Hominid remains and stone implements have been identified in Malawi
dating back more than 1 million years, and early humans inhabited the vicinity
of Lake Malawi 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. Human remains at a site dated
about 8000 BC show physical characteristics similar to peoples living today
in the Horn of Africa. At another site, dated 1500 BC, the remains possess
features resembling Negro and Bushman people.
Although the Portuguese reached the area in the 16th century, the first
significant Western contact was the arrival of David Livingstone along
the shore of Lake Malawi in 1859. Subsequently, Scottish Presbyterian churches
established missions in Malawi. One of their objectives was to end the
slave trade to the Persian Gulf that continued to the end of the 19th century.
In 1878, a number of traders, mostly from Glasgow, formed the African Lakes
Company to supply goods and services to the missionaries. Other missionaries,
traders, hunters, and planters soon followed.
In 1883, a consul of the British Government was accredited to the "Kings
and Chiefs of Central Africa," and in 1891, the British established the
Nyasaland Protectorate (Nyasa is the Chichewa word for "lake"). Although
the British remained in control during the first half of the 1900s, this
period was marked by a number of unsuccessful Malawian attempts to obtain
independence. A growing European and U.S.-educated African elite became
increasingly vocal and politically active--first through associations,
and after 1944, through the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC).
During the 1950s, pressure for independence increased when Nyasaland
was joined with Northern and Southern Rhodesia in 1953 to form the Federation
of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. In July 1958, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda returned
to the country after a long absence in the United States (where he had
obtained his medical degree at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee
in 1937), the United Kingdom (where he practiced medicine), and Ghana.
He assumed leadership of the NAC, which later became the Malawi Congress
Party (MCP). In 1959, Banda was sent to Gwelo Prison for his political
activities but was released in 1960 to participate in a constitutional
conference in London.
On April 15, 1961, the MCP won an overwhelming victory in elections
for a new Legislative Council. It also gained an important role in the
new Executive Council and ruled Nyasaland in all but name a year later.
In a second constitutional conference in London in November 1962, the British
Government agreed to give Nyasaland self-governing status the following
Dr. Banda became Prime Minister on February 1, 1963, although the British
still controlled Malawi's financial, security, and judicial systems. A
new constitution took effect in May 1963, providing for virtually complete
internal self-government. The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was
dissolved on December 31, 1963, and Malawi became a fully independent member
of the Commonwealth (formerly the British Commonwealth) on July 6, 1964.
Two years later, Malawi adopted a new constitution and became a one-party
state with Dr. Banda as its first president.
In 1970 Dr. Banda was declared President for life of the MCP, and in
1971 Banda consolidated his power and was named President for life of Malawi
itself. The paramilitary wing of the Malawi Congress Party, the Young Pioneers,
helped keep Malawi under authoritarian control until the 1990s. Increasing
domestic unrest and pressure from Malawian churches and from the international
community led to a referendum in which the Malawian people were asked to
vote for either a multi-party democracy or the continuation of a one-party
state. On June 14, 1993, the people of Malawi voted overwhelmingly in favor
of multi-party democracy. Free and fair national elections were held on
May 17, 1994.
Bakili Muluzi, leader of the United Democratic Front (UDF), was elected
President in those elections. The UDF won 82 of the 177 seats in the National
Assembly and formed a coalition government with the Alliance for Democracy
(AFORD). That coalition disbanded in June 1996, but some of its members
remained in the government. The President is referred to as Dr. Muluzi,
having received an honorary degree at Lincoln University in Missouri in
1995. Malawi's newly written constitution (1995) eliminated special powers
previously reserved for the Malawi Congress Party. Accelerated economic
liberalization and structural reform accompanied the political transition.
On June 15, 1999, Malawi held its second democratic elections. Dr. Bakili
Muluzi was re-elected to serve a second 5-year term as President, despite
an MCP-AFORD Alliance that ran a joint slate against the UDF. As of October
2001, the UDF holds 96 seats in the National Assembly, while the AFORD
holds 30, and the MCP holds 61. Six seats are held by members of the recently
formed NDA party. The National Assembly has 193 members, of whom just under
10% are women..