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Country Profile

Area: 118,000 sq km
Population: 13,066,320 (2008 Population and Housing Census)
Capital city: Lilongwe. Key Date: 6 July (Independence Day)
People: Main groups are Chewa and Angoni (Nguni)
Languages: official - English, national - Chichewa
Religion(s): Protestant, Roman Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, indigenous beliefs, other beliefs
Currency: Kwacha. Exchange rate 248.90 MK/£ (June 2009)
Major political parties: Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Malawi Congress Party (MCP),United Democratic Front (UDF), Alliance for Democracy (AFORD), Malawi Progressive Party (MPP), Malawi Forum for Unity and Development (MAFUNDE)
Head of State: President Bingu wa Mutharika
Foreign Minister: Professor Etta Elizabeth Banda
Membership of international groupings/organisations: Commonwealth, Southern African Development Community (SADC), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), African Union (AU), United Nations.

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Basic economic facts

GDP: US$ 4.2 billion (2009)
GDP per capita: US$ 328 (2009)
Annual growth: 7.6% (2009)
Inflation: 8.3% (May 2010)
Major industries: tobacco, tea, sugar, mining, sawmill products, cement, consumer goods
Main trading partners: South Africa, Germany, US, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Netherlands, UK, Japan

Malawi has few exploitable resources apart from land, which is at serious risk of degradation as a result of population pressure and poor farming methods. Agriculture remains the backbone of the economy, employing 85% of the working population. However, about 90% of these workers are engaged in subsistence farming. Tobacco is responsible for some 60% of export earnings, with sugar, tea and coffee contributing about 5% each. Exports of uranium deposits in the north of Malawi started in mid-2009 and will run at 1,500 tonnes a year for at least ten years, generating an annual income of some $100 million, about 5% of Malawi’s GDP and 20% of foreign exchange earnings.

International Monetary Fund - Malawi (

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Malawi takes its name from the Maravi (which means 'rays of light') empire which developed on the shore of Lake Malawi in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the 19th century Maravi was devastated by the arrival of Nguni invaders from the south, and Muslim slavers from the east, leading to the establishment of the British Protectorate of Nyasaland at the end of the 19th century. Christian missions, inspired by Livingstone's appeal to end the slave-trade, played a key role in promoting British intervention. Apart from local initiatives - most notably by John Chilembwe, an evangelical Christian minister (and national hero), in 1914 - there was little resistance to colonial rule until the 1950s when there were widespread protests against the unpopular Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

Nyasaland achieved independence as Malawi in 1964. Hastings Banda, who had returned from a successful medical practice in London to lead African protest against the Federation, became the first prime minister. He quickly adopted an autocratic style, leading to ministerial rebellions in the 1960s, which in turn led to further repression. He also adopted a policy of détente with the remaining white-ruled states in southern Africa and, in contrast with the governments of Tanzania, Zambia and (after 1975) Mozambique, took a staunchly capitalist and pro-Western line. In the climate of the Cold War donors were prepared to tolerate his domestic idiosyncrasies, especially since - again in contrast to his neighbours - he managed an effective economy in one of the poorest countries in the world. But with the collapse of communism, the props both domestic and international were kicked away. Under donor and popular pressure, as well as feeling the effects of age (he was at least 90), he conceded multi-party democracy in 1993.

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Malawi has good relations with its neighbours, although there has been tension in the past with other 'front-line states' because of former President Banda's relations with white minority regimes in the region. Banda also maintained links with Renamo, when it opposed the Mozambican government during the Mozambican civil war and Malawian troops were deployed into Mozambique to defend the Nacala Corridor. There have also been disagreements in the past with Tanzania over Lake Malawi boundaries in the northern part of the country.

Southern Africa Development Community (
African Union (

Malawi's relations with the UK

UK/Malawi relations are good. The UK is a major trading partner and has also been Malawi's principal bilateral aid donor since independence.

Diplomatic representation

There are approximately 6,000 UK nationals in Malawi.

Cultural relations

The British Council is the focal point for cultural relations between Britain and Malawi.

British Council, Malawi (


For recent statements of UK policy towards Malawi see the Hansard website ( and enter 'Malawi' in the search engine.

Recent visits

Principal visits to Malawi have been from Peter Hain (Minister of State, FCO, September 2000), Hilary Benn (Permanent-Under Secretary of State, DFID, October 2001), Paul Boateng (Financial Secretary, HM Treasury, February 2002), Michael Ancram (Shadow Foreign Secretary, July 2002), House of Commons International Development Committee (October 2002), Lord David Steel (January 2003), Jack McConnell, First Minister of Scotland (May 2005), House of Commons International Development Committee (March 2006), Hilary Benn (Secretary of State for International Development, February 2007); HRH The Duke of Gloucester (May 2007); Gillian Merron (Minister for International Development, September 2008).

