Malawi - History and Politics

Remains found in Malawi suggest that, like the rest of east Africa it supported hominid life millions of years ago and later stone-age cultures. An influx of pygmy-like people from the Congo about 3000BC left rock paintings in a number of locations. Bantu speaking populations migrated there between the 1st and 4th centuries AD.

David Livingstone mural

David Livingstone mural

By 1000AD there was trade with Arabs from Persia through the Swahili towns on the Mozambique coast. In the 16th century, the Portuguese took over this trade. The 19th century saw major upheavals of the slave trade and migrations of tribes from other areas (Ngoni from Natal and Yao from Mozambique). Arab traders and slavers brought Islam and European missionaries introduced Christianity. David Livingstone explored the area during 1859-61 and helped bring an end to the slave trade.

In 1891 Malawi became the British Protectorate of Nyasaland. Perhaps because of the lack of mineral deposits and the high population density, it was not colonised or developed as much as neighbouring Rhodesia.

Independence was achieved in 1964 and Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who had lived in London, returned to become President. Banda established one party rule and became an increasingly autocratic leader. In 1971, he made himself Life President. Following a period of unrest, Banda was forced to resign in 1993. From 1994 Malawi became a multi-party democracy.