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Malawi: Geography, Culture and Economics

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: International Studies
Wordcount: 2692 words Published: 18th May 2020

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Malawi, formerly known as Nyasaland, is a small landlocked country bordering Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania in southeast Africa. Malawi’s landscape is defined by its topography of highlands that are split by the Great Rift Valley and the third largest lake in Africa, Lake Malawi (Malawi). The area of the land is roughly 118,480 km² (46,000 mi²) with the addition of Lake Malawi which is 585 km long by 80 km wide (364 miles long by 50 miles wide (Malawi Facts and Figures).The climate here is subtropical with two repeating seasons, the rainy season, which takes place between December and May, and the dry season, taking place between May and December. There is only a total of three cities that make up the country of Malawi: the capital, Lilongwe, the largest and known commercial capital, Blantyre, and the former capital, Mzuzu (Malawi Facts and Figures). The 2017 World Bank listed the population of Malawi to be 18.6 million with a projected growth of 3% per year and of that population, the charity, Ripple Africa, claimed that 83% of the population occupied rural areas and only 17% actually lived in the towns of Malawi. The official languages of Malawi are English and Chichewa, the main being English and their major religions are Christianity and Islam. Due to the migration of European settlers, Christianity became the highest practiced religion comprising 80% of the population (Malawi Facts and Figures). Malawi is widely known for their tobacco resources. As stated by the World Atlas OEC source of 2016, tobacco production makes up 59% of Malawi’s exports. Other major exports stated include tea (7.9%), radioactive chemicals (4.7%), sugar (8.1%), and dried legumes (5.3%). The country of Malawi also stands out due to their age of population, life expectancy, fertility rate, infant mortality rate, percentage of population below the poverty line, and the high number of individuals living with or affected by HIV and AIDS. The shocking statistics provided by Ripple Africa are as follows:

  • Age of population: 0–14yrs = 45%, 15–64yrs = 52%, 65+yrs = 3%
  • Average life expectancy at birth: 63 years (2016 World Bank)
  • Fertility Rate: 4.57 children born per woman
  • Infant mortality: 29 deaths per 1,000 live births (2017 WHO)
  • Number of people living with HIV: 1,000,000 (2017 UNAIDS)
  • Orphans due to AIDS: aged 1–17 350,000 (2017 UNAIDS)
  • Percentage of population below the poverty line: 51.5% (2016 World Bank)

These devastating statistics are unlike any other sub-Saharan African country. The factors that have played a role in such trends will later be further discussed.

 The history of Malawi dates back between 13thand 15th centuries. The arrival of Bantu-speaking people to the land started the documented history of the country. The first empire known to the land was the Maravi empire. The pre-colonial empire was led by the Kalonga tribe and started its rule on the southwest shores of Lake Malawi. During the late 1700’s and mid 1800’s the empire began to decline due to weakened authority and power among the empire and from the uprising slave trade that was taking place in southern Africa (Maravi Empire). In 1859 the Scottish missionary and explorer, David Livingston, traveled to the country and discovered Lake Nyasa. Livingston had intentions of colonizing the land and had hopes of doing so by introducing the religion of Christianity to the people and providing church. In light of his discovery, several other British Missionaries, traders, and planters also traveled to the newly discovered nation (Malawi History). By 1891 the British claimed rule and declared the country the British Protectorate of Nyasaland. Under the colonial rule, many of the African nation were disturbed by the new ways of the British leaders. During this time several roads and railways were constructed, cash crop cultivation was introduced, and land for coffee plantations were offered to the European settlers. In response to this, the tax incentives from the newly orchestrated projects forced the African people to work on the plantations leaving the African people riled (World Bank). In 1944 Nationalists established their own authority by forming the Nyasaland African Congress under the leader Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda. Between the years 1951 and 1953 the colonial government decided to join the colonies of Southern and Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, forming the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, despite the opposition from the African people. With continuous disagreements and arguments among the colonial authority and the African congress, the Nyasaland African Congress was banned in 1959 (BBC, 2019). In the succeeding years the colonial era still hindered the African nation as the welfare of the African majority was being ignored. The European settlers kept their focus on their interests and did little to help develop the nation as a whole. It wasn’t until 1963 that the federation was finally dissolved allowing Malawi to declare independence from the UK and become a member of the Commonwealth of Nations in 1964 (BBC, 2019).

