In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. Nyasaland is Number 95 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Nyasaland (present-day Malawi) takes its name from Lake Nyasa. In September 1859 the Scottish explorer and missionary David Livingstone became the first European to sight the lake, the third largest in Africa. Increased British missionary and commercial activity followed. In the 1880s, Portugal asserted claims to the territory by virtue of its presence in the neighboring colony of Mozambique. Britain resisted the Portuguese claims and on May 14, 1891 proclaimed a protectorate over Nyasaland. The book covers physical and political geography, political history, social and political conditions, and economic conditions. It includes a brief discussion of the different ethnic and linguistic groups in the population, the composition of which had greatly changed over the course of the last century as a consequence of slave raids and tribal migrations. The economic section notes the inadequate transportation network and discusses the various plans to supplement the one existing railroad—the Shire Highlands Railway from Blantyre to Port Herald (present-day Nsanje) and from Port Herald to the Zambezi River in Mozambique—with extensions and other lines. The protectorate’s main crops are listed as coffee, cotton, tea, and fibers. Nyasaland became part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1953 and, following dissolution of the federation, achieved full independence as the Republic of Malawi on July 6, 1964.

Last updated: March 24, 2015