U.S. Department of State Background Note
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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.
Malawi is one of Sub-Saharan Africa's most densely populated countries. The population of Lilongwe--Malawi's capital since 1971--exceeds 400,000. All government ministries and the parliament are located in Lilongwe. Blantyre remains Malawi's major commercial center and largest city, having grown from an estimated 109,000 inhabitants in 1966 to nearly 500,000 in 1998. Malawi's President resides in Lilongwe. The Supreme Court is seated in Blantyre.
Malawi's climate is generally subtropical. A rainy season runs from November through April. There is little to no rainfall throughout most of the country from May to October. It is hot and humid from October to April along the lake and in the Lower Shire Valley. Lilongwe is also hot and humid during these months, albeit far less than in the south. The rest of the country is warm during those months. From June through August, the lake areas and far south are comfortably warm, but the rest of Malawi can be chilly at night, with temperatures ranging from 5o-14oC (41o-57oF).
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.
By AD 1500, the two divisions of the tribe had established a kingdom stretching from north of the present-day city of Nkhotakota to the Zambezi River in the south, and from Lake Malawi in the east, to the Luangwa River in Zambia in the west.
Migrations and tribal conflicts precluded the formation of a cohesive Malawian society until the turn of the 20th century. In more recent years, ethnic and tribal distinctions have diminished. Regional distinctions and rivalries, however, persist. Despite some clear differences, no significant friction currently exists between tribal groups, and the concept of a Malawian nationality has begun to take hold. Predominately a rural people, Malawians are generally conservative and traditionally nonviolent.
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.
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.
Although the Portuguese reached the area in the 16th century, the first significant Western contact was the arrival of David Livingstone along the shore of Lake Malawi in 1859. Subsequently, Scottish Presbyterian churches established missions in Malawi. One of their objectives was to end the slave trade to the Persian Gulf that continued to the end of the 19th century. In 1878, a number of traders, mostly from Glasgow, formed the African Lakes Company to supply goods and services to the missionaries. Other missionaries, traders, hunters, and planters soon followed.
In 1883, a consul of the British Government was accredited to the "Kings and Chiefs of Central Africa," and in 1891, the British established the Nyasaland Protectorate (Nyasa is the Yao word for "lake"). Although the British remained in control during the first half of the 1900s, this period was marked by a number of unsuccessful Malawian attempts to obtain independence. A growing European and U.S.-educated African elite became increasingly vocal and politically active--first through associations, and after 1944, through the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC).
During the 1950s, pressure for independence increased when Nyasaland was joined with Northern and Southern Rhodesia in 1953 to form the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. In July 1958, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda returned to the country after a long absence in the United States (where he had obtained his medical degree at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee in 1937), the United Kingdom (where he practiced medicine), and Ghana. He assumed leadership of the NAC, which later became the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). In 1959, Banda was sent to Gwelo Prison for his political activities but was released in 1960 to participate in a constitutional conference in London.
On April 15, 1961, the MCP won an overwhelming victory in elections for a new Legislative Council. It also gained an important role in the new Executive Council and ruled Nyasaland in all but name a year later. In a second constitutional conference in London in November 1962, the British Government agreed to give Nyasaland self-governing status the following year.
Dr. Banda became Prime Minister on February 1, 1963, although the British still controlled Malawi's financial, security, and judicial systems. A new constitution took effect in May 1963, providing for virtually complete internal self-government. The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was dissolved on December 31, 1963, and Malawi became a fully independent member of the Commonwealth (formerly the British Commonwealth) on July 6, 1964. Two years later, Malawi adopted a new constitution and became a one-party state with Dr. Banda as its first President.
In 1970 Dr. Banda was declared President for life of the MCP, and in 1971 Banda consolidated his power and was named President for life of Malawi itself. The paramilitary wing of the Malawi Congress Party, the Young Pioneers, helped keep Malawi under authoritarian control until the 1990s. Increasing domestic unrest and pressure from Malawian churches and from the international community led to a referendum in which the Malawian people were asked to vote for either a multi-party democracy or the continuation of a one-party state. On June 14, 1993, the people of Malawi voted overwhelmingly in favor of multi-party democracy. Free and fair national elections were held on May 17, 1994.
