A Short History of Malawi

Published on 12th July 2005

The first inhabitants of Malawi are thought to have started settling around Lake Malawi about 10,000 BC. During the 16th Century AD there was a vast trading empire established by the Maravi people from whom the country derives its modern name. The first European to make contact with the area now known as Malawi may have been the Portuguese explorer Gaspar Bocarro, whose diary published in 1492 made reference to the great inland lake in central Africa. The slave trade which ravaged most of Africa from the 16th Century to the 19th Century also left its imprints on Malawi\'s historical development. The Arab slave traders arrived on the shores of Lake Malawi from Zanzibar Island in the Indian Ocean in search of slaves sometime after 1840 and were to continue until late 19th Century.


The history of modern Malawi is linked with the life of the Scottish missionary explorer, David Livingstone (1813-1873) who reached the lake he named \'Lake Nyasa\" in 1859. Following his appeal to other missionaries to come and fight the slave trade in Central and East Africa, the first missionary expedition of the Universities Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) arrived in Malawi in 1861. However, it was not until 1875 that the first permanent mission station was established at Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi by the Free Church of Scotland.


In 1876, Blantyre Mission was established. This is one of the main seats of what is now known as the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP). In 1884, the first European trading station was established in Karonga, Malawi\'s northeast point.


In 1891, the British Government declared a Protectorate over what was then known as Nyasaland Districts. This was later changed, in 1893, to the British Central Africa Protectorate and later Nyasaland Protectorate in 1907. The political struggle against British rule in Nyasaland, where the Africans were subjected to many unfair practices, came to a head with the uprising in 1915 led by John Chilembwe, considered the father of Malawi\'s nationalism, in Chiradzulu district. Although the uprising was not successful, the Africans\' dislike of the British rule continued and, in 1944, the Nyasaland African Congress -- later changed to Malawi Congress Party under the leadership of Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda in 1959 -- was formed to mobilise the people to fight for their rights and ultimately achieve independence from Britain.


In 1953, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was formed despite African opposition. This meant that the British Government had virtually transferred its protectorate responsibility over Nyasaland to the white settlers of Southern Rhodesia. But African resistance to the federation, spearheaded by the then Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia forced the British to shelve the idea. Constitutional talks for Malawi\'s independence were held at Lancaster House in London in July 1960 after which Nyasaland was allowed a Legislative Council. Nyasaland became an independent state of Malawi 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. 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 is 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. As of October 2001, the UDF held 96 seats in the National Assembly, while the AFORD held 30, and the MCP 61. Six seats are held by independents who represent the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) opposition group. The NDA is not recognized as an official political party at this time. The National Assembly has 193 members, of whom 17 are women, including one of the Deputy Speakers.


Malawi\'s new constitution guarantees freedom of speech, religion and assembly. The country\'s civil administration is committed to the principles of good governance and transparency. The government encourages investment and is looking to the private sector to assume the leading role in the economic development of the country. Malawi has a hybrid legal system. Criminal and Civil Law is based on English Criminal Law. Malawi\'s written constitution guarantees protection of investments, irrespective of ownership.


Below is an analysis of Malawi according to the 2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal


Rank: 129

Score: 3.65

Category: Mostly Unfree

Population: 10,743,000

Total Area: 118,480sq. km

GDP: $ 1.7 billion

GDP growth rate: 1.8 %

GDP per capita: $ 157

Major exports: tea, tobacco, sugar, cotton, wood products, coffee

Exports of goods and services: $535.3 million

Major export trading partners: US 17.4%, Germany 13.5%, South Africa 10.2%, Egypt 6.3%

Major imports: food, petroleum products, consumer goods, transportation equipment

Imports of goods and services: $866.7million

Major import trading partner: South Africa 43.9%, Zambia 12.6%, US 5.5%, India 4.2%

Foreign direct investment (net): $48.4 million (2001)










2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal


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