Malawi: History

The warm heart of Africa

Malawi History

Malawi had a very small population before the Bantu tribe began emigrating from the north around the 10th century. By 1500 AD, they had established a kingdom that reached from north of what is now Nkhotakota to the Zambezi and from Lake Malawi to the Luangwa River, what is now Zambia. In the 1600’s, tribesmen began trading and making alliances with Portugeuse traders and military personnel.

The British explorer David Livingstone reached Lake Malawi (then Lake Nyasa) in 1859. He named Malawi ‘Nysaland’, which it was known under British rule until Dr. Kamuzu Banda was elected president of the NAC (Nyasaland African Congress). After being jailed by the British for mobilizing nationlist sentiment, Banda was released in 1960 and asked to help draft a new constitution for Nyasaland, with a clause granting Africans the majority in the colony's Legislative Counsel.

In 1961, Banda's MCP (Malawi Congress Party) gained the majority in the Legislative Counsel and Banda was elected prime minister in 1963. On July 6, 1964, Nyasaland became independent from British rule and renamed itself Malawi. Under a new constitution, Malawi became a single-party state under MCP rule and Banda declared himself president-for-life in 1970. Banda ruled the country for 30 years, suppressing opposition to his party and ensuring that he had no personal opposition. His reign was however successful for the ecomomy of the country.

Banda agreed to a referendum in 1993, after pressure for political freedom. The populace voted for a multiparty democracy. Following the elections, in late 1993, a presidential council was formed, the life presidency was abolished and a new constitution was put into place, effectively ending the MCP's rule. In 1994 the first multi-party elections were held in Malawi, and Bakili Muluzi became president. Muluzi remained president until 2004, when Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika was elected and rules to this day.