The Flag of Malawi: History, Meaning, and Symbolism

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Written by Taiwo Victor

Published: January 15, 2023

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Malawi, previously known as Nyasaland, is a landlocked country in southeastern Africa surrounded by Mozambique on the east, west, and south, Zambia on the northwest, and Tanzania on the northeast. Malawi also features Lake Malawi, also known as Lake Nyasa, which separates it from Mozambique. Lilongwe is the country’s capital, as well as the largest city.

Malawi has a land mass of 118,484 km² (45,746 square miles) and is one of the world’s most densely populated countries, with almost 20 million inhabitants as of 2021. Not only that, it comes under one of the least developed nations in the world. 

Malawi is divided into three primary regions – Central, Northern, and Southern. Furthermore, it also features three geographical areas – Shire Highlands, the Central African Plateau, and the Rift Valley. The country’s economy is largely based on agriculture, with tobacco as its top exported product. English and Nyanja remain Malawi’s official languages.

Malawi has quite a rich history, grounded in the slave trade and colonization, and the country’s independence didn’t come cheap. Furthermore, its flag’s current design can be traced back to the country’s independence in 1964. Read on to discover the country’s flag’s history, meaning, and symbolism.

The Founding of Malawi

Malawi is a landlocked country in Southeastern Africa.

©iStock.com/Bertrand Godfroid

About 2000 years ago, Malawi was inhabited by a few people who were hunter-gatherers. Then, the Bantus settled in the area, introducing farming, tools, and weapons to the region. The people in this region began to establish villages and settlements, and by the 15th century, they had created an empire named Maravi, south of Lake Nyasa. The Maravi Empire expanded so much that, by the 18th century, it included parts of Mozambique and Zimbabwe. 

Unfortunately, the Portuguese arrived at the Maravi Empire and sold maize to the people of this land in exchange for ivory and enslaved people. The empire finally fell apart in the 18th century.

In 1859, a Scottish missionary and explorer, David Livingstone, arrived at Lake Nyasa. Other missionaries arrived shortly after and built missions in the region. As more missionaries moved into Malawi, British traders started selling goods in the area until they finally took control of the entire region.

In 1889, the British created the Shire Highlands Protectorate. By 1891, a large portion of Malawi had been transformed into the British Central African Protectorate, with Harry Johnston as the first commissioner. The British put an end to the slave trade and established coffee plantations, and Malawi was renamed Nyasaland by the British in 1907.

However, as more Africans were getting educated, they became dissatisfied with Europe’s sovereignty. This led to the creation of the Nyasaland African Congress in 1944, with Malawians becoming a part of the legislative council in 1949. Afterward, in 1953, the Europeans brought Nyasaland, Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) together to form a unit known as the Central African Federation (CAF).

In 1958, Dr. Hasting Banda was selected as the head of the African Congress, which later became Malawi Congress Party (MCP). As more people protested against British rule, a state of emergency was proclaimed, and Banda was thrown in prison. The British finally realized they couldn’t prevent the inevitable and agreed to grant Malawi independence in 1962. CAF was dissolved in 1963, and Malawi gained independence on the 6th of July, 1964. The country became a republic in 1966, with Banda as the first president.

After independence, Banda started a dictatorship rule, suppressing opposition parties and making the country a one-party state. He planned to be the president for life. However, in 1993, Banda accepted a referendum where the life presidency was nullified, and a multi-party democracy was created. This referendum also brought the MCP’s reign to an end. After a multi-party election in 1994, Bakili Muluzi emerged as president.

History of the Flag of Malawi

The flag of Malawi was first adopted on the 6th of July, 1964.

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Malawi adopted its first official flag on the 6th of July, 1964, the same day it gained independence. Its design consisted of three equal horizontal bars—black, red, and green. This flag was similar to the one used by the Malawi Congress Party. A red half-sun was imprinted on the top bar (black) to differentiate it from the party flag.

A new design was proposed when a new government took over. It was accepted on the 29th of July, 2010, and first flown on the 7th of August that same year. In this new design, the three stripes were rearranged to red-black-green, and the red half-sun was replaced with a full white sun and placed in the flag’s center. This change was because the half-red sun represented a new country, while the full white symbolized Malawi’s full development as a nation.

Unfortunately, many of the country’s population did not accept this new flag design—many preferred the previous one. Following the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika, Joyce Banda, the successor, started a movement to restore the old flag. The old design was readopted on the 28th of May, 2012. 

The Symbolism of the Flag of Malawi

The black stripe on the flag of Malawi represents the African people of Malawi.

©iStock.com/Enrique Ramos Lopez

Malawi’s current flag consists of three horizontal stripes (black-red-green). The black stripe, which represents the African people of the Malawi nation, features a half-sun with 31 rays. At the same time, the red bar signifies the blood shed by the citizens in the fight for independence, and the green color symbolizes the vegetation of Malawi. The rising sun symbolizes hope after independence, but it also represents Malawi’s meaning, “flaming waters.” This name was derived from how Lake Nyasa looks at sunset.

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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals, tech, and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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