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Think. Discuss. Act. Africa

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(Download “Malawi Overview” as a PDF)

Basic Statistics

  • Total population: 10,548,250 (Ranked 70th in the world by the US Census Bureau).
  • National GDP: US $8.9 billion.
  • GDP per capita: US $940.
  • Median Age: 17.3 years.
  • Infant Mortality: 130.52 per 1000 live births.


  • Location: South East Africa.
  • Borders: Zambia, Mozambique, and Tanzania.
  • Capital: Lilongwe.
  • Major cities and population: Blantyre, 446,800 and Lilongwe, 395,500.
  • Area: 45,700 square miles.
  • Topography: Stretches 560 miles along Lake Malawi (formally Lake Nyasa). High plateaus and mountains line the Rift Valley for the length of the nation.
  • 24 Districts: Blantyre, Chikwawa, Chiradzulu, Chitipa, Dedza, Dowa, Karonga, Kasungu, Lilongwe, Machinga (Kasupe), Mangochi, Mchinji, Mulanje, Mwanza, Mzimba, Ntcheu, Nkhata Bay, Nkhotakota, Nsanje, Ntchisi, Rumphi, Salima, Thyolo, Zomba.


  • Population density: 227 people per square mile.
  • Children 0-14: 44.4%-4,686,230.
  • Teenage 10-19: 26.3%-2,769,215.
  • Youth between 15-24: 22.4%-2,366,216.
  • Seniors Over 70: 1.6%-166,635.
  • Male to female ratio: 97.6 males per 100 females.
  • Birth rate: 38.49 births per 1000 people.
  • Estimated % of population with AIDS: 15%.
  • Life expectancy at birth: 36.34 for males and 35.7 for females.
  • Infant mortality rate: 130.52 per 1000 live births.
  • Official Languages: English and Chichewa.
  • Ethnic Groups: Chewa, Nyanja, Tumbuko, Yao, Lomwe, Sena, Tonga, Ngoni, Ngonde, Asian, European.
  • Religious affiliations: 55% Protestant, 20% Muslim, 20% Roman Catholic.
  • Religious group representation: 76.8% Christian (8,388,107), 14.8% Muslim (1,611,040), and 7.8% Ethnoreligionist (849,620). Less than 1% are Nonreligious, Baha’i, Hindu, Sikh, Jew, or other.
  • Education: Free from 6-14 years of age.
  • Literacy rate: 56%.


  • Currency: Kwacha.
  • GDP per capita: US $940.
  • National GDP: US $8.9 billion.
  • Major Industries: Agricultural processing and cement.
  • Chief crops: Tea, tobacco, sugar, cotton, corn, potatoes.
  • Electricity production: 922 million kWh (1998).
  • Radios: 112 per 1000 people.
  • Telephones: 374,000 main lines.


  • Government type: Multiparty Democracy.
  • Head of state and government: President Bakili Muluzi.
  • International organization memberships: United Nations (UN), the Commonwealth and Organization of African Unity (OAU).
  • Historical Background: Bantu’s came to this land in the 16th century and Arab slavers in the 19th. In 1859, David Livingston reached Lake Nyasa, and the land along its western shore became the British Protectorate of Nyasaland in 1891. In 1953 Nyasaland was combined with Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) to form the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. In 1964, it became independent, adopting the name Malawi. In 1966, Malawi became a republic with Dr. Hastings Banda as the first president. He subsequently led the nation for 30 years. In 1994, Malawi returned to a multiparty system and established a new constitution.

Trends and Social Issues

Understanding the trends and social issues of a particular country should always take into consideration the opinions of persons within the country. The Center for Youth Studies seeks contributors from each country to add to our appreciation and understanding of its culture, potential, trends and critical issues. If you take issue with any of the following, have insight to offer, or find the information to be dated please contact us. This information is developed by people like you for people like you.

It is our understanding from our correspondent in Malawi, Rev. Lane Stewart, that the struggle for basic life needs consumes the largest percentage of thought and activity for the majority of Malawians. Malawi is one of the poorest countries on Earth and finds itself in a culture clash between Western worldviews and traditional African perspectives. As Malawi confronts issues such as AIDS, education, politics, and foreign economic aid, the collision between these different worldviews becomes apparent. Malawian observations have concluded that Western approaches to reducing the spread of AIDS, including condom distribution and AIDS workshops focusing on individual choices, have not worked and have in some cases escalated its spread. So the question Malawians are asking themselves is how can we develop other methods of AIDS prevention that will resonate with the Malawian community?

The usefulness and motivation of Western education is also being evaluated. Many Malawians go to school long enough to develop western capitalistic desires for their life, but these dreams are often crushed by the realities of living day to day. This has had a paralyzing effect on many young minds, leaving them feeling as if they are failures and that their life is not as valuable as others. They are forced to ask and redefine what a ‘good life’ means. The challenge for Malawian leaders is to define the ‘good life’ within the Malawi context in such a way that young Malawians are empowered and proud of their country.

What about the government? Is a democracy based on Western models best for Malawi? Many feel that the current democracy is to blame for much of the economic and social decline of recent years. So Malawians are asking whether they can restructure democratic institutions to work better for them or if they should abandon democracy all together? This leads to the debate regarding foreign aid. How much and how long should Malawi accept foreign aid? Is this acceptance perpetuating a state of dependence on other nations or is it essential to the economy? Currently the aide is tied to Western influence; by accepting foreign help, are Malawians abandoning their own culture, moral fabric, and heritage? Who are Malawians and what is important to Malawi as a nation, a people, and a culture? These questions are at the heart of a nation in the midst of change.



Barrett, D., Kurian, G., & Johnson, T. (2001). World Christian Encyclopedia 2nd Edition: A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World. Oxford: University Press.

Turner, B. (2000). The World Today: Essential Facts in an Ever Changing World 2000. New York, NY: St. Marten’s Press.

McGeveran, Jr., W. (Ed.). (2001). The World Almanac and Book of Facts. Mahwah, NJ: World Almanac Books.


US Census Bureau, International Database.

United Nation Statistics Division.

US Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  • How important do you see Malawi’s role in southern Africa and in the world?
  • What most impresses you about the above information?
  • Do you take issue with any of the above? If so, how would you express it differently?
  • What strikes you most about the population of Malawi and the life expectancy of its people at birth? Why?
  • What do you see as the historical and cultural contributions of Malawi to the world?
  • How has Malawi handled its part in AIDS crisis?
  • What can we learn from Malawi and the Malawian people?
Tammy Smith
© 2018 CYS

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