Principal visits from Malawi have been President Mutharika in September 2004 and November 2005; then President Muluzi in February 2002, June 2003 and January 2004.

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Malawi is a landlocked country in south central Africa bordered by Tanzania to the north, Zambia to the west and Mozambique to the east and south. Over 1/5 of the total land area of 118,000 sq km comprises of Lake Malawi.

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Trade and investment with the UK

UK Exports: £24 million (2009)
UK Imports: £22 million (2009)


The UN Human Development index ranks Malawi 160 out of 182 countries and the twelfth poorest country in the world. It is the most densely populated country in Africa with few natural resources: HIV/AIDS, low educational attainment and deforestation are some of its more serious challenges. Poverty has increased in the last few decades.

Unitd Nations Development Programme - Malawi (
World Bank - Malawi (
The UK aid programme in Malawi concentrates on poverty elimination, equity and human rights. DFID's £80m development programme supports the Malawi Government's Growth and Development Strategy in three areas: governance, growth and resilience, and human development (especially health, HIV/Aids and education). This includes £19m direct budgetary support.

DFID Country Profile: Malawi (

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The United Democratic Front (UDF) under the leadership of Bakili Muluzi won Malawi’s first multiparty elections in 1994 and was the largest party in Parliament. Voting was highly polarised on regional grounds, with former President Banda's MCP dominating the Central Region, UDF the South and the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD) the North. Muluzi was re-elected in 1999, but his party failed to win an overall parliamentary majority.

In 2004, Bingu Mutharika - Muluzi’s handpicked successor as Leader of UDF - won a first term as president, winning 36% of the vote. The MCP's John Tembo was the immediate runner-up on 27%, and Chakuamba, representing a coalition of minor opposition parties, won 26%. In the parliamentary contest the MCP won the majority of seats in Parliament. A total of 38 independent MPs were also elected and international observers declared the poll generally free and fair.

In 2005, President Mutharika formed his own party, the DPP, which drew support from a number of minor opposition parties, disaffected UDF MPs and independents.

In May 2009, President Mutharika was re-elected for a second and final term on a platform to tackle corruption, build strong economic growth and develop food security. He gained 67% of the vote against 31% for his main challenger John Tembo, who represented a UDF-MCP Coalition. In parliamentary elections, Mutharika's DPP won 114 seats (of the 193 seat Parliament), increasing thereafter to 137 with some independent candidates joining the ruling party.

Polling day was peaceful and there was a turn-out of around 80% of the electorate. International observers (EU and Commonwealth) concluded that although the universal nature of the franchise was guaranteed, the election fell short of fully meeting Malawi's commitments to international and regional standards for elections, as a number of key problem areas exposed structural and regulatory weaknesses. These included the limited capacity of the Electoral Commission, the editorial policy of state owned broadcasters that excluded opposition parties, the use of state resources for campaign purposes and the lack of a level playing field for campaigning.
BBC News Country Profile: Malawi (

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Under the late President Banda, freedom of assembly and expression were restricted and arbitrary arrest and detentions without trial were frequent. The failure to address donors' concerns over human rights led to the withholding of aid in 1992. However, multi-party democracy brought with it constitutional and other safeguards, including a Malawi Human Rights Commission. Since 1994, Malawi’s record on human rights has been improving.

The Malawian Constitution protects fundamental rights and Malawi has signed up to most international treaties. However, there are still some concerns:

-- limited progress on economic and social rights, largely due to persistent poverty and resource constraints. In particular, access to basic rights such as health, education and food security can be poor, and justice is often denied to the poor and vulnerable;

-- discriminatory laws and social practises continue to hamper the rights of women; domestic violence is still a problem and prison conditions remain a cause for concern.

While discrimination on grounds of ethnicity, race, religious beliefs, sex, etc. is outlawed in the constitution, homosexual acts are illegal in Malawi. A recent example was the conviction and subsequent sentencing to the maximum 14 year sentence of a gay couple. The UK Government released a statement condemning both the conviction and sentence and urging the authorities to review anti- homosexuality laws: ( .

Nine days later, the couple was pardoned by President Mutharika following international pressure. The UK Government issued a statement welcoming the pardon: ( .

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Last Updated: October 2010

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