Bakili Muluzi, leader of the United Democratic Front (UDF), was elected President in those elections. The UDF won 82 of the 177 seats in the National Assembly and formed a coalition government with the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD). That coalition disbanded in June 1996, but some of its members remained in the government. The President was referred to as Dr. Muluzi, having received an honorary degree at Lincoln University in Missouri in 1995. Malawi's newly written constitution (1995) eliminated special powers previously reserved for the Malawi Congress Party. Accelerated economic liberalization and structural reform accompanied the political transition.
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.
Malawi saw its first transition between democratically elected presidents in May 2004, when the UDF’s presidential candidate Bingu wa Mutharika defeated MCP candidate John Tembo and Gwanda Chakuamba, who was backed by a grouping of opposition parties. The UDF, however, did not win a majority of seats in parliament, as it had done in 1994 and 1999 elections. Through the politicking of party chairperson and former President Bakili Muluzi, the party successfully secured a majority by forming a "government of national unity" with several opposition parties. President Bingu wa Mutharika left the UDF party on February 5, 2005, citing differences with the UDF, particularly over his anti-corruption campaign. He formed the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) shortly thereafter, attracting a number of UDF and independent members of parliament (MPs) to his new party. The DPP, however, has also failed to acquire enough support for a majority in parliament, and continues to face stiff opposition from both the UDF and the MCP in parliament. Meanwhile, many politicians are already looking ahead to the next general elections in 2009, with Muluzi, Tembo, and Mutharika all expected to campaign for president.
The Government of Malawi has been a multi-party democracy since 1994. Under the 1995 constitution, the president, who is both chief of state and head of the government, is chosen through universal direct suffrage every 5 years. Malawi has a vice president who is elected with the president. The president has the option of appointing a second vice president, who must be from a different party. The members of the presidentially appointed cabinet can be drawn from either within or outside of the legislature. Malawi's National Assembly has 193 seats, all directly elected to serve 5-year terms. The constitution also provides for a second house, a Senate of 80 seats, but to date no action has been taken to create the Senate. The Senate is intended to provide representation for traditional leaders and the different geographical districts, as well as various special interest groups, such as women, youth, and the disabled.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Malawi's judicial system, based on the English model, is made up of magisterial lower courts, a high court, a Supreme Court of Appeal, and a constitutional court. Local government is carried out in 28 districts within three regions administered by regional administrators and district commissioners who are appointed by the central government. Local elections, the first in the multi-party era, took place in on November 21, 2000. The UDF party won 70% of the seats in this election.
The third multiparty presidential and parliamentary elections, originally planned for May 18, 2004 were postponed by two days following a High Court appeal by the main opposition Mgwirizano (Unity) coalition. The run-up to the poll was overshadowed by opposition claims of irregularities in the voters' roll. European Union and Commonwealth observers said although voting passed peacefully, they were concerned about "serious inadequacies" in the poll.
Principal Government Officials
President--Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika
Vice President--Dr. Cassim Chilumpha
Minister of Agriculture and Food Security--Bingu wa Mutharika
Minister of Economic Planning and Development--Ted Kalebe
Minister of Finance--Godall Gondwe
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Joyce Banda
Minister of Health--Marjorie Ngaunje
Minister of Information--Patricia Kaliati
Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs--Henry Phoya
Minister of Lands, Housing and Surveys--Ernest Malenga
Minister of Local Government--George Chaponda
Minister of Sports, Youth and Culture--Khumbo Kachali
Minister of State in the President’s Office--David Katsonga
Minister of Trade and Industry--Ken Lipenga
Minister of Transport and Public Works--Henry Mussa
Minister of Tourism--Calista Chimombo
Malawi maintains an embassy in the United States at 1156 15th Street, NW, Suite 320, Washington, DC 20005 (tel. 202-721-0270; fax 202-721-0288). Malawi's Permanent Mission to the United Nations is located at 866 UN Plaza, Suite 486, New York, NY 10017 (tel.: 212-317-8738/8718; fax: 212-317-8729; e-mail: Malawinewyork@aol.com or MalawiU@aol.com). Malawi also maintains an Honorary Consulate in Los Angeles at 44970 Via Renaissance, Temecula, California 92590 (office number, 951-676-2476; fax number, 951-676-1568; and e-mail, email@example.com).
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 34.7% 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).The agricultural sector contributes about 63.7% of total income for the rural population, 65% of manufacturing sector’s raw materials, and approximately 87% of total employment. Financial wealth is generally concentrated in the hands of a small elite. Malawi's manufacturing industries are situated around the city of Blantyre.
