Malawi is a landlocked country about the size of Pennsylvania. Located in southeast Africa, it is surrounded by Mozambique, Zambia, and Tanzania. Lake Malawi, formerly Lake Nyasa, occupies most of the country's eastern border. The north-south Rift Valley is flanked by mountain ranges and high plateau areas.
Early human inhabitants of what is now Malawi date to 8000–2000 B.C. Bantu-speaking peoples migrated there between the 1st and 4th centuries A.D. A large slave trade took place in the 18th and 19th centuries and brought Islam to the region. At the same time, missionaries introduced Christianity. Several major kingdoms were established in the precolonial period: the Maravi in 1480, the Ngonde in 1600, and the Chikulamayembe in the 18th century.
The first European to make extensive explorations in the area was David Livingstone in the 1850s and 1860s. In 1884, Cecil Rhodes's British South African Company received a charter to develop the country. The company came into conflict with the Arab slavers in 1887–1889. Britain annexed what was then called the Nyasaland territory in 1891 and made it a protectorate in 1892. Sir Harry Johnstone, the first high commissioner, used Royal Navy gunboats to wipe out the slavers.
Between 1951 and 1953, Britain combined Nyasaland with the colonies of Northern and Southern Rhodesia to form a federation, a move protested by black Africans who were wary of alignment with the ultra conservative white minority rule in South Rhodesia.
Malawi Gains Independence from Britain
On July 6, 1964, Nyasaland became the independent nation of Malawi. Two years later, it became a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations. Dr. Hastings K. Banda became Malawi's first prime minister (a title later changed to president). In his first month as ruler, he declared, “one party, one leader, one government, and no nonsense about it.” In 1971, he became president for life, further consolidating his authoritarian rule. In addition to allowing former colonialists to retain considerable power in the country, he maintained warm relations with the white minority government of South Africa. These policies drew heavy criticism from citizens of Malawi and other African nations. In 1992, Banda faced violent protests.
Malawi's First Free Elections
Bakili Muluzi of the United Democratic Front (UDF) won the country's first free election in May 1994, ending Banda's 30-year rule. In 1999, Muluzi was reelected. While Malawi was no longer the repressive society it was under Banda, Muluzi's government was tainted by corruption scandals. Senior officials are believed to have sold off 160,000 tons of reserve maize in 2000, despite the signs of a coming famine. In 2002 and 2003, the country faced severe food shortages, with more than 3 million people suffering.
In May 2004, Bingu wa Mutharika, an economist and a crony of Muluzi, was elected president in elections that were widely considered irregular.
In 2005, Malawi faced its worst food shortage in over a decade, with more than 4 million people, 34% of the population, without adequate food supplies.
President Mutharika won reelection in a landslide in May 2009 elections, taking 66% of the vote. John Tembo came in a distant second with 30.7%. Mutharika died unexpectedly of a heart attack in April 2012. Vice president Joyce Banda assumed the role of president. Once an ally of Mutharika, the two parted ways in a row over succession—Mutharika had reportedly been grooming his brother Peter to become the next president. She was ousted from the governing Democratic Progressive Party and formed her own, the People's Party.
Information Please® Database, © 2008 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
More on Malawi from Fact Monster: