Shaping Malawi's Future: A Journey through Politics and Economy

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CDS Africa

Administrator . Updated July 15, 2024


Malawi, formally the Republic of Malawi and previously known as Nyasaland, is a landlocked country in Southeastern Africa. Malawi covers 118,484 square kilometres (45,747 square miles) and has an estimated population of 19,431,566 (as of January 2021). On July 6, 1964, Malawi declared its independence from British colonial domination. Malawi formerly had borders with Mozambique to the east, south, and west, Tanzania to the northeast, and Zambia to the northwest.

The nation is well known for its breathtaking scenery, which includes one of Africa's largest lakes, Lake Malawi, which is vital to the nation's economy and culture. The nation's history is defined by its transition from a British protectorate to independence in 1964, which led to its current status as a multi-party democracy.


Culture And Religion

Malawi is a multicultural country with a rich tapestry of customs, languages, and religious beliefs. The bulk of Malawians are from numerous ethnic groups, with the Chewa, Nyanja, Tumbuka, and Yao being the most prevalent. Malawians are divided into several ethnic groups, the most significant of which are Chewa, Nyanja, Tumbuka, and Yao. The official languages are English and Chichewa, however, there are many additional indigenous languages spoken throughout the country.

Religion is important in Malawian society, with Christianity being the most common faith, practised by over 80% of the population, mostly Roman Catholics and other Protestant groups. Islam is also extensively practised, especially by the Yao people, who make up roughly 13% of the total population.



Malawi is an agricultural country with over 60% of all workers involved in the agricultural sector. Agriculture used to account for about 22% of the country's GDP and this is because most small farmers only produce for their consumption. Tobacco exports generate the majority of foreign cash, followed by tea, coffee, sugar, cotton, and soybeans.

Despite its agricultural potential, Malawi is confronted with enormous economic issues, such as poverty, rapid population expansion, and vulnerability to climate change, which has reduced agricultural production. The country has made progress towards economic stability by implementing policies targeted at diversification, infrastructural development, and attracting foreign investment.

Malawi remains significantly dependent on international aid with recurring difficulties such as insufficient healthcare, education, and infrastructure. Stagnant growth, unsustainable debt, and the negative consequences of several shocks, such as the cholera outbreak and Cyclone Freddy in 2023, have exacerbated Malawi's economic problems.

The IMF Executive Board recently agreed a $175 million Extended Credit Facility (ECF) arrangement to support the government's commitment to economic reforms aimed at accelerating inclusive and sustainable growth. The economy is further hampered by the country's insufficient power supply with only 14% of people having access to power.
Droughts and floods have become more frequent and severe in recent years. Malawi was slammed by a tropical storm in March 2023, which the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) described as the longest-lasting cyclone on record. As a result of climate change, it is reasonable to expect such devastating weather occurrences to become more frequent.         


Politics and governance

Malawi is a unitary presidential republic, led by President Lazarus Chakwera. The current constitution was adopted on May 18, 1995. The branches of government are executive, legislature, and judiciary. The executive branch consists of a President who serves as both Head of State and Head of Government, first and second Vice Presidents, and Malawi's Cabinet.

The president and vice president are jointly elected every five years. If selected, the president may choose a second vice president, although they must belong to a different party. The president of Malawi appoints the members of the cabinet, who may come from the legislature or elsewhere.

The legislative branch consists of a unicameral National Assembly with 193 members elected every five years, and while the Malawian constitution calls for an 80-seat senate, one does not exist in practice. If formed, the Senate would represent traditional leaders, a diversity of geographic districts, and special interest groups such as the disabled, young, and women.

The independent judicial branch is modelled after the English system and consists of a Supreme Court of Appeal, a High Court divided into three sections (general, constitutional, and commercial), an Industrial Relations Court, and Magistrates Courts, the latter of which is divided into five grades and includes Child Justice Courts.

