Malawian Defence Force


The Malawian Defence Force[2] is the state military organisation responsible for defending Malawi. It originated from elements of the British King's African Rifles, colonial units formed before independence in 1964.

Malawian Defence Force
Coat of arms of Malawi.svg
Coat of arms of Malawi
Service branchesMalawi Army
Maritime Force[1]
Malawi Air Force
HeadquartersKamazu Barracks, Lilongwe
and Minister of Defence
Lazarus Chakwera
Commander of the Defence ForceVincent Nundwe
Military age18
Reaching military
age annually
(2002 est.)
Active personnel25,500 (ranked 140th)
Budget$9.5 million (FY00/01)
Percent of GDP0.76% (FY00/01)
Foreign suppliersFrance
United Kingdom
United States
Related articles
HistoryMozambican Civil War
Operation Bwezani
M23 Rebellion
ADF Insurgency
RanksMilitary ranks of Malawi

The military is organized under the purview of the Ministry of Defence.

Malawi ArmyEdit

Before independence, Malawi depended for its military supplies on the barracks in Rhodesia, as British colonial military logistics was usually organized on a continental basis, rather than at the level of individual colonies.[3] The Malawi Rifles were formed when the country gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1964. Its first battalion was formed from the 1st Battalion, King's African Rifles. On independence the battalion became 1st Battalion, The Malawi Rifles (King's African Rifles). They were based at what became the headquarters of the Malawi Army at Cobbe Barracks, Zomba. Cobbe Barracks had been named in May 1958 for British General Alexander Cobbe VC, who had served with the King's African Rifles. The Rifles were reportedly at a strength of 2,000 men at independence. On 6 July 1966 Malawi became a republic and Kamuzu Banda became the first president. After the swearing in ceremony his first duty was to present the battalion with his own presidential colour and the new regimental colour.[4] It was under the leadership of Brigadier Paul Lewis, a British expatriate;[5] Welsh Colonel Dudley Thornton commanded 1965-67. In 1966 it appears that perhaps 60% of the officers in the battalion were former non-commissioned officers.[6]

After the Cabinet Crisis of 1964, the Malawi Army destroyed Henry Chipembere's insurrection in Mangochi District and Machinga District in 1965.[5] Another of the ministers ousted during the Cabinet Crisis was Yatuta Chisiza. Chisiza fled to Tanzania, and founded the Socialist League of Malawi, the most radical Malawian opposition party. He also began to conduct guerilla operations against the Banda regime. In 1967 Chisiza and nine others entered Mwanza District from Tanzania.[7] In the following clash with the Army and Young Pioneers on 9 October 1967 he and two other members of insurgent forces were killed; five were captured; and the others fled.[8]

In 1970 the International Institute for Strategic Studies listed the Army as comprising one infantry battalion [1 MR at Zomba] and supporting services, having a strength of 1,150.[9]

Malawi was allied with Portugal during the Mozambican War of Independence (1964–74), and the Malawi Army consequently cooperated with the Portuguese Army to secure the Mozambican-Malawian border and arrest FRELIMO rebels. Following FRELIMO's victory and the independence of Mozambique, several Portuguese colonial secret police agents as well as FRELIMO deserters joined the Malawian Army.[10]

Gurkha officer John "Johnny" Clements was advanced to Acting Brigadier in May 1971, and commanded the Malawi Army until September 1972.[11] Thereupon the Army's first black commander, Brigadier Graciano Matewere was appointed. Hastings Banda promoted Matewere instantly to Major General after the resolution of the South African Airways hijacking in Blantyre in 1972.[12] Matewere was retired by Banda in 1980 and died in 2001.[13]

Declassified Defense Intelligence Agency reporting from 1985 states that "there is also a military college [likely the Kamuzu Military College, at Salima that is probably one of the finest, most efficiently organized, and operated military training schools in Sub-Saharan Africa. [It] conducts recruit training, numerous enlisted courses, officer cadet courses, [a] platoon leader course, company commanders course (sic), communications courses, NCO courses, a catering course, and will add a staff officers course in the future."[14] The same source listed the Army Commander as General Melvin Khanga, with the deputy commander, Lieutenant General Issac Yohane, and the Director of Training Major General Wilfred Mponela.

