Malawi, a largely agricultural country, is making efforts to overcome decades of underdevelopment.
For the first 30 years of independence Malawi was run by an authoritarian and quixotic President Hastings Kamuzu Banda, but democratic institutions have taken 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 significant 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: Lazarus Chakwera
Mr Chakwera was sworn in as president in June 2020, ending a period of turmoil after annulled elections the previous year.
A Christian preacher and theologian, he beat the incumbent president Peter Mutharika in a re-run of the 2019 poll, which the courts decided had seen widespread irregularities.
President Chakwera has pledged to try to unite the country after the bruising political stand-off.
Radio is the leading medium and state-run MBC is the main national broadcaster.
The freedom to inform has improved and the number of abuses against journalists has fallen dramatically, says Reporters Without Borders.
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.