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No country in Africa has its geography so sculpted and determined by Africa’s Great Rift Valley as Malawi. Exquisite lakeside beaches run along the western shores of the 600km Lake Malawi, there are plateaus filled with roaming herds of zebra and antelope and unspoilt highland regions.
Malawi is best known as Africa’s finest landlocked beach destination, which with lovely unspoiled islands, beautiful freshwater beaches and a vibrant and spectacular array of tropical freshwater fish, is ideal for snorkeling, diving, and fishing.
However, it also has 11 national parks that protect a range of different habitats and offer an unexpected wealth of general game-viewing safaris, mountain hikes and climbs and some unique opportunities to explore on horse-back. For many visitors it is the warm and friendly Malawian people and rich cultural history that make each visit unforgettable.
In the 15th century people who lived south of Lake Nyasa began to build an empire called ´Maravi´, which included eventually parts of Zimbabwe and Mozambique before it broke up. In the 16th century the Portuguese reached the Maravi Empire and brought maize to this part of Africa. In the end of the 18th century people from northern Mozambique called ´Yao´ raided Malawi and took captives to be sold to the Arabs as slaves, until in the 1840s the Ngoni invaded the area, which frequently fought the Yao.
In 1859 David Livingstone the Scottish explorer and missionary reached Lake Nyasa. Scottish missionaries started building missions in the area and British merchants began to sell goods in the region. Gradually the British took control of Malawi and in 1891 most of Malawi was formed into the British Central African Protectorate. The British ended the slave trade and created coffee plantations. In 1907 the British named Malawi Nyasaland and was given a legislative council.
When the First World War began Germans from Tanzania invaded Nyasaland (Malawi) but they were repelled. During World War II almost 30,000 Malawians served in the armed forces. As the Africans were increasingly educated, they became more and more dissatisfied with being ruled by Europeans. There were many protests against the British rule and as a result a state of emergency was declared.
Malawi finally became independent on 6 July 1964 and in 1966 Malawi was made a republic. The British Queen was no longer head of state and Banda became president, who later made himself president of Malawi for life. Soon Banda’s rule became a dictatorship, and all dissent was ruthlessly crushed. Finally, in 1993 Banda was forced to hold a referendum and the great majority voted for democracy. Democratic elections were held on 17 May 1993 and Bakili Muluzi became the new president. In 2004 Bingu wa Mutharika was elected President of Malawi and he began an anti-corruption drive. In 2012 Joyce Banda became the first woman president of Malawi.
Malawi is an African country, located south of the Equator, mostly hilly and mountainous, and has a tropical climate (or sub-tropical at high altitudes), with a hot and rainy season from mid-November to April and a relatively cool and dry season from mid-May to mid-August A hot, dry season lasts from September to October with average temperatures varying between 25 and 37 degrees Celsius.
Currently, Malawi has a population of around 19 million (2020) of which around 75% carries a Christian religion. Most Malawians reside in rural locations. The country’s few large urban centers include the capital Lilongwe and Blantyre, the seat of the country’s judiciary.
Most of Malawi’s population engages in cash-crop and subsistence agriculture. The country’s exports consist of the produce of both small landholdings and large tea and tobacco estates. Malawi has received a significant amount of foreign capital in the form of development aid, which has contributed greatly toward the exploitation of its natural resources and has allowed Malawi to at times produce a food surplus. Nevertheless, its population has suffered from chronic malnutrition, high rates of infant mortality, and grinding poverty.
The Kwacha is the official currency in Malawi since 1970. The Kwacha was adopted based on the Zambian Kwacha, which was used in Zambia since 1968. The name kwacha was derived from the Bemba word meaning dawn, reflecting the Zambian national motto: “New Dawn of Freedom.” The Malawian Kwacha is subdivided into 100 tambala.
For your daily expenses it is always important to have a wallet with smaller bills and keep the rest of your cash separated and out of sight. Especially when you spend several days in more remote areas, like wild parks, ensure you have enough cash on you.
Furthermore, it is recommended to take a ‘mix’ of means for payment, including cash, a world debit card and a credit card (VISA or MasterCard). Also, we recommend having American Dollars with you for emergencies, which you might also need when crossing borders.
There are ATM´s (Automated Teller Machines) available in the larger cities of Malawi. Remember that for every transaction you will be charged additional banking fees. Please do not forget to change the security settings of your bankcards to ‘Worldwide’ if necessary – ask your local bank for instructions.
The natural vegetation pattern reflects the country’s diversity in relief, soils, and climate. Savanna occurs in the dry lowland areas. Miombo woodlands—sparse, open deciduous woodland characteristic of dry parts of eastern Africa—are an important habitat, particularly for the country’s large mammal populations. Woodlands with species of acacia trees cover isolated, more fertile plateau sites and river margins.
Game animals abound only in the game reserves, where antelope, buffalo, elephants, leopards, lions, rhinoceroses, and zebras occur; hippopotamuses live in Lake Malawi. The lakes and rivers of Malawi contain hundreds of species and numerous families of fish. Lake Malawi is particularly renowned for its remarkable biodiversity—an enormous range of fish species inhabit the lake.
English is the official language, but the national language is Chichewa. However, each tribe speaks a different language, such as Chewa, Yao, Tonga, Sena, and Elomwe.
The backbone of the Malawi economy is agriculture, which in the 2000s employed more than 80% of the working population and accounted for about one-third of the gross domestic product (GDP) and the vast majority of export earnings. Tobacco, the most important export crop, accounts for a major portion of the country’s trade income; tea, sugar, and cotton—all mostly grown in the estate sector—are also important.
Since the mid-1960s the government has sought to strengthen the agricultural sector by encouraging integrated land use, higher crop yields, and irrigation schemes. In pursuit of these goals, several large-scale integrated rural-development programs, covering one-fifth of the country’s land area, have been put into operation.
These projects include extension services; credit and marketing facilities; physical infrastructure such as roads, buildings, and water supplies; health centers; afforestation units; and crop storage and protection facilities. Outside the main program areas, advisory services and educational programs are available.
However, these schemes have brought little benefit to the smallholders, real growth instead being largely concentrated within the estate sector, which has been favored by the government. Many smallholders have remained poor and indebted, and smallholder production has generally not increased enough to meet the demands of the rapidly growing population.
Malawi is a generally peaceful country and has had stable governments since independence in 1964. One-party rule ended in 1993; since then, multi-party presidential and parliamentary elections have been held every five years.