Transition to democracyEdit

In 1992-93, the army played a vital role in dismantling the dictatorship of Kamuzu Banda.[15]

After the 8 March 1992 pastoral letter:

There were public demonstrations in support of the bishops - notably at the University in Blantyre and Zomba, where soldiers indicated their support for the students and deterred violent police action against the protesters. This was the first sign of the army's future political role. In May 1992 student protesters were joined by striking workers in Blantyre. In two days of riots dozens of protesters were killed by armed police and Young Pioneers.[16][17]

In December 1992:

..the army intervened to disarm the MYP forcibly. A bar-room argument in ..Mzuzu ended with Young Pioneers shooting two soldiers dead. The middle-ranking and junior officers effectively mutinied against the army commander, General Isaac Yohane, attacking the Ministry of Youth and other MYP installations in Lilongwe, as well as looting the MCP headquarters. The army then moved into MYP bases throughout the country.[16]

The operation was called "Bwezani" which means "taking back" or "returning". This event was vital in the history of the Malawi Army.[15]

State Department International Military Education and Training documentation from Fiscal Year 2003 indicates the United States trained army personnel from the 2nd Battalion, Malawi Rifles, probably at Kamuzu Barracks, Lilongwe, 3rd Battalion, Malawi Rifles (Moyale Barracks, Mzuzu), the Parachute Battalion, and the Combat Support Battalion (Mvera).[18]

In July 2004 General Joseph Chimbayo was succeeded by Marko Chiziko.[19] In 2011 General Chiziko was succeeded by Henry Odillo as MDF Commander.

On 5 April 2012 when President Bingu wa Mutharika died, there were rumours of an attempted constitutional coup intended to prevent vice-president Joyce Banda from becoming president as outlined by the constitution.[20] The military, under General Henry Odillo, stepped in and vowed to support and uphold the constitution of Malawi. They reportedly stationed security members at Banda's residence during the news of Mutharika's death.[21] This level of professionalism had a direct impact on the smooth transition of power.[20]

Malawi has signed the initial agreements joining the SADC Standby Brigade, the southern African component of the African Standby Force.

Here seen at the MDF Museum, Zomba, the Malawi Army still has 20 Fox armoured cars in service, according to the IISS in 2020-01.

The Force Intervention Brigade of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was authorized by the United Nations Security Council on 28 March 2013 through Resolution 2098.[22] Its first 2,550 troops were drawn almost equally from Malawi, the Tanzania People's Defence Force, and the South African National Defence Force.

After Peter Mutharika became President in 2014, he replaced the Defence Force commander four times in six years.[23] On August 4, 2014, General Henry Odillo handed over to General Ignaious Maulana, the former Chief of Military Operations.[24] In July–August 2016, General Maulana was replaced by his former deputy Griffin Supuni-Phiri.[25] Another change occurred in 2109.[1] In March 2020, General Vincent Nundwe, who had won praise for the army's handling of six months of protests over Mutharika's election victory, was dismissed and replaced by Major General Andrew Lapken Namathanga, the former Air Force commander. Six months later, the new President, Lazarus Chakwera, reinstated Nundwe.[26]

On 14 November 2018, during FIB Rotation VI, an officer, sergeant, corporal, and three soldiers of the MDF were killed in action in the Congo.[27]

Armoured fighting vehiclesEdit

Name Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Eland South Africa Armoured car Eland-90 30[28]
Ferret United Kingdom Armoured car 8[28]
FV721 Fox United Kingdom Armoured car 20[28]
RAM MK3 Israel Armoured car 8[28]
PUMA M26-15 South Africa MRAP 8[28]
Marauder South Africa MRAP 9[28]
Casspir South Africa MRAP 14[28]


Name Origin Type Variant In service Notes
L118 light gun United Kingdom Towed howitzer 9[28]
L16 81mm mortar United Kingdom Mortar L16A1 82[28]
ZPU Soviet Union Towed anti-aircraft gun ZPU-4 40[28]

Air ForceEdit

The Malawi Air Force was established with German help in 1976 with the delivery of six single-engined Dornier Do 27s and eight Do 28 light twins in 1976-1980. Also in the same era the air force received an Alouette III, an AS 350 and an AS 355 Ecureuil, as well as three SA 330 H/L Puma Helicopters from France. A single BAe 125-800 was delivered in 1986. Four Dornier 228 light twin turbo props were acquired between 1986 and 1989 in part to allow disposal of the older Dornier products. In 1990 two Douglas C-47 with PT6A turboprops were delivered from the US.

