Radio is the main broadcast medium. State-run radio has the widest geographic broadcasting reach, but about a dozen privately-owned radio stations broadcast in major urban areas. The single TV network is government-owned and relays of multiple international broadcasters are available (2007).
Although fertile farmland is limited, agriculture dominates the economy employing more than 80% of the workforce. Tobacco is the leading export, followed by tea, sugar and cotton. Many farmers raise cattle, goats and other livestock.
There are two main seasons—the dry season, which lasts from May to October, and the wet season, which lasts from November to April. Temperatures vary seasonally, and they tend to decrease on average with increasing elevation.
Primary education is universal and compulsory. Students enter school at age six and remain for eight years. Secondary education begins when students reach 14 years of age and it lasts for four years and is divided into two sets of two-year courses.
A branch of the British Medical Association has been organized in Zomba. In the larger towns, musical societies and theater clubs have been established. Some social welfare and economic development groups have organized under the umbrella of the Council for Nongovernmental Organizations in Malawi, established in 1985.
Life expectancy was 39 years in 2000. The major health threats are malnutrition, malaria, tuberculosis, measles, dysentery and bilharzia. At the end of 2001 65% of the adult population had HIV/AIDS.
The transition from a one-party state to a multi-party democracy significantly strengthened the already cordial bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Malawi. Significant numbers of Malawians study in the United States. The United States has a Peace Corps program, President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program, and Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) program, as well as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Agency for International Development (USAID) missions in Malawi.
Fifty-five percent of the people belong to the Church of England but there are also Methodists, Baptists and Seventh Day Adventists. Twenty percent of the population are Muslim, and 20 percent are Catholic. There is a small Hindu presence.
The former British protectorate of Nyasaland gained independence, as Malawi, in 1964. In 1966 Malawi became a republic and a one-party state, with Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda as its first President. Malawi was the only African country to maintain full diplomatic relations with South Africa during the apartheid era.
The people of Malawi are more than 99% black African; the principal ethnic groups include the Chewa, Lomwe, Nyanja, and Yao. The rest of the inhabitants, principally settlers of British and Indian origin, form less than one-half of 1% of the population. Most of the people live in rural villages.