Malawi's economic reliance on the export of agricultural commodities renders it particularly vulnerable to external shocks such as declining terms of trade and drought. High transport costs, which can comprise over 30% of its total import bill, constitute a serious impediment to economic development and trade. Malawi must import all its fuel products. Paucity of skilled labor; difficulty in obtaining expatriate employment permits; bureaucratic red tape; corruption; and inadequate and deteriorating road, electricity, water, and telecommunications infrastructure further hinder economic development in Malawi. However, recent government initiatives targeting improvements in the road infrastructure, together with private sector participation in railroad and telecommunications, have begun to render the investment environment more attractive.
Malawi has undertaken economic structural adjustment programs supported by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other donors since 1981. Broad reform objectives include stimulation of private sector activity and participation through the elimination of price controls and industrial licensing, liberalization of trade and foreign exchange, rationalization of taxes, privatization of state-owned enterprises, and civil service reform.
In May 2004, the IMF program begun in 2000 was canceled and a Staff-Monitored Program (SMP) was implemented. In the wake of questions about fiscal creditability, the SMP’s goal was to give Malawi’s newly-elected government the chance to establish a track record of fiscal discipline. A new Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) was approved on August 5, 2005 after a successful SMP. In August 2006 Malawi successfully reached the completion point under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, resulting in debt relief from multilateral and Paris Club creditors. Over $2 billion in debt has since been cancelled, enabling the government to increase expenditures for development. A new PRGF has since been undertaken.
Real GDP increased by an estimated 2.1% in 2005, from 4.6% in 2004 and 3.9% in 2003. Inflation has been largely under control since 2003, averaging 10% in that year and 11% in 2006. Discount and commercial lending rates have also declined from 40%-45% in 2003 to 22.5% currently. The government has moved away from controlling the exchange rate, allowing the Kwacha to drift since down since March 2005. As of April 2007 the Kwacha had depreciated to 139 to the U.S. dollar. Nevertheless, imports still heavily outweigh exports, and the country continues to suffer from a severe shortage of foreign exchange.
Malawi has bilateral trade agreements with its two major trading partners, South Africa and Zimbabwe, both of which allow duty-free entry of Malawian products into their countries.
Malawi has continued the pro-Western foreign policy established by former President Banda. It maintains excellent diplomatic relations with principal Western countries. Malawi's close relations with South Africa throughout the apartheid era strained its relations with other African nations. Following the collapse of apartheid in 1994, Malawi developed, and currently maintains, strong diplomatic relations with all African countries.
Between 1985 and 1995, Malawi accommodated more than a million refugees from Mozambique. The refugee crisis placed a substantial strain on Malawi's economy but also drew significant inflows of international assistance. The accommodation and eventual repatriation of the Mozambicans is considered a major success by international organizations. In 1996, Malawi received a number of Rwandan and Congolese refugees seeking asylum. The government did not turn away refugees, but it did invoke the principle of "first country of asylum." Under this principle, refugees who requested asylum in another country first, or who had the opportunity to do so, would not subsequently be granted asylum in Malawi. There were no reports of the forcible repatriation of refugees.
Important bilateral donors, in addition to the U.S., include Canada, Libya, Germany, Iceland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom. Multilateral donors include the World Bank, the IMF, the European Union, the African Development Bank, and the United Nations organizations.
Malawi is a member of the following international organizations: UN and some of its specialized and related agencies (i.e. UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO), IMF, World Bank, Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Berne Convention, Universal Copyright Convention, African Union, Lome Convention, African Development Bank (AFDB), Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA), Nonaligned Movement, G-77, and the World Health Organization (WHO).
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, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services, and an Agency for International Development (USAID) mission in Malawi.
U.S. and Malawian views on the necessity of economic and political stability in southern Africa generally coincide. Through a pragmatic assessment of its own national interests and foreign policy objectives, Malawi advocates peaceful solutions to the region's problems through negotiation. Malawi works to achieve these objectives in the United Nations, COMESA, and SADC. Malawi is the first southern African country to receive peacekeeping training under the U.S.-sponsored African Crisis Response Force Initiative (ACRI) and has joined the successor program, African Contingency Operations Training Assistance (ACOTA). It has an active slate of peacetime engagement military-to-military programs. The two countries maintain a continuing dialogue through diplomatic representatives and periodic visits by senior officials.
