency is declared.
Malawi Congress Party is founded as a successor to the Nyasaland African Congress.
1960 - Banda is released from Gwelo prison and attends talks in London with the British government on constitutional reform.
1961 - Elections held for a new Legislative Assembly. Banda's Malawi Congress Party wins 94% of the vote.
1963 - Territory is granted self-government as Nyasaland and Banda is appointed prime minister.
1964 6 July - Nyasaland declares independence as Malawi.
1966 6 July - Banda becomes president of the Republic of Malawi. The constitution establishes a one-party state. Opposition movements are suppressed and their leaders are detained. Foreign governments and organisations raise concerns about human rights.
1971 - Banda is voted president-for-life.
1975 - Lilongwe replaces Zomba as capital.
1978 - First elections since independence. All potential candidates must belong to the Malawi Congress Party and be approved by Banda. He excludes many of them by submitting them to an English test.
1980s - Several ministers and politicians are killed or charged with treason. Banda reshuffles his ministers regularly, preventing the emergence of a political rival.
1992 - Catholic bishops publicly condemn Banda, sparking demonstrations. Many donor countries suspend aid over Malawi's human rights record.
1993 - President Banda becomes seriously ill.
Voters in a referendum reject the one-party state, paving the way for members of parties other than the Malawi Congress Party to hold office.
1994 - Presidential and municipal elections: Bakili Muluzi, leader of the United Democratic Front, is elected president. He immediately frees political prisoners and re-establishes freedom of speech.
Banda announces his retirement from politics.
1997 - Banda dies in hospital in South Africa where he is being treated for pneumonia.
1999 - President Muluzi is re-elected for a second and final five-year term.
2000 - World Bank says it will cancel 50% of Malawi's foreign debt.
2002 - Drought causes crops to fail across southern Africa. Government is accused of worsening crisis through mismanagement and corruption, including selling off national grain reserves before drought struck.
2002 September - Railway line linking central Malawi and Mozambican port of Nacala reopens after almost 20 years, giving access to Indian Ocean.
2004 May - Bingu wa Mutharika wins presidency.
Government says it will provide free anti-viral drugs to Aids sufferers.
2005 January - Three UDF officials are charged with treason after carrying guns to a meeting with President Mutharika. The president later pardons the trio.
2005 February - President Mutharika resigns from the UDF over what he says is its hostility to his anti-corruption campaign. He forms the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
2005 June - President Mutharika survives an impeachment motion backed by the UDF. The speaker of parliament dies after collapsing during angry exchanges over the motion.
2005 November - Agriculture minister says five million people need food aid as Malawi bears the brunt of failed crops and a regional drought.
2006 April - Vice-President Cassim Chilumpha is arrested and charged with treason.
2006 July - Ex-president Bakili Muluzi is arrested on corruption charges.
2006 October - Controversy as American singer Madonna is given temporary rights to adopt a Malawian baby.
2007 May - Malawi begins exporting 400,000 tonnes of maize to Zimbabwe, after producing a surplus in 2006.
2008 January - Malawi ends diplomatic relations with Taiwan, switching allegiance to China.
2008 May - Several opposition figures and ex-security chiefs are arrested after President Mutharika accuses his predecessor, Bakili Muluzi, of plotting to depose him.
2009 May - President Mutharika wins second term in election.
2010 May - A gay couple is convicted and jailed for breaching anti-homosexuality laws, sparking international condemnation. The two men are given a presidential pardon and released.
2010 August - New national flag introduced amid controversy.
First local elections in a decade postponed again.
2010 October - Diplomatic row with Mozambique over a new waterway connecting Malawi with the Mozambique coast. Mozambique impounds first barge to use new route.
2010 November - Protests against a bill setting the retirement age at between 55 and 60, higher than average life expectancy.
2011 March - President Mutharika angers opposition parties by calling on members of his Democratic Progressive Party at a rally to beat up those who have insulted him.
2011 May - Malawi expels British High Commissioner Fergus Cochrane-Dyet over a leaked diplomatic cable released in which Mr Cochrane-Dyet describes President Mutharika as increasingly autocratic.
2011 July - 19 die in anti-government protests. Britain halts all aid to Malawi, accusing the government of mishandling the economy and failing to uphold human rights.
2012 April - President Mutharika dies, is succeeded by vice-president Joyce Banda. The following month she devalues the kwacha currency by a third to satisfy International Monetary Fund requirements to restore funding. This prompts panic buying of basic goods.
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