Reserve Bank of Malawi

Malawi Currency

New Currency Series

The Kwacha has been the currency of Malawi since 1971 when it replaced the Malawi Pound. Tambala coins were also introduced in the same year. The first banknotes introduced in 1971 were 50 Tambala, K1, K2 and K10. In 1973, the K2 banknote was discontinued and a K5 banknote was introduced. K20 banknotes were introduced ten years later in 1983. Another ten years later, in 1993, the K50 and K100 banknotes were introduced. The K200 banknote was introduced in 1995 followed by the K500 banknote in 2001. Since 1971, higher value kwacha denominations have progressively been introduced without necessarily reviewing the series in terms of technological banknote design trends, financial implications of banknote procurement, economic developments and historical aspects among others.
Why Review the kwacha Currency Series
Most countries review their currency series every six to ten years to take into account the aspects outlined above. In Malawi, the Reserve Bank of Malawi commenced the process of reviewing the currency series in 2007, six years after the K500 banknote was introduced. The review process was necessitated by the following three main objectives:
  • To minimise currency production costs and increase operational efficiency. This would be achieved by
    • Reducing the sizes of banknotes to minimise production costs and make them easier to handle.
    • Introducing a higher value denomination to facilitate high value transactions and reduce costs of printing the K500 banknote as a result of its reduced printed volumes.
  • To modernise banknote designs in line with changing international trends. This will be achieved by:-
    • Adopting new technological features that enhance durability of banknotes through reduced tearing and corner folding.
    • Adopting user friendly blind recognition features and enlarged fonts for the partially blind.
  • To improve security of the banknotes against modern counterfeiting technologies. This would be achieved by:-
    • Adopting the most recent but cost effective security features that are specific for the public, commercial banks/financial institutions, the Reserve Bank of Malawi and the currency printers.
As a result of the currency review exercise, banknote printing costs per denomination are estimated to be reduced by 40 to 50 percent.
Banknote Themes
The themes for the new family of banknotes have largely been derived from the long-term objectives outlined in the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MDGS) some of which are also highlighted in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These goals are aimed at achieving both economic growth and social development. The main themes in the MDGS that were taken into account in determining the vignettes on the banknotes include:
  • Sustainable economic growth (sub –themes of food security, tourism and wildlife);
  • Social development (sub-themes of health and education);
  • Infrastructure development (sub-themes of water development and supply) and
  • Improved governance

K1000 banknote
The vignette on the K1000 banknote are the Mzuzu maize silos representing the theme of Sustainable Economic Growth (Agriculture & Food Security). Beside the motif is a maize cob on a stalk symbolising the sustained increased availability of the country’s staple food crop.

K500 note
The back of the K500 banknotes depicts the Mulunguzi Dam in Zomba which represents the theme of Infrastructure Development (Water supply). Beside the motif is a tap of running water to signify government’s commitment in ensuring the provision of clean and potable water to the population.

K200 note
The new K200 banknote has the New Parliament Building in Lilongwe at the back representing the theme of Improved Governance and beside the motif is the mace which is Parliament’s Logo. The vignette symbolises the importance of parliament in passing laws that facilitate achievement of economic growth, promote human rights, institute a strong justice system and rule of law and promotes service delivery as well as accountability among others.

K100 note
The back of the K100 banknote has the College of Medicine in Blantyre which represents the theme of Social Development (sub-themes of education and health). Beside the vignette is a stethoscope that symbolises quality medical training for the provision of essential health services. The College will continuously churn out highly qualified medical personnel that would later work in various hospitals in the country to serve patients.

K50 note
On the K50 banknote, the motif is Elephants at Kasungu National Park. This represents the theme of Sustainable Economic Growth and sub themes of Wildlife & Tourism. The government’s goal is to conserve, manage and develop wildlife resources, to improve transportation links to tourism destinations to promote the tourism industry in Malawi.

K20 note
The back of the K20 banknote has the Machinga Teachers Training College in Machinga representing the theme of Social Development (sub theme Education). Next to the motif is a pile of books and a graduation cap symbolising availability of learning materials and high levels of education, respectively.

Banknote Portraits

The selection of portraits used on the new family of banknotes was largely determined by historical and political considerations. The Reserve Bank of Malawi in consultation with the Executive Arm of Government and the History Department of Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi, came up with a list of names of prominent Malawians who played unforgettable significant roles in the fight for political liberation in all the three geographical regions of the country against colonial rule. The proposed names were discussed by the above mentioned entities and a consensus reached after which the individuals or their relatives were approached, briefed on the Currency Review Project and their consent sought for the Bank to use the portraits on the banknotes. Families of Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda and John Chilembwe were not consulted because the two figures are regarded as national symbols and their portraits have already been used on the banknotes in the past.

The write-ups that follow therefore specially focus on the life story and achievements of the historical personalities to be featured; the contribution those so recognized made to national liberation and development; and the overall legacy for which they deserve to be remembered or memorialized.

  • Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda (K1,000 Banknote)

    Dr. H.K. Banda (1898-November 1997) was father and founder of the Malawi, and architect of the country’s post-colonial state nation. He served as Prime Minister (1963-1966), President (1966-1971), and Life President (1971-1994). After spending most of his younger days pursuing education and working as a medical practitioner in Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia), South Africa, United States of America, United Kingdom and Ghana, he returned to the then British Nyasaland in July 1958 to speak against colonialism and advocate for independence. He was one of the leading Pan-Africanists to come out of post-War Africa and was an arch-critic of the Central Africa Federation of which Malawi (then Nyasaland) became a part from 1953 to 1963.

