Located in the south central part of the African continent the tiny nation of Malawi finds itself not easily seen or noticed on a world map. However, this is the only time Malawi makes a mark on the heart and soul of the visitor. Its size is no measure of its character. Malawi is considered by many to be the very essence of Africa. By any determination it is nearly impossible to define within itself, but perhaps it is better defined within its comparison to the entire African continent. The Ministry of Tourism, Parks and Wildlife explains it this way. Malawi “is not quite east, central or southern Africa, but contains elements of each: a touch of East Africa’s sensual magnetism, some of the mystery of Central Africa’s tropical forests, and the sheer delight of southern Africa’s exuberance.
”Malawi was established in 1891, the British protectorate of Nyasaland became the independent nation of Malawi in 1964. After three decades of one-party rule under President Hastings Kamuzu BANDA the country held multiparty elections in 1994, under a provisional constitution that came into full effect the following year.The current President Bingu wa MUTHARIKA was elected in May 2004 after a failed attempt by the previous president to amend the constitution to permit another term, struggled to assert his authority against his predecessor and subsequently started his own party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2005. As president, MUTHARIKA has overseen some economic improvement. Population growth, increasing pressure on agricultural lands, corruption, and the spread of HIV/AIDS pose major problems for Malawi. MUTHARIKA was reelected to a second term in May 2009.
Landlocked Malawi ranks among the world’s most densely populated and least developed countries. The economy is predominately agricultural with about 80% of the population living in rural areas. Agriculture, which has benefited from fertilizer subsidies since 2006, accounts for more than one-third of GDP and 90% of export revenues. The performance of the tobacco sector is key to short-term growth as tobacco accounts for more than half of exports. The economy depends on substantial inflows of economic assistance from the IMF, the World Bank, and individual donor nations. In 2006, Malawi was approved for relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) program.
In December 2007, the US granted Malawi eligibility status to receive financial support within the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) initiative. The government faces many challenges including developing a market economy, improving educational facilities, facing up to environmental problems, dealing with the rapidly growing problem of HIV/AIDS, and satisfying foreign donors that fiscal discipline is being tightened. Since 2005 President MUTHARIKA’S government has exhibited improved financial discipline under the guidance of Finance Minister Goodall GONDWE and signed a three year Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility worth $56 million with the IMF.
Improved relations with the IMF lead other international donors to resume aid as well. The government has announced infrastructure projects that could yield improvements, such as a new oil pipeline, for better fuel access, and the potential for a waterway link through Mozambican rivers to the ocean, for better transportation options. Since 2009, however, Malawi has experienced some setbacks, including a general shortage of foreign exchange, which has damaged its ability to pay for imports, and fuel shortages that hinder transportation and productivity. Investment fell 23% in 2009, and continued to decline in 2010. The government has failed to address barriers to investment such as unreliable power, water shortages, poor telecommunications infrastructure, and the high costs of services.
The first thing to keep in mind when learning about Malawian culture is that, as in America , there is no single Malawian culture. Malawi is made up of many diverse tribes, and those tribes vary considerably in their beliefs, music, dance, customs, even in the ways they build their houses. By boiling down our presentation to the bare essentials (in the interest of not confusing or overwhelming you), we are losing a lot of the richness in Malawi ‘s many cultural heritages. What follows is an attempt to acclimate a first-time visitor to some of the more noticeable customs they will find in Malawi .