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Brief Facts

Lilongwe (0.87 million)
15.4 million
Chichewa 57.2% (official); Chinyanja 12.8%; Chiyao 10.1%; Chitumbuka 9.5%
Christian 79.9%; Muslim 12.8%; Other 3.0%; None 4.3%
Time Zone:
UTC/GMT +2 hours
International Dialling Code:
Additional Facts
Central Africa
Neighbouring Countries:
Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia
Birth Rate:
41.28 per 1000
Death Rate:
13.69 per 1000
Life Expectancy at birth:
50.92 years (male 50.22; female 51.64)
62.7% (male 76.1%; female 49.8%)
Government Type:
Multiparty Democracy
Sub-tropical; rainy season (Nov-May); dry season (May to Nov)
Malawian Kwacha (MWK)
Basic Facts Only
MALAWI, which is known as 'The Warm Heart of Africa', ranks among the world's least developed countries. The economy is predominately agricultural, with about 90% of the population living in rural areas. Nationwide, the affects of an HIV/AIDS epidemic, along with widespread poverty, pose huge challenges.


Historical Background

The first human inhabitants of what is now known as Malawi, date back to 8000 - 2000 BC. Bantu-speaking peoples migrated to the area between the 1st and 4th centuries AD and further migrations of Bantu-speaking people took place in between the 13th and 15th centuries. Several major kingdoms were established in the pre-colonial period: the Maravi in 1480, the Ngonde in 1600, and the Chikulamayembe in the 18th century.

A large slave trade took place in the 18th and 19th centuries and brought Islam to the region. Around the same time, missionaries introduced Christianity. David Livingstone reached Lake Malawi in 1859.

In 1891, Britain annexed what was then known as Nyasaland, following a dispute with Arab slave traders and made it a protectorate in 1892. In 1953 Nyasaland was incorporated into the Federation of Central Africa.

On 6 July 1964, Nyasaland became the independent nation of Malawi and Dr. Hastings K Banda became the country's first Prime Minister. In 1966, Malawi declared itself a Republic within the Commonwealth and Dr. Banda changed his title to President. The constitution established a one-party state and opposition organisations were suppressed. In 1971, Dr. Banda was voted President for life and, until 1994, ruled over the authoritarian government.

Following nationwide protests in 1992, a referendum was held in 1993 which gave overwhelming support to ending one-party rule. One year later, Malawi's first free elections in over thirty years resulted in Mr Bakili Muluzi of the United Democratic Front coming to power in June 1994 and, since then, Malawi has been a multi-party democracy. The current President is Bingu wa Mutharika who was elected in 2004.

However after 1994, although Malawi was no longer under Banda's repressive society, the new government faced significant allegations of corruption. As with previous administrations, the government struggled to deal with the huge problems of poverty in the country. There have been several major food shortages in the country in recent years, with the worst being in 2005 when more than 4 million people, just over a third of the population, were without adequate food supplies.

More on: History of Malawi (Nyasaland)



Malawi has a large range of natural beauty in a relatively small country - 118,484 square kilometres or 45,747 square miles (roughly the size of England, or one and a half times the size of Ireland). It is land-locked, under-developed and without significant mineral wealth (such as coal or oil). It is located in southeast Africa and borders the countries of Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania.

There are magnificent mountains, rolling grassy plains and the vast Lake Malawi. This huge lake has sandy beaches with palm trees. There is a rich variety of trees, but de-forestation is a major problem as population increases.

Lake Malawi occupies 20% of the area of the country. It is 580 km (360miles) long by 80 km (50miles) wide, the third largest lake in Africa, and the tenth largest in the world. Steamer services operate for both business and pleasure. A round trip takes five days! Lake Malawi forms most of the country's eastern border and the north-south Rift Valley is flanked by mountain ranges and high plateaus.

Malawi has a rich and diverse animal and wildlife population including elephants, rhinoceroses, giraffes, zebras, monkeys, antelope, snakes, reptiles and a great variety of birds, insects and fish.

Malawi lies completely within the tropics. The climate is not hot with continuous sunshine all year as most people imagine. Usually it is pleasant and temperate almost everywhere.

The summer and winter seasons are the reverse of ours - summer is November to March, and winter is May to August. The main difference between summer and winter is not so much the temperatures, as the rainfall. Malawian people speak more often of the wet season (November to April) and the dry season (May to October), rather than summer and winter.

THE DRY SEASON - May to October - The countryside, which is quite green in May and June, becomes very dry with a brown appearance by August or September. It is also reasonably cool in June and July, as most of the country is over 1,000m/3,000ft. above sea level. It becomes quite hot during September, and by October is also usually quite humid.

THE WET SEASON - November to April - The heaviest rainfall is between December and March. Usually the rain is in the afternoon and evening. The showers are quite heavy, but only last an hour or two. It becomes cooler after a rain storm and perhaps bright and sunny for a day or two. However, the clouds build up again and more rain then falls.

Late or low rainfall can lead to great hardship by causing crop failure and water shortages. Torrential rain and thunderstorms can destroy crops and gravel roads, cutting villages off from each other.

