Official name: Republic of Malawi
Area: 118,480 square kilometers (45,745 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mount Mulanje (3,002 meters/9,849 feet)
Lowest point on land: Shire River at the Mozambique border (37 meters/121 feet)
Hemispheres: Southern and Eastern
Time zone: 2 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 257 kilometers (160 miles) from east to west; 853 kilometers (530 miles) from north to south
Land boundaries: 2,881 kilometers (1,790 miles) total boundary length; Mozambique 1,569 kilometers (975 miles); Tanzania 475 kilometers (295 miles); Zambia 837 kilometers (520 miles)
Territorial sea limits: None
Malawi, an inland nation in southeastern Africa, is well within the southern troh2cs. Its territory extends from north to south for 901 kilometers (560 miles) at an average width of less than 161 kilometers (100 miles), in a southern segment of the East African Rift Valley. With an area of 118,480 square kilometers (45,745 square miles), Malawi is slightly larger than the state of Pennsylvania. Malawi is divided into twenty-seven districts.
Malawi has no territories or dependencies.
Variations in altitude in Malawi lead to wide differences in climate. The vast water surface of Lake Malawi has a cooling effect, but because of the low elevation, the lands surrounding the lake have long hot seasons and high humidity, with a mean annual temperature of 24°C (75°F). Lilongwe, in Central Malawi, at an elevation of 1,041 meters (3,415 feet), has a moderately warm climate with adequate rainfall. The average daily minimum and maximum temperatures in November, the hottest month, are 17°C (63°F) and 29°C (84°F) respectively; those in July, the coolest month, are 7°C (45°F) and 23°C (73°F).
In general, the four seasons may be divided into the cool (May to mid-August); the hot (mid-August to November); the rainy (November to April), with rains continuing longer in the northern and eastern mountains; and the post-rainy (April to May), with temperatures falling in May. Precipitation is heaviest along the northern coast of Lake Malawi, where the yearly average is more than 163 centimeters (64 inches). About 70 percent of the country averages about 75 to 100 centimeters (30 to 40 inches) annually.
A complex geologic history has contributed to the formation of a landscape of great diversity in elevations and relief features. Flood-plains, marshes, hills, plateaus, escarpments, and mountains range from a few hundred feet above sea level in the lower valley of the Shire River to more than 2,590 meters (8,500 feet) in several widely separated sections of the country.
Malawi is landlocked.
Lake Malawi (also called Lake Nyasa), one of the largest and deepest lakes in the world, extends from north to south for more than 563 kilometers (350 miles), occupying the floor of a major southern segment of the East African Rift Valley system. Lake Chilwa is a complex of lakes and marshes in the southwest that has no outlet to the sea. Shallow and saline, it is subject to seasonal variations in water level and has numerous islands, two of which are permanently inhabited.
The Shire River drains the overrun from Lake Malawi, flowing southward through Lake Malombe and then continuing southward toward the Zambezi River. The Lilongwe River is dry for nearly one month each year. West of Zomba, numerous rapids and cataracts restrict transportation.
There are no deserts in Malawi.
In addition to the Shire, Lilongwe, and Nyika Plateaus, the country has extensive flat or rolling surfaces that range from 762 to 1,371 meters (2,500 to 4,500 feet) above sea level.
A few mountain ranges rise above the level of the highest plateaus. In the north, several peaks on the Nyika Plateau reach 2,590 meters (8,500 feet). The highest summit in the central region is Dedza Mountain, at 2,255 meters (7,400 feet). In the south, Zomba Mountain rises over 2,072 meters (6,800 feet). The Mulanje mountain system (also called the Mulanje Plateau, or the Mulanje Massif) near the southeastern border is Malawi's highest range. The highest pinnacle, Mt. Mulanje, rises to 3,002 meters (9,849 feet).
One of Malawi's most picturesque sites is the steep Ruo Gorge at Minunu on the Mulanje Massif. Many of the massif's steep cliffs are more than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) high.
Malawi's plateaus are its most important geographic feature, forming three-fourths of its land area.
The Shire Plateau in the south covers about 7,251 square kilometers (2,800 square miles). Blantyre, Malawi's largest town, and the village of Zomba lie on this plateau.
The Lilongwe Plain is a much broader plateau in the central region, covering about 23,309 square kilometers (9,000 square miles). It has numerous broad valleys and dambos (areas of moist soils on impermeable subsur-face layers) separated by low, rounded hills. The Nyika Plateau in the north is the highest in Malawi. It covers some 23,309 square kilometers (9,000 square miles) at elevations between 2,133 and 2,438 meters (7,000 and 8,000 feet).
The Mulunguzi Dam on the Zomba Plateau is among Malawi's largest dams. A major enlargement of the dam was carried out in the late 1990s with financial assistance from the World Bank.
Briggs, Philip. Bradt: Guide to Malawi . 2nd ed. Chalfont St Peter, UK: Bradt Publications, 1999.
O'Toole, Thomas. Malawi in Pictures . Minneapolis: Lerner Publishing Group, 1989.
Young, Anthony. A Geography of Malawi . Limited ed. London: Evans Bros., 1991.
Lonely Planet Guides: Destination Malawi. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/africa/Malawi/ (accessed April 8, 2003).
Malawi Government Ministry of Tourism. http://www.tourismmalawi.com/About%20Malawi/malbrief.html (accessed April 8, 2003).