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By 1966 Malawi was finally named a republic and elected their first ever president. The constitution created at this time declared Malawi to be ruled under a one-party state. Their president, Banda who was later elected president for life, took full advantage of this and began taking action to better his country. During his reign, Banda and his government leaders provided great improvement to country’s transport and communication systems as well as focus attention to food security (Resources and Power). Banda was able to provide Malawi with a stable government and political system for many years; however, the stability would soon decline. 1980 was the year Malawi joined the Southern African Development Coordination Conference in hopes to better their country’s economic state as well as hope to create new regional ties (Resources and Power). Banda refusing to be a part of such actions and allowing his government to stray from the apartheid regime thus raised concerns to his people. Fears regarding human rights, poverty, and the well-being of the African people shortly led to public readings and outbursts within the churches. The members of the churches were encouraged to speak up and join together in opposition to fight for a multi-party democracy. Banda and his government officials were condemned as the people began to speak up for their human rights. The Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International took action against the authorities leaving Banda out of office and on trial for murder and tampering of evidence. The one-party rule lasted until 1994 and the start of their democratic society began in 1995 (Resources and Power). Since then, the government of Malawi has been under a multi-party presidential and parliamentary system.

 As stated in the previous paragraph, Malawi took part in the Southern African Development Coordination Conference in hopes of improving their economic status while creating new regional ties. For Malawi’s economy to flourish and prosper, their agricultural sector must also flourish and prosper. The location of the country influences the amount of natural resources, crops, and essentials the country may obtain. With a large dependence on agriculture for food and supplies for the people, imports and exports for trade with other nations, and mainly the source of income for the country, the country drove itself to a state of collapse. As the government continued to keep their reliance on agricultural production, they ignored the factors of global warming and overpopulation. As the country began to improve on their sectors to build new technology and transport systems, deforestation of woodlands began to take place. In the early 1970’s the government took action in sponsoring the development in wood plantations with the hopes of creating a self-sufficient country in grading timber (Resources and Power). As the deforestation increased nearly twenty years later over half of Malawi’s woodlands were depleted. Another factor that attributed to this was the use of wood for fuel. Many of the Malawi people used wood for cooking and house chores and because of the population growth rate and overbearing inhabitants, the more people there were the more wood was used. With the lack of woodlands to ensure growth of crops, tobacco, and natural resources, Malawi lends on other national donors for aid. There have been several instances of drought in Malawi leaving the country unable to provide their normal exports which leaves the government in a bad place. The financial expenditures chosen by the authorities has shown inconsistent stability and poor governance by the country. Trying to recover from natural disasters like climate change can be astronomical. Due to the government relying so heavily on the production of agriculture led them to spend funds in areas that in the end would not be beneficial. For years Malawi has received aid from the IMF, the World Bank, and several other national independent donors and according to the journalist, Julius Agbor, donor aid accounted for almost a third of the governments revenues in the past five years. He stated that due to the fact of poor governance, Britain and other larger international donor communities have suspended aid and the IMF has suspended $79 million. A great example of environmental degradation is shown here by displaying how strategic choices and good relations with donors plays a large role in maintaining a stable government with efficient economic policies.