Average Temperatures: Summer November to February 20C
Winter June to August 15C

The variation in altitude has a significant effect on temperatures:- in low lying areas, e.g. the Shire Lowlands, it can be well over 30C, but in the mountains the temperature can drop to 10C or less in winter.

Apart from being a little too cool in the Northern Highlands and a bit too hot in the Southern Lowlands the climate is very pleasant all year round.


Society and Culture


Most of the people living in Malawi are descended from Bantu-speaking people. In the 17th century Chief Karonga dominated an area larger than modern Malawi. The Maravi, from which today's name is derived, were a people who came into the area between the 13th and 16th centuries from what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. During the 19th century Arabs engaged in a slave trade in eastern Africa. At this time other groups arrived in the area - the warlike Ngoni moved north from southern Africa and Europeans also arrived.

There are over 22 Bantu people groups living in Malawi. The official languages are Chichewa and English, and in total there are around 15 languages spoken by different people groups.

SOME WORDS: The Chichewa/Chinyanja language -

moni - hello; muli bwanji - how are you?; zikomo - thank you; ndili bwino - I am well

Malawi's tourist brochures speak of 'The Warm Heart of Africa'. This is a description that applies equally to the people as to the country. Malawian friendliness and hospitality is a by-word in southern Africa.


Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. It is also one of the most densely populated counties in Africa and has a high population growth rate. Most people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Agriculture accounts for 37% of GDP and 85% of export revenues. The high population density, combined with a great dependence on the land for agriculture and fuel, leads to great pressure on the land.

Most Malawians are subsistence farmers, and the country is prone to natural disasters of drought and at other times heavy rainfall - leading to crop failures and major food shortages.

More than half of the population live below the poverty line. Life expectancy is estimated at around 37 to 40years for men and women. Tens of thousands of Malawians die of AIDS every year which affects mainly people of working age, often leaving behind children who then have to be looked after by other family members or orphanages.

The economy depends on substantial international economic assistance and aid. A market economy has yet to be fully developed. Education needs to be improved (the literacy rate is around 56%), and the rapidly growing problem of HIV/AIDS, as well as environmental problems all need to be addressed before the country's economy can improve significantly.

There is little industry in Malawi. It consists mainly of food processing, sugar refining, textile, footwear and furniture manufacturing. Tea, coffee, tobacco and sugar are grown and exported by international companies, and benefit Malawians little.

Many of the kind of fish we see in aquariums come from Lake Malawi which is a fresh water lake. Sadly it has been over-fished in recent times. Fruit and vegetables are plentiful all year round, e.g. bananas, pineapples, mangoes, papaya, avocados, tomatoes, onions, cabbage.

Most people use firewood for cooking and oil lamps for light as electricity does not reach all areas and is expensive. Malawi is fortunate in being able to use the waters of the Shire River to generate hydro-electricity but in recent years low water levels have affected supplies.

There is one major road system running from the extreme south to the north, connecting Malawi with the neighbouring countries of Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania. Most roads in the country are dirt roads which are dusty in the dry season and sometimes impassable in the wet season.

Tourism is being developed with some South African companies playing a role, but this remains a largely underdeveloped area of the economy.


Lilongwe has been the official capital city since 1975. It was chosen for its location in the Central Region. Lilongwe consists of two parts: the old commercial trading city, and the newer capital city which is home to the diplomatic community. There is a distance of several miles between the two areas. The old part is now developing along modern lines. The main international airport is situated just north of the city.

Blantyre is the thriving commercial and industrial centre of the country, surrounded by some of the peaks of the Shire Highlands. Blantyre is ringed by wealthier suburbs of low-density housing and crowded townships. It also has a busy airport which has been redeveloped to cater once again for international flights.

Zomba was the capital of Malawi, but lost this status as it is too far south. As well as its significant historical roots, Zomba continues to be an important city playing host to the major university campus. It is regarded as the intellectual and academic centre of the country.

Mzuzu is the only city in the Northern Region and most traffic to Tanzania passes through it. Trucks crossing the border off-load their goods here.


Christianity in Malawi

Christianity was first introduced in Malawi by David Livingstone and other missionaries in the late 1800s and spread rapidly throughout the country. Christianity is the majority religion, with around 80% of the population claiming membership of a Christian Church. 

In Malawi, Christian churches and missions impact significantly. Around 40% of Malawi’s healthcare needs are being met by Christian churches, including the five hospitals run by the CCAP. Missions and churches also contribute greatly to development, relief and education. 

PCI partners with the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, the largest protest denomination in Malawi. CCAP has three autonomous Synods in Malawi: Blantyre, Livingstonia and Nkhoma. The Synods of Zambia and Harare complete the membership of CCAP’s General Assembly which normally meets every four years. The three Malawian Synods have programmes of Evangelism and Christian Training, and train ministers at Zomba Theological College (ZTC).  Due to the critical need for Ministers, all three Synods have started parallel theological training programmes. 

All three Synods of CCAP continue to be involved in Healthcare and, as well as running five hospitals, they are involved in extensive Public Health Care programmes, including HIV/AIDS education. CCAP provides Education through a widespread and growing network of primary, secondary and special needs schools.  Development and Relief Work is a growing ministry in both urban and rural areas.

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This page was last updated: 30/04/13
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