Malawi is a landlocked country in Southeast Africa that gained
its independence from the United Kingdom on July 6, 1964. Malawi had
about 20.9 million inhabitants in 2020; the capital is Lilongwe.
The north-south extent is 850 km, the west-east extent 350 km. The external border has a length of 2881 km, 475 km with Tanzania in the north, 1569 km with Mozambique in the east, south and south-west and 837 km with Zambia in the west.
The land area covers 118,484 km² (world ranking 99), of which 31% is forest and scrubland, 25% is water, 20% is arable land, and 15% is meadows and pastures.
Malawi lies almost entirely within the East African Rift Valley system. The landscape is characterized by plateaus, which are towered over by individual inselbergs, wide plains and Lake Malawi (formerly Lake Njassa, njassa = "lake" in Chichewa). The northern region is mountainous; the highest peaks rise up to 3000 meters above sea level. With an area of around 29,600 km², a length of 570 kilometers and a width of up to 80 kilometers, Lake Malawi is the largest lake in Malawi and at the same time the third largest inland body of water in Africa; it mainly belongs to the Malawian national territory. The islands of Chizumulu and Likoma are part of Malawi but are enclaves in Mozambique territorial waters. The rift valley continues south of the lake.
The Mulanje massif, which protrudes from a plain with green tea plantations, forms the highest elevation in the country, the highest mountain is the Sapitwa with a height of 3002 m. The longest river is the Shire with a length of 402 km. As the southern outflow of Lake Malawi, the Shire first flows through Lake Malombe and reaches the lowest point in Malawi (37 m above sea level) at the border with Mozambique before it flows into the Zambezi in Mozambique.
Malawi has a tropical climate with four seasons:
cool season between May and mid-August;
hot period between mid-August and November;
Rainy season between November and April, during this period the humidity can be almost 100% in the morning;
After rainy season between April and May.
In general, the highlands are cooler and wetter, while the lower-lying areas are hotter and more humid. It is warmest on Lake Malawi, but there is usually a cooling wind. Average temperatures vary between 19°C and 32°C from November to April and between 14°C and 24°C from May to October. July is the coolest month. Nights can be cold, especially in the mountains. There is a precipitation gradient of around 2000 mm per year in the north near the equator to almost 1000 mm in the south; the bottom of the ditch, lying in the rain shadow, is locally scarcely 600 mm.
The country is dominated by Lake Malawi, whose catchment area stretches as far as Tanzania and Mozambique. Almost all of Malawi (about 90%) drains into the Zambezi via the Shire, the outlet of Lake Malawi. The Shire's western catchment area borders are virtually congruent with the national border. In the southeast of the country there are smaller areas that drain into either the Rovuma or Lake Chilwa.
The flora of the region is very different. Predominant vegetation formations in the dry plains are savannas and open grasslands as well as light dry forest. Closed forests only occur in mountainous areas and on the densely wooded high plateaus. The country's forest stock was formerly cleared in the settlement areas, but is now being reforested on a large scale.
Worth seeing are the Kapichira Waterfalls, Lake Malawi, Lake Malombe and Mount Mulanje. National parks and wildlife sanctuaries in Malawi are Kasungu, Lake Malawi National Park, Lengwe, Majete Wildlife Reserve, Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve, Liwonde, Nyika National Park on the Nyika Plateau, Vwaza Marsh Game Reserve and Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. The elephant population in Malawi was estimated at 2800-3200 in 1977, 4500 in 1979 and 1981, but down to 2400 in 1987.
See also: National Parks in Malawi
Malawi is divided into three administrative regions, called regions, and below them a total of 28 districts. The regions are represented by a Regional Administrator, while the districts are governed by a District Development Committee (DDC) chaired by a District Commissioner. The formation of political will and citizen participation takes place in a decentralized manner in the districts and in a few larger cities in the so-called town or city assemblies, but not at the regional level.
Northern Region with the administrative center Mzuzu
and the 6 districts: Chitipa, Karonga, Likoma, Mzimba, Nkhata Bay, Rumphi.
Central Region with the Lilongwe administrative center
and the 9 districts: Dedza, Dowa, Kasungu, Lilongwe, Mchinji, Nkhotakota, Ntcheu, Ntchisi, Salima.