Malawi's legal system has seen several changes since its independence in 1964. Malawi was a de facto one-party state from the first general elections in August 1961 until 1966, when the constitution explicitly recognized the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), led by Banda, as the sole political entity. The 1966 constitution was revised in 1993 to allow for a multiparty political system, and several additional political parties have arisen since then, including the United Democratic Front (UDF), which has swiftly become one of the most prominent.

Local government is carried out in 28 districts throughout three regions, with administrators and district commissioners selected by the central government. Malawi holds annual elections and has seen many transitions of power between political parties, the most recent in June 2020. The government generally respects political rights and civil liberties. However, corruption is widespread, police brutality and arbitrary arrests are rampant, and prejudice and violence against women, members of minority groups, and persons with albinism persist.


Presidents Of Malawi

Hastings Kamuzu Banda (1966-1994) was Malawi's first President, heading the country as it declared itself a republic in 1966. Before becoming President, Banda was the Prime Minister of Malawi after the country gained independence in 1964.

During his leadership, a one-party state was established under the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). Banda was appointed President for Life in 1971 and ruled with an authoritarian grip until 1994. His reign ended with a referendum that resulted in the establishment of a multi-party system.

 In 1994, Bakili Muluzi (1994-2004) won the United Democratic Front (UDF) ticket in the first multi-party elections. During Muluzi's leadership, political and economic changes underwent a dramatic change. His main goals were human rights advocacy and economic liberalization. Muluzi was a key player in Malawi's democratic transition during his two years in office.

Bingu wa Mutharika (2004-2012) replaced Muluzi, who was elected as a UDF candidate before creating the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Mutharika's presidency was notable for its economic achievements, particularly in agricultural and infrastructure development. However, his administration was criticised for increasing authoritarianism and stifling opposition. Mutharika's sudden death in 2012 marked the end of his second tenure.

Joyce Banda (2012-2014), became Malawi's first female president after Mutharika died. Joyce Banda was Vice-President at the time and took over as President following the Constitution. Her tenure was centred on economic recovery, anti-corruption initiatives, and social reform. However, her government was plagued by the "Cashgate" affair, a large corruption scandal that jeopardized her re-election chances.

Peter Mutharika (2014-2020), Bingu's younger brother, won the 2014 elections for the DPP. His presidency was built on his late brother's initiatives, stressing economic development and infrastructure developments. However, his administration was marred by accusations of corruption and rising political turmoil.

Mutharika was declared the winner of the 2019 elections despite allegations of electoral fraud, prompting countrywide protests and a historic court judgment that overturned the election results. Lazarus Chakwera (2020-present) won the 2020 new elections, which were required by the Constitutional Court. Chakwera, who represented the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and led a large opposition coalition, was elected president after running a campaign centered on reform, anti-corruption, and national unity.

His administration has had to balance controlling the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic with implementing promised political and economic reforms. As of 2024, Lazarus Chakwera remains Malawi's President, navigating the intricacies of government in a fledgling democracy with goals of more stability, economic growth, and better governance.

On Monday, June 11 2024 Malawi’s Vice President Saulos Klaus Chilima and nine others, including former First Lady Shanil Dzimbiri, were killed when the military jet they were aboard crashed. Micheal Usi, a top comedian-turned-politician, has since been sworn in as Malawi's vice president.



Malawi's transition from a British protectorate to an independent country with a multiparty democracy is a testament to its tenacity and will. The essence of the nation lies in its natural beauty and cultural variety, best shown by Lake Malawi. Despite economic and social obstacles, Malawi continues to make progress toward stability and prosperity.

The administration, led by President Lazarus Chakwera, is still devoted to fighting corruption, developing infrastructure, and promoting economic growth. Vice President Saulos Klaus Chilima's untimely death in an aircraft crash serves as a grim reminder of the challenges the country faces. However, hope for a more prosperous future remains due to Malawi's lasting spirit and continued efforts to fortify its economy and democracy.

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CDS Africa

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