 As the economic sustainability factors began to collapse due to poor governance, powerful demographic trends began to surface. Referring back to the statistics provided by Ripple Africa in the introduction, the lack of funds has left the people in a world of hurt. Healthcare in Malawi has taken a big hit and is in a state of need. The Malawi Project provided vital information that exemplifies the result of poor funding. As stated on their webpage, in 2008 it was estimated that per 100,000 people there were only 0.2 doctors providing care – compared the U.S. Hospitals providing 2.42 doctors. The HIV and AIDS epidemic in Malawi is a real and moving issue that should be heavily focused on and not ignored. With choosing to spend the smallest fraction on medical needs, the people of Malawi are unable to receive the medicine, medical help, and nutrition they need to maintain a stable healthy life. Research suggests that the globalization aspect of the medical issue in Malawi has led to increased inequality in access to medical progress (Kavinya). Researcher and journalist Kavinya, points out that the lack of free essential medicines in government clinics and hospitals is largely due to poor investment and personnel and infrastructure, inadequate resources, corruption and mismanagement of corporate leaders are all factors of the globalization issue. Another major topic relating to the agricultural sector is employment. More than four-fifths of Malawi’s population occupy jobs in the agricultural field. With losing the woodlands the people are losing jobs causing their income to decline and place them beneath the poverty line. Families continue to go without, unable to produce for themselves, unable to use land for crop cultivation – due to deforestation and the overbearing population – and will continue to be malnourished and live in a state of poverty if nothing is done to change this.

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 A similar country that has been affected by environmental degradation is Kiribati. The small country has been taken advantage of numerous times by powerful countries and has also been affected by British rule. They have also exemplified a weak nation with an unsustainable government who feeds off aid as well from international donors. They have experienced many catastrophes from battles and wars killing thousands of their people and leaving them with a lack of resources. This vulnerable and weak nation I believe is very similar to Malawi. However, I do believe that Malawi obtains better odds at recovery. I feel as if their government and authorities have the potential and ability to make a sustainable nation. Jared Diamond explains that to avoid a collapsing society you must remain in good ties with neighbors as well as focus on the areas in need. As long as the governance of Malawi will focus their attention on the poor areas of their people and prove that they understand the factors a sustainable nation needs, I believe that the funds will flourish from donor aids and the economic issues will begin to turn around. A subfactor that both of these nations share as well is climate change. As we have learned in the previous units, Kiribati has experienced issues with rising sea levels and over population. Because of the rising sea levels the land of Kiribati is also dwindling causing them to lose land for resources. With the water somewhat ‘swallowing’ the area, the people are forced to migrate to new territory on the islands. This created an overpopulation in certain areas leaving people malnourished due to the ratio of people to resources available. Malawi experiencing drought as well as major floods, the latest being in 2015, has been a major issue as explained before. Thousands have been left homeless and several deaths were a result.

 Reflecting over the material discussed over the course, I can without a doubt stay that I have been inspired and moved. The lessons had symbolic real-life morals that not only apply to a society or nation but also to a single individual’s life. For me, the most impactful lesson was that of Jared Diamond. His framework can be applied in a multitude of ways but personally it created a road map, laying out the foundation for successful relationships, prosperous career, and most of all happiness within yourself. Even though it was targeted towards societal collapse, I found myself rewriting his words into something that I was able to analyze and make my own. Until we understand how powerful our voices are and have a strong belief in our own intelligence, any society will continue to collapse if we cannot first believe in ourselves. We are the start of a society; we decide the future.


  1. Agbor, J. (2016, July 28). The Economic Challenges facing Malawi’s New President. Retrieved from               https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/the-economic-challenges-facing-malawis-new-president/
  2. Kavinya, T. (2014, March). Globalization and its effects on the overall health situation of Malawi.                Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4062782/
  3. Malawi. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.eyeseeafrica.net/malawi/ 
  4. Malawi Facts and Figures. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.rippleafrica.org/a-charity-in-malawi-              africa/malawi-facts-and-figures
  5. Malawi in History. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.onthisday.com/countries/malawi
  6. Malawi profile. (2019, March 19). Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa- 13881367
  7. Malawi Project. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.malawiproject.org/about-malawi/healthcare/
  8. Maravi Empire. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.afropedea.org/maravi-empire
  9. Nag, O. S. (2019, January 28). The Culture Of Malawi. Retrieved from  https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-culture-of-malawi.html
  10. Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/malawi/overview#1
  11. Resources and power. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/place/Malawi/Resources-and-power


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