Malawi is long and narrow, and about 20% of its total area is made up of Lake Nyasa (Lake Malawi). Several rivers flow into Lake Nyasa from the west, and the Shire River (a tributary of the Zambezi) drains the lake in the south. Both the lake and the Shire lie within the Great Rift Valley. Much of the rest of the country is made up of a plateau that averages 2,500 to 4,500 ft (762–1,372 m) in height, but reaches elevations of c.8,000 ft (2,440 m) in the north and almost 10,000 ft (3,050 m) in the south. In addition to the capital and Blantyre, other cities include Mzuzu and Zomba.
Almost all of the country's inhabitants are Bantu-speakers, and about 90% are rural agriculturalists. The Tumbuka, Ngoni, and Tonga (in the north) and the Chewa, Yao, Nguru, and Nyanja (in the center and south) are the main subgroups. About 80% of the population is Christian (mostly Presbyterian and Roman Catholic), and roughly 13% is Muslim; others follow traditional beliefs. Chichewa, spoken by about 60% of the people, is the official language; other languages have regional importance.