Malawi, officially known as the “Republic of Malawi,” is one of the 7 countries that belong to both the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) trade blocs. It is a landlocked country that neighbours with Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique. Its surface area is approximately 118,484 square kilometres, of which 20 percent is covered by Lake Malawi.
Ranked as the 18th least developed country in the world in the 2013 UNDP Human Development Report, Malawi has about 85 percent of its population living in rural areas. Current development policies and strategies for Malawi reflect the “Vision 2020” strategy which was developed in 1998 and presents the country’s development goals by the year 2020. In the strategy Malawi is working to be a God fearing nation that is secure, democratically mature, environmentally sustainable, self-reliant, providing equal opportunities for active participation by all, have vibrant cultural values, technologically driven, and able to provide all the social services.
Although the country got independence from the British in 1964 the first multi-party elections were held in 1994 after a 31-year dictatorship by the late President Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda. Currently, the president is Dr. Joyce Banda who took office following the sudden death of Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika in April 2011. She is Malawi's fourth president and the country’s first female president.
Malawi’s economy has largely been agricultural based, with the sector contributing more than one-third of Gross Domestic Product and 90% of export revenues. In recent years, efforts have been made to diversify the economy to other sectors such as mining, tourism and service sectors. Consequently, the contribution of other sectors to GDP has increased with agriculture declining from about 38 percent in 1994 to about 27 percent in 2010.
In the past, the economy has been dependent on substantial economic aid from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other countries. In December 2000, the IMF stopped aid disbursements to Malawi due to corruption concerns, and many individual donors followed suit, resulting in an almost 80% drop in Malawi's development budget. However, in 2005, Malawi was the recipient of over US$575 million in aid, and experienced remarkable economic growth of about 8 percent every year in 2007 to 2008.
This growth slowed down after 2009 when yet again, donors froze aid to the country citing economic mismanagement by the Mutharika administration. This led the government to adopt the Zero-Deficit budget in 2010 which was bemoaned by the local citizenry as it placed a heavy tax burden on them and let to forex and fuel crises. Civil Society and opposition political parties made several attempts to repeal the regime which led to nation-wide demonstrations in July 2010 which claimed 22 lives. The economy was stabilised when Mutharika passed on and Banda took over in April 2011.
The Malawi government faces challenges in building and expanding the economy, improving education, health care, environmental protection, and becoming financially independent.
According to the Human Development Report of 2013, Malawi’s Human Development Index (HDI) is 0.418 which ranks the country at 170 out of 187 countries. Although Malawi has improved the welfare of its citizens, the country still faces a number of challenges including: insufficient energy generation and supply; high transportation costs; inadequate skilled human resource; inadequate financial resources; narrow export base; inadequate diversification; high illiteracy levels; high population growth; over dependence on rain-fed agriculture and HIV and AIDS pandemic.
Several development milestones have been achieved by Malawi over the years. The poverty headcount has declined from 50 percent in 2005 to 39 percent in 2010 while the proportion of population below minimum level of dietary energy requirement has decreased from about 22 percent in 2005 to 15 percent in 2009.
There has been an increase in primary school net enrolment from 73 percent in 2006 to 83 percent in 2009 while youth literacy rate has increased from 74.9 percent in 2005 to about 84 percent in 2009. Progress has also been made on gender equality and empowerment of women. The ratio of girls to boys in primary school has increased from 0.95 in 2005 to 1.03 in 2009. The proportion of seats held by women in Parliament has significantly improved from 14 percent in 2004 to 22 percent in 2009.
In addition, progress has also been made on reducing child mortality and improving maternal health. Infant mortality rate has declined from 76 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2004 to 66 per 1,000 live births in 2010, while under-five mortality rate has declined from 133 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2004 to 112 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2010. Maternal mortality rate has declined from 984 births per 100,000 live births in 2004 to 675 births per 100,000 live births in 2010. The HIV prevalence rate among pregnant women aged 15 to 24 years has declined from about 14.3 percent in 2005 to 12 percent in 2009, while deaths associated with tuberculosis cases has declined from 19 percent in 2005 to 8 percent in 2009 ( DHS Report, 2010). Life expectancy also increased from 40 years in 2005 to 49 years in 2010 (DHS, 2010).