Current aircraftEdit

A Malawian Dornier 228
Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Dornier 228 Germany transport 3[29]
Eurocopter AS350 France light utility 2[29]
Eurocopter AS355 France utility 1[29]
Eurocopter AS532 France transport 1[29]
Aérospatiale Gazelle France scout / anti-armor SA341 2[29]
Aérospatiale SA330 France utility 2[29]

Retired aircraftEdit

Previous aircraft that have been placed in storage or removed from service include the Basler BT-67, the Dornier Do27-A, the British Aerospace 125, the King Air 90, AS365 Dauphin, and the Alouette III.[30][31]


As a landlocked country, Malawi has a very small Navy with no sizeable military craft. Malawi's naval force only operates on Lake Malawi and is based at Monkey Bay. The Malawi Navy was organized in the early 1970s, with the help of the Navy of Portugal that ceded part of its boats of the Nyassa Flotilla operating from the then Portuguese province of Mozambique.[32] In some cases, the gunboats of the Malawian Navy were initially crewed by Portuguese.[10] In 2007, the navy had 220 personnel,[32] and operated the following vessels:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Wongane Chiuta (17 March 2020). "Exit Nundwe at Malawi Army, Namathanga Now Commander".
  2. ^ "2011 budget document" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 23 October 2014. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  3. ^ J.M. Lee (1969). African Armies and Civil Order. Studies in International Security. Institute for Strategic Studies. p. 58.
  4. ^ Archived from the original on 22 February 2012. Retrieved 9 April 2012. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ a b Kings M. Phiri (Chancellor College) (March 2000). "A Case of Revolutionary Change in Contemporary Malawi: The Malawi Army and the Disarming of the Malawi Young Pioneers". Journal of Peace, Conflict and Military Studies. 1 (1). ISSN 1563-4019. Archived from the original on 23 October 2014. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  6. ^ Lee 1969, 109.
  7. ^[dead link]
  8. ^[dead link]
  9. ^ "The Armed Forces of African States," IISS Adelphi Paper, Part IV: Eastern and Southern Africa, p19.
  10. ^ a b Finnegan (1992), p. 141.
  11. ^ 2nd King Edward VII's Own Gurkhas, accessed May 2021.
  12. ^ E.I. Mandiza, “Civil-military relations in Malawi: An historical perspective,” in Ourselves to Know: Civil-Military Relations and Defence Transformation in Southern Africa, Pretoria, SA, Institute for Security Studies, 2002.
  13. ^ Malawi's first black army commander dies after a short illness, Associated Press, 2001; see also John Gray (2010). Climbing the Army Ladder. Xlibris Corporation. ISBN 9781450078962.
  14. ^ Defense Intelligence Agency (March 1989). "Military Intelligence Summary, Volume IV, Part I, Africa South of the Sahara (Southern and Central Africa)". p. 44/191.
  15. ^ a b Reuben Chirambo (2004). ""Operation Bwezani": The Army, Political Change, and Dr. Banda's Hegemony in Malawi" (PDF) (13:2 ed.). University of Malawi, Malawi: Nordic Journal of African Studies. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 February 2013. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  16. ^ a b Carver 1994.
  17. ^ Carver citing Amnesty International, "Malawi March–July 1992: mass arrests of suspected government opponents", (AI Index: AFR 36/37/92), September 1992.
  18. ^ "Africa Region, Angola, DoD Regional Centers for Strategic Studies, FY 03" (PDF). Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  19. ^ 04LILONGWE652 Former Deputy Commander Becomes MDF Commander, July 14, 2004.
  20. ^ a b "President Banda has her work cut out". Malawi Nyasa Times - Malawi breaking news in Malawi. Archived from the original on 15 April 2012. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  21. ^ "Potential crisis looms in Malawi amid reports of president's death -". CNN. 7 April 2012. Archived from the original on 15 May 2012.
  22. ^ "United Nations Security Council - Resolution 2098" (pdf). New York: United Nations. 28 March 2013. Retrieved 3 May 2017.
  23. ^ "Malawi president sacks celebrated army chief - The Citizen".
  24. ^ , August 2014.
  25. ^, August 2016.
  26. ^ , 1 September 2020.
  27. ^ Kaminjolo (16 November 2018). "6 MDF soldiers killed in DRC". The Nation (Malawi).{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link) The names are listed at the National War Memorial Tower, Lilongwe.
  28. ^ a b c d e f g h i j International Institute for Strategic Studies (2021). The Military Balance. p. 475. ISBN 9781032012278.
  29. ^ a b c d e f "World Air Forces 2022". Flightglobal. 2022. Retrieved 22 January 2022.
  30. ^ "World Air Forces 1987 pg. 68". Archived from the original on 21 July 2015. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  31. ^ l "World Air Forces 2000 pg. 75". Archived from the original on 7 March 2016. Retrieved 18 May 2015. {{cite web}}: Check |url= value (help)
  32. ^ a b c d e f Wertheim, Eric (2007). The Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World: Their Ships, Aircraft, and Systems. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. pp. 452–453. ISBN 9781591149552. Archived from the original on 6 July 2014. Retrieved 18 March 2014.