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
The United States has a substantial foreign assistance program in Malawi. The U.S. Government provides about $60 million annually in development assistance under USAID's Country Strategic Plan (CSP) for the period 2001-2007. The primary goal of USAID assistance is poverty reduction and increased food security through broad-based, market-led economic growth, focusing on four areas: sustainable increases in rural incomes, increased civic involvement in the rule of law, improved health behavior and services, and improved quality and efficiency of basic education. The USAID program is implemented in partnership with the Government of Malawi, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), other U.S. Government agencies, U.S. private voluntary organizations, contractors, and other partners.
USAID’s program to increase rural incomes includes training and technical assistance to increase smallholder (crop, dairy, forest, and fishery) productivity; foster additional trade linkages among small farmer producer associations, larger commodity-specific industry clusters, and export markets (e.g. cassava, chilies, ground nuts, cotton, coffee, etc.); improve access to demand-driven financial services for micro, small and medium-size enterprises (MSMEs); increase rural households’ revenues from sustainable natural resource management; and improve food security for vulnerable families in Malawi’s rural areas. USAID is also encouraging smallholders to diversify into dairy production, a very lucrative business in Malawi and well-suited to Malawi’s limited land area. USAID grantee Land O’ Lakes (LOL), partnering with World Wide Sires, continues to promote the growth of the dairy industry in Malawi through 55 dairy associations with over 6,376 members (46% of which are women). Milk sales grew by 71% this year, from U.S. $439,276 in FY 2004 to U.S. $752,000.
2005 was a year of transition for the Democracy/Governance portfolio. The primary focus was on the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Threshold Country Program development process in Malawi, which resulted in a $20.9 million award to Malawi to fight corruption and increase fiscal responsibility. U.S Economic Support Funds (ESF) complemented the MCC Threshold Country Plan formulation, providing technical and training support to the Anti-Corruption Bureau Investigation Department, delivered by the Department of Treasury. USAID also mobilized a project supported with Conflict Mitigation and Management funding, building on the strength of previous work through radio, to reduce the potential of inter-religious conflict in Malawi. During the year many projects associated with the Mission’s previous strategy closed out and another project was terminated for the convenience of the government to accommodate changes in partner funding priorities.
In 2005 the USAID Health Team met or exceeded almost all of its targets. Under-five mortality rates declined from a high of 189 per thousand live births in 2000 to 133 per thousand live births in 2004--much lower than the 2005 target of 175 per thousand. Total fertility rate (TFR) declined to 6 children per woman, which was the target for 2005. The proportion of Malawian children sleeping under an insecticide treated bednet (ITN) (26% in 2004) was more than three times the proportion (8%) sleeping under an ITN in 2000. In the area of HIV prevention, the number of USAID-assisted counseling and testing centers increased from 3 in 2000 to 51 in FY 2005--overshooting the target of 39 sites. The number of clients assisted at these sites per year increased from about 22,000 in 2000 to more than 59,000 in 2005. The country completed a national Demographic and Health Survey with major support from USAID/Malawi. The report makes available the first-ever nationally representative population-based HIV sero-prevalence rate for Malawi, which is important for better-informed policy and program decisions as the nation combats the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Improving the quality and efficiency of basic education remain the major development challenges in the Malawi education system. USAID continues to fund activities that target quality and efficiency at the primary education sub-sector level, which is having a positive effect at both the local and national levels. At the local level, USAID-funded activities are helping communities and parents make more informed decisions to improve the quality and efficiency of primary schooling. In 2005 USAID continued to improve the quality and efficiency of basic education through: (1) development of teachers’ professional skills through long-term undergraduate and graduate training in Malawi and the U.S.; (2) reinforcement of innovative classroom practices through pre-service and in-service teacher training; (3) participation of communities and teacher training colleges in HIV/AIDS outreach activities; (4) support of Government of Malawi adoption of key policy reforms in teacher education and HIV/AIDS; and (5) improving the quality and quantity of data available for policymaking.
The United States is the largest contributor to the World Food Program (WFP) in Malawi, providing over $100 million in food and other emergency assistance through WFP since early 2002. USAID will coordinate requests to the U.S. Government for humanitarian assistance, and WFP will handle the logistics of import and distribution.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) operates two programs within Malawi: Global AIDS Program (GAP) and Malawi Malaria Program (MMP).
