The Republic of Malawi is located in Southern Africa, East of Zambia and Southwest of Tanzania. Lilongwe, the capital, is located in the middle of the country on the Western side. The country is home to about 16,323,044 Malawians, and has an annual growth rate of 2.8%. Malawi is one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most densely populated countries. The major ethnic groups of the country are Chewa (32.6% of the population), Lomwe (17.6% of the population), Yao (13.5% of the population), Ngoni (11.5% of the population), and various other groups comprising of less than 10% of the population each, including Tumbuka, Nyanja, Sena, Tonga, and Ngonde. The official language of Malawi is Chichewa, and 57.2% of the population speaks it. Chinyanja, Chiyao, and Chitumbuka are other widely spoken languages, with above 10% of the population speaking each language. A 2008 census found that Christianity is the most popular faith in Malawi, and 82.7% of the population practices it. The second most popular religion, similar to many Southeastern African countries, is Muslim, with 13% of the population practicing.
The Republic of Malawi, formerly the British protectorate of Nyasaland, became an independent nation in 1964. President Banda ruled for three decades with a one-party system, until a multiparty system came into effect in 1994. Former President Mutharika was elected in May 2004, under the party of his own creation, Democratic Progressive Party, and was replaced in April of 2012 by President Joyce Banda when Mutharika passed away.
Malawi‘s current GDP, with purchasing power parity accounted for, is $13.77 billion. The GDP per capita is $900, which puts the country at 216th in the world. The economy is dominated by agriculture, which accounts for 1/3 of the GDP and 90% of the country’s exports. The main agricultural products are tobacco, sugarcane, cotton, tea, corn, potatoes, cassava, sorghum, pulses, groundnuts, and Macadamia nuts. Tobacco counts for 53% of the country’s exports, with tea, sugar, cotton, coffee, and peanuts following. The main industry is tobacco processing, with tea, sugar, sawmill products, cement, and consumer goods comprising the rest of the industrial sector. This dependence on tobacco is currently a benefit, as it could provide short-term growth, but is a dangerously large dependence on one economic sector. This short-term growth is vital to the survival of Malawi, as the 2011 GDP growth rate was only 4.6%, down from a 9% growth rate in 2009. This economy has left about 53% of the population below the poverty line, and about 90% of the population practices subsistence farming for simple food security.
The country’s many obstacles to development include developing a more modern market economy, improving education facilities, dealing with environmental problems as well as the still growing problem of HIV/AIDS, and creating a stable fiscal environment for investors. Current environmental issues include deforestation, land degradation, water pollution from agricultural runoff, sewage, industrial wastes, and siltation of spawning grounds that endangers fish populations. Another economic development constraint is that of energy availability, and is an obstacle that is being taken up by the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Other development initiatives include that of USAID. The USAID health programs are improving access to quality health care, encouraging development of strong health policies, planning, and management, and strengthening the overall health care system. USAID is also strengthening the role and participation of community groups in the education process, support in decentralization in the education sector, and addressing underlying causes of hunger in Malawi.