Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, its poverty severe and deeply-rooted. According to the 1998 census, 78 percent of the economically-active population were subsistence farmers . Even by African standards, the plight of these farmers is grave, with literacy low, access to water and sanitation poor, and disease and malnutrition endemic. Malawi's National Economic Council estimated in 2000 that 65.3 percent of Malawians were below the poverty line, "unable to meet their basic needs."
Yet Malawi also has pockets of considerable wealth. The Banda regime's policy in the 1970s and 1980s of large-scale agricultural and industrial development focused government resources on commercial enterprises. This consolidated the country's tiny political-entrepreneurial elite and further widened the gulf between it and Malawi's subsistence sector. Post-Banda politics are more open, but the political class remains small—President Muluzi, for example, was a former cabinet minister of Banda's—and recent corruption scandals suggest that patronage and favoritism are still inherent in the system.
|GDP per Capita (US$)|
|Dem. Rep. of Congo||392||313||293||247||127|
|SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.|
|Household Consumption in PPP Terms|
|Country||All food||Clothing and footwear||Fuel and power a||Health care b||Education b||Transport & Communications||Other|
|Dem. Rep. of Congo||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.|
|a Excludes energy used for transport.|
|b Includes government and private expenditures.|
|SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.|
Attempts to equalize the economic imbalance include the establishment the Land Reform Commission in 1996. The commission's report, issued in 1999, has recommended the replacement of freehold land ownership with 99-year leases, and the return of customary land from government control to tribal chiefs. A US$25 million land redistribution scheme was begun in 2001, which aims to resettle between 17,000 and 21,000 people on 14,000 hectares of land.