  • Carver, Richard (1994). "Malawi: Between the Referendum and the Elections". (date was 1 May 1994; accessed April 2021)
  • Finnegan, William (1992). A Complicated War: The Harrowing of Mozambique. Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-08266-4.
  • World Aircraft Information Files. Brightstar Publishing, London. File 337 Sheet 02
  • World Aircraft Information Files. Brightstar Publishing, London. File 340 Sheet 05

Further readingEdit

  • Crosby, Cynthia A. Historical Dictionary of Malaŵi. Vol. 54. Scarecrow Press, 1993. "Army" entry.
  • Nelson, Harold D., Malawi: A Country Study, Library of Congress, Federal Research Division, Washington DC, 1975.
  • Tim Lovering, "RACE AND HIERARCHY IN BRITAIN'S COLONIAL ARMY IN NYASALAND (MALAWI), 1891-1964," Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, Vol. 91, No. 366 (Summer 2013), pp. 120–142.
  • Lieutenant Colonel A.D. Namangale psc, "A Brief History of the Malawi Rifles to Mark the Centenary of the Formation of the King's African Rifles 1902-2002." LMalawi Defence Forces Headquarters. 22 page illus. booklet. 2002. K200.
  • Jonathan Newell, "An African army under pressure: The politicisation of the Malawi army and ‘Operation Bwezani’, 1992–93, Small Wars and Insurgencies, Vol. 6, No. 2, 1995, pp159–182,
  • James Njoloma, "The Malaŵi Army : a hundred years today, [Lilongwe?] : J. Njoloma, [1991] (details from WorldCat)
  • Hartone L. Phiri, "The Rebellion of Enlisted Personnel and Democratisation in Malawi" [2] Naval Postgraduate School, 2011
  • Martin Rupiya (2005). "The odd man out: A history of the Malawi army since July 1964". Evolutions and revolutions: A contemporary history of militaries in Southern Africa (PDF). Institute for Security Studies.
  • Tim Stapleton. "'Bad Boys': Infiltration and Sedition in the African Military Units of the Central African Federation (Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe) 1953-163." The Journal of Military History 73, no.4 (2009): 1167–1193.

Also relevant:

  • Brig. Gen. Marcel R.D. Chirwa, Malawi Security Sector Reform: A Return to Regular Order, Centre for Peace and Security Management, Lilongwe, Malawi, undated
  • Brig. Gen. Marcel R.D. Chirwa, Lake Malawi or Lake Nyasa: The Contested Name and Boundary between Landlocked Malawi and Tanzania, Centre for Peace and Security Management, Lilongwe, Malawi, August 2020

External linksEdit

  • Official website of the Ministry of Defence of Malawi