Southern Region with the administrative center of Blantyre
and the 13 districts: Balaka, Blantyre, Chikwawa, Chiradzulu, Machinga, Mangochi, Mulanje, Mwanza, Neno, Nsanje, Phalombe, Thyolo, Zomba.
In 2021, 18 percent of Malawi's residents lived in cities. The largest cities are (as of 2018 census): Lilongwe (989,318 inhabitants), Blantyre (800,318), Mzuzu (221,272), Zomba (105,013), Karonga (61,609), Kasungu (58,653) and Mangochi (53,498).
About 82.6 percent of the population profess Christianity, with 13
percent Malawi has a higher proportion of Muslims than the other
countries in southern Africa. The remaining proportions are Bahai,
atheists (2.5 percent) and followers of traditional religions, some of
whose mythological ideas have been taken over into world religions and
certain rituals continue to be practiced there under other names.
Christians make up more than 90 percent of the population in the north
up to half of the country, the Muslim settlement center is in the east
south of Lake Malawi. Traditional religions are officially practiced
only in a few small areas in the extreme south, especially in the
district of Nsanje.
The Catholics make up the largest Christian community with around 23 percent, followed by the Church of Central Africa (CCAP), which belongs to the Presbyterians, with almost 19 percent, according to a survey from 2004. The African Independent Churches (AIP) group make up about 17 percent and are rapidly increasing, as are Evangelicals and Pentecostals—together about a third of Christians; the last two are gaining adherents, especially in the cities. There are also about 2.5 percent Anglicans and just over 6 percent Seventh-day Adventists and Malawian Baptists for both, as well as the Jehovah's Witnesses and Righteous Christian minorities.
The first missionary to Lake Malawi was David Livingstone in 1859. Interest in the area was awakened by his reports on the slave trade and the need for missions. Bishop Charles Frederick Mackenzie, as a representative of the Universities Mission to Central Africa (UMCA), founded a mission station near Zomba two years later, but died of malaria in 1862, like most of his comrades-in-arms. His successor, William Tozer, retired to Zanzibar in 1863. In 1875 Presbyterians came and founded the station Livingstonia, where the Tumbuka were the first to be evangelised, while a delegation from the Church of Scotland settled in 1876 at what later became Blantyre. The first Catholics came in 1889 in the form of the White Fathers via Portuguese-colonized Mozambique. In the decades that followed, missionaries from the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa and some charismatic groups originating in the USA followed. Above all, missionaries from the Anglican Church benefited from their proximity to the colonial power, and in return provided the government with religious legitimacy in cases of conflict.
Longtime President Banda was a Presbyterian. Only since his successor, the Muslim Bakili Muluzi, has the freedom of religion guaranteed in Article 20 of the constitution also applied equally to Muslims in practice, with Banda starting a campaign for Western education of disadvantaged Muslims after 1961. Since 2004, the Catholic Bingu wa Mutharika was president and his vice president was a Muslim. Political tensions are not based on religion; most of the religious disputes were between split-off Christian splinter groups. In the 1970s there were clashes between Christians and adherents of traditional religions in the South. On the one hand, a fundamentalist Pentecostal movement that had just arrived in the country was polarizing, on the other hand, a neo-traditional church of the ancestors was forming.
In 1909, the charismatic Elliot Kenan Kamwana began evangelizing for Jehovah's Witnesses in Malawi. He predicted the end of the world for 1914, but was deported by the British at the end of 1909 because of his anti-colonial campaigns and only returned from Mauritius in 1937, where he secretly continued to gain followers until his death in 1956. These were long regarded as Jehovah's Witnesses, but de facto and eventually formally formed their own religious community, the Mlondo or "Watchman" Mission. From 1967 onwards, under President Banda, the approximately 18,000 followers of Kamwana were suppressed, violently persecuted and expelled by the thousands to refugee camps in Zambia and Mozambique because of their refusal to do military service and participate in ceremonies. In 1976 over 5,000 were imprisoned (the figure is believed to include Jehovah's Witnesses). With democratization in 1993, the ban on this religious community was lifted. Radio Maria Malawi, which also includes general educational programs, calls itself the most popular radio station in the country and broadcasts live 24 hours a day.