The CDC GAP office started in November 2001 with an emphasis on establishing long-term working relationships with the Malawi Government, the National AIDS Commission (NAC) and the Ministry of Health (MOH). The major areas of focus during the initial phase included strengthening Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT), HIV surveillance, evaluation, infrastructure, and capacity-building activities.
GAP Malawi supports multiple HIV surveillance activities including sentinel surveillance and the Priorities for Local AIDS Control Efforts (PLACE) survey. In partnership with NAC, CDC GAP continued to strengthen VCT, developing multiple national VCT building blocks such as VCT Guidelines and VCT Training materials. CDC GAP also improved the communications and data analysis capacity at NAC by helping to establish their computer system and establish the foundation for data analysis.
In 2003, responsibility for the HIV technical activity was transferred from NAC back to the MOH. CDC awarded two cooperative agreements to provide transitional support for a smooth transfer of activities, roles and responsibilities. In addition, GAP has cooperative agreements that support implementation of quality VCT, HIV treatment, and pre-service training to strengthen HIV testing capacity. Capacity-building is an integral part of all GAP Malawi activities. GAP Malawi recently went through a joint HIV/AIDS strategy development process, along with USAID, the Department of Defense, Peace Corps, and the Embassy.
The CDC MMP is jointly funded by USAID and CDC has evolved to provide more support to the national prevention and control program. CDC MMP has supported the work of the National Malaria Control Programme in developing the country strategic plan for Roll Back Malaria (RBM), developing the national "Malaria Policy," developing guidelines for the management of ITNs Program, and participating in other national program activities.
The Blantyre Integrated Malaria Initiative (BIMI), a program of CDC MMP, is a district-wide malaria-control effort, supported jointly by the Government of Malawi, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). BIMI was established in Blantyre District, Malawi in 1998 to promote sustainable and effective strategies to manage and prevent malaria-related morbidity and mortality.
Initial BIMI efforts focused on measurement of baseline data at health facilities and in the community. The information gathered was used to identify gaps in malaria control activities, to guide strategies for implementation of interventions, and to provide baseline measurements so that the success of program interventions can be monitored.
The first Peace Corps volunteers arrived in Malawi in 1963. Under the conservative Banda regime, the program was suspended for several years due to the "nonconformist" role of some volunteers but was restored in 1978. Since that time, the program has developed a close working relationship with the Government of Malawi. In total, over 2,200 Americans have served as Peace Corps volunteers in Malawi.
The change of government in 1994 allowed the placement of volunteers at the community level for the first time. With the increased flexibility in programming, the Peace Corps began working to refocus programming and identify more appropriate areas for Peace Corps intervention at the community level. Currently, there are about 100 volunteers working in health, education, and environment.
Health volunteers work in areas of AIDS education, orphan care, home-based care, youth and at-risk groups, child survival activities, nutrition, disease prevention, environmental health, and women's health issues. For many years, Peace Corps/Malawi had the only stand-alone HIV/AIDS project in the Peace Corps, and HIV/AIDS continues to be the cornerstone for health activities.
Education volunteers teach in the fields of physical science, mathematics, biology, and English at Community Day Secondary Schools (CDSSs), generally community-started and -supported entities.
Environment volunteers focus on community-based management of natural resources with border communities near national parks and forest reserves that want to utilize their resources in a more sustainable manner. This includes the promotion of sustainable agricultural practices, income-generating activities, and agroforestry interventions.
The Crisis Corps program utilizes returned volunteers in short-term assignments for specific projects related to HIV/AIDS and food security. Crisis Corps volunteers are generally assigned with a local NGO to assist with activities that build capacity and develop materials within the organizations.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador-- Alan Eastham
Deputy Chief of Mission--Kevin Sullivan
USAID Mission Director--Curt Reintsma
Peace Corps Director--Dale Mosier
Centers for Disease Control Director--Austin Demby
The U.S. Embassy in Malawi is situated in the diplomatic enclave adjacent to Lilongwe's City Center section. The address is American Embassy, P.O. Box 30016, Lilongwe 3, Malawi (tel. +265- (0)1 773 166/342/367; fax +265- (0)1 772-471).
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Revised: Oct. 2007