Malawi country profile
Malawi, a largely agricultural country, is making efforts to overcome decades of underdevelopment, corruption and the impact of an HIV-Aids problem, which claims the lives of tens of thousands every year.
A programme to tackle HIV-Aids was launched in 2004, with the then-President Bakili Muluzi revealing that his brother had died from the disease.
Malawi is one of the world's worst-hit by HIV-Aids and home to more than one million children orphaned by the disease.
For the first 30 years of independence Malawi was run by an authoritarian and quixotic President Hastings Kamuzu Banda, but democratic institutions have taken a firm hold since he relinquished power in the mid-1990s.
Most Malawians rely on subsistence farming, but the food supply situation is precarious because of the climate.
In recent years the country has achieved economic growth.
The Republic of Malawi
Population 18 million
Area 118,484 sq km (45,747 sq miles)
Major languages English, Chichewa (both official)
Major religions Christianity, Islam
Life expectancy 60 years (men), 65 years (women)
Currency Malawi kwacha
President: Peter Mutharika
Peter Mutharika won the presidential election in May 2014, two years after his brother, Bingu wa Mutharika, died while serving as president.
He was charged with treason for trying to conceal his brother's death in an alleged bid to prevent Joyce Banda - the then-president - from assuming office. The charges when dropped when he became president.
As a former foreign minister and his brother's right-hand man, he was also a leading member of an administration widely blamed for bringing the economy to its knees through years of mismanagement.
Mr Mutharika was aged 74 at the time of taking office. He has come to blows with the media over reporting about his health.
Radio is the medium of choice, and state-run MBC is the main national broadcaster. A state TV station opened in 1999.
The private press presents a range of opinions, although the government has used libel and other laws to put pressure on newspaper journalists.
Some key dates in Malawi's history:
1480 - Bantu tribes unite several smaller political states to form the Maravi Confederacy which at its height includes large parts of present-day Zambia and Mozambique plus the modern state of Malawi.
17th century - Portuguese explorers arrive from the east coast of present-day Mozambique.
1850 - Scottish missionary David Livingstone's exploration of the region paves the way for missionaries, European adventurers, traders.
1891 - Britain establishes the Nyasaland and District Protectorate.
1915 - Reverend John Chilembwe leads a revolt against British rule, killing the white managers of a particularly brutal estate and displaying the head of one outside his church. He is shot dead by police within days.
1953 - Despite strong opposition from the Nyasaland African Congress and white liberal activists, Britain combines Nyasaland with the Federation of Northern and Southern Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe respectively).
1964 6 July - Nyasaland declares independence as Malawi. Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, "the black messiah", becomes president and rules over a one-party state for the next three decades.
1994 - Bakili Muluzi is elected president in first multi-party elections since independence. He immediately frees political prisoners and re-establishes freedom of speech.
2011 - Police kill 19 people in two days of protests against the way the economy is managed. Britain suspends aid over governance concerns. US follows suit.
2012 April - President Bingu wa Mutharika dies in office, is succeeded by vice-president Joyce Banda.
2014 May - Peter Mutharika, brother of Bingu wa Mutharika, wins presidential election.