Malawi is a landlocked independent republic with a democratic government. It lies south of Tanzania and to the west of Mozambique and forms part of the Southern African Region. The capital city is Lilongwe. Other major cities are Blantyre and Zomba.

The official languages are English and Chichewa. Malawi’s economy is predominantly agricultural. The local currency is the Malawian kwacha. (US$ / M Kw – current exchange rate). Around 15% (1999) of the population is currently HIV positive, however, this figure is forecast to grow to around 25% by 2010.

Malawi is one of the least developed countries in the world. The economy is based predominantly on agriculture, which accounts for almost half of GDP and almost all export revenues. Cotton, sugar, tobacco and sugar dominate the country’s exports. The economy depends on the IMF, World Bank and donor assistance. In the mid 1990s, sound policy contributed to an average annual growth rate of around 9 percent. However, the pace of reforms slowed, and expenditure control weakened in 1997/98. The new Malawian government faces the challenges of promoting exports, improving both educational and health facilities and dealing with the environmental issues of deforestation and erosion.

In mid 1999, Malawi joined neighbouring countries in creating the Mtwara development corridor. The project aims to promote trade and development in the region.

The Malawi oil industry is one of the key elements in the economy of the country. The country has no upstream oil industry and all petroleum products are imported. A number of international oil companies have distribution and marketing activities in the country. Malawi has a fledgling mining industry that has considerable potential. Electricity is provided by the parastatal utility Electricity Supply Commission of Malawi (ESCOM).

The international time zone for Malawi is GMT +2 and the international dialling code is +265. The principal airlines which fly to Malawi are British Airways, Air France, KLM and the national carrier, Air Malawi. A number of regional airlines also serve the country. As at January 1996, most nationals except those of Commonwealth countries, Western European countries, South Africa, the USA and Japan require visas in order to visit Malawi.

Malaria, tuberculosis, cholera, hepatitis A, typhoid fever and schistosomiasis (bilharzia) may be contracted while travelling in Malawi.

Travellers should be aware that advance payment for medical services might be required. Prescription medicines should be carried in their original containers together with the prescription. It is wise to take all medication required for the duration of ones visit, as medical facilities and hospitals are very basic in Malawi. Only boiled or bottled water should be drunk.

Shaun Bakamoso

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