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).
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.
Malawi’s 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 country is dependent upon on the IMF, World Bank and donor assistance. In the mid 1990s, sound policy contributed to an average annual growth rate of around 9%. 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. The country is still reeling from the aftershock of a serious drought in 2002 that caused a significant drop in production and food shortages were widespread. The privatisation programme has gained momentum as huge bailouts from international donors highlighted the need for improvement in this arena.
In mid 1999, Malawi joined neighbouring countries in creating the Mtwara development corridor. The project aims to promote trade and development in the region.
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 main export commodities in Malawi include fish, furniture, gemstones, ground nuts, rice, rubber, sugar, tea and coffee, textiles and knitwear, tobaccos and cut flowers.
Import commodities include automobiles, consumer goods, dairy products, equipment, footwear & footwear components, fuel, machinery, medical and pharmaceutical goods and vehicles.
Exchange control is administered by the Reserve Bank of Malawi under the authority delegated by the Minister of Finance and exporters are allowed to operate foreign currency accounts in authorised banks and anyone can apply to open up a bureau de change throughout the country. The Malawi government has liberalised trade, foreign exchange and is in the process of reforming and rationalising the trade taxes and tariffs.
Most goods may be freely imported from Commonwealth countries who are members of WTO – under an open general licence and Malawi has established Export Processing Zones (EPZ).