So the country that I’ll be living in from August to December of 2011 is Malawi . Here are some key facts and figures about it that I know right now, I’ll see if I can update it with some first hand knowledge as I go along:
Malawi has been an independent country for 47 years, before that it was the British colony of Nyasaland. In the local language, Nyasa is the word for lake, which is appropriate since Malawi is basically the area surrounding Lake Malawi, which is the eighth largest lake in the world. In terms of land area Malawi is about the size of Newfoundland.
Geologically it’s part of the Great Rift Valley which is the geological depression that runs all the way from the Middle East through to south-east Africa. Basically it means that the continent of Africa is splitting apart, and someday far in the future there will be a new ocean where Malawi is currently. Until then we have a big valley filled with water called Lake Malawi, rather mountainous terrain and the occasional earthquake. 😦
In terms of people, it’s got a population of about 15 million people, making it one of the more densely populated countries in Africa. The most common local language is called Chichewa, but given Malawi’s status as a former British colony, the official language is English and tends to be the language spoken in the workplace.
Malawi is not a rich country. According to the 2010 United Nations Human Development Index, Malawi is 156th out of 172 ranked countries (Canada is 8th), putting it in the bottom 10% of the countries of the world.
Economically there are a whole bunch of inherent challenges, some of which are that by far the biggest agricultural crop is Tobacco, which with people quitting smoking in the developed world doesn’t really have much growth potential. Also Malawi is landlocked, meaning no shipping ports and high export costs. Deforestation is also a major problem since people cut down trees for firewood for cooking, and Malawi has very few mineral resources. This last point may actually be a good thing since it means that country won’t get exploited for mining purposes.
All that being said, Malawi does have a number things it it’s favor, such as having no history of militias or civil war, a somewhat effective democratic system, good relations with it’s neighbors and fairly good economic governance at the upper levels (at least from 2004-to 2009; lately there have been some bumps in the road). Also having the the global language of commerce (english) as the official language of the country doesn’t hurt either. So there’s potential here. The average per-capita annual income has actually doubled over the last five years or so, which sounds really impressive until you look at the numbers and realize that means it went from $142 to $328, so still a little ways to go there.