    He led the country’s struggle for independence through the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) and then the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). He challenged the colonialists and their federal system of government with daring courage. In February 1963, he was formally appointed as Nyasaland’s Prime Minister and later led the country to independence as Malawi in 1964 when he became the first President of the Republic of Malawi in 1966.

    For thirty years following attainment of independence, Banda singularly dedicated himself to building and developing the new nation. He coined and harped on the motto of ‘Unity, Loyalty, Obedience and Discipline’ to underline the importance of national unity and spirit of hard work. As state president, he was a sound economic manager who initiated many development projects, especially in agriculture and infrastructure. He actively supported and promoted women’s rights and improved the country’s education and health services. He emphasised hard work, self reliance and food security and sustainability.

  • Reverend John Chilembwe (K500 banknote)

    Rev. Chilembwe (1871 – February 1915) was a Baptist educator, pastor and an early activist in the resistance to colonialism in Nyasaland. Today, January 15 of every year is observed as John Chilembwe Day in his honour for fighting against colonialism.

    John Chilembwe attended the Church of Scotland mission in about 1890 and returned to Nyasaland in 1900 to found the Industrial Providence Mission (PIM). He instilled the values of hard work, self esteem and self help in his community. In 1913, Chilembwe came into conflict with colonial authorities and white settlers over such brutal aspects of colonial rule as hut taxation, land alienation and the problem of Thangata system, harsh treatment of African workers on European estates, erosion of traditional chiefly authority, and the recruitment of African men for service in British imperial wars elsewhere in Africa and abroad.

    On 23 January1915, Chilembwe staged an uprising against male white owners of tea plantations who were oppressing workers. The rebellion was hastily organised and Chilembwe’s followers found themselves out battled and outgunned within one week of battle. Chilembwe himself was shot and killed while fleeing to Mozambique between 3 and 15 February 1915. But, he left behind a legacy of unprecedented resistance to colonial rule for that point in time. He is reckoned as one of the pioneers of African freedom.

  • Rose Lomathinda Chibambo (K200 banknote)

    Mrs. Rose Chibambo (8 September 1928 - ), was a prominent female politician in the British Protectorate of Nyasaland prior to gaining independence in 1964 and immediately thereafter. She became the first organizer and motivator of women for the independence movement in Nyasaland – a role she played at local, regional and national levels. She attracted worldwide attention and sympathy when she was jailed, with her two weeks’ old baby, during the Nyasaland State of Emergency of 1959/60, for her anti-colonial activities. She was released a year later.

    After the attainment of self government and independence, she became the first chairperson of the MCP Women’s League, the first woman to enter the Legislative Council or Parliament, and the first woman to join the cabinet of independent Malawi as Deputy Minister for Hospitals, Prisons and Social Welfare in Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s first cabinet.

    In September 1964, there was a cabinet crisis during which Rose Chibambo and others opposed Dr. H.K. Banda on his decisions to charge for health services, the slow Africanisation process in the civil service and his leadership style whereby he was making major decisions concerning the state and the people without consulting cabinet. She was consequently dismissed from cabinet alongside other five ministers for resisting Dr. Banda’s autocratic leadership style. She faced constant harassment until she fled to Zambia in 1965. She returned to Malawi in 1994 and refrained from active politics and became a business woman. She is prominent in church activities to-date under the Church of Central Africa Presbytery ( Livingstonia Synod) actively participates in various charitable activities.

  • James Frederick Sangala (K100 banknote)

    Mr. James Sangala (1900 –1974 ) was the founder of the African Nyasaland Congress (ANC) which sought to give a unified voice to local associations in Nyasaland and to press for more rights for Africans. He received sufficient education to work as a primary school teacher. He later held several clerical positions in commercial enterprises and the colonial administration.

    He bridged the leadership gap in the development of nationalism in Malawi between the John Chilembwe era (1900-1915) and the Kamuzu Banda era (1958-1994). In particular, he served as founder and first organizing secretary of the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) from 1938 to 1944, and later on from 1954 to 1956 as President of the same nationalist organization. He continued to advocate civil disobedience before he stepped aside in 1956 due to health reasons. He however, continued to press for democracy and the right of freedom of movement. He was consequently arrested for aiding the handing of a seditious publication to the editor of the Nyasaland Times.

    James Sangala’s motto was’’ to struggle for freedom and peace for all’’. He was not interested in publicity and avoided conflict preferring to work behind the scenes in organising the party. He was a very strong believer in the virtue of dignity.

    Sangala is remembered for having served as a humble, even-handed founding father of the nationalist movement in Malawi. He was a tireless campaigner and negotiator for the nationalist cause, but preferred to work at putting things together behind the scenes. He was a stable, approachable and listening leader who consequently commanded the respect of all, including the radical young as well as conservative elderly members of the nationalist movement as it stood in the 1950s.

  • Inkosi Ya Makhosi Gomani II -Philip Zitonga Maseko (K50 banknote)

    Philip Zitonga Maseko or Inkosi ya Makhosi Gomani II (November, 1894 – May 12, 1954) was the son of Gomani Chikuse who was brutally beheaded by the colonial government in 1896 for refusing British rule. He was installed as Inkosi Ya Makhosi Gomani II in 1921. He was the most development conscious paramount chief the Maseko Ngoni had during the colonial period. In the 1930s and 1940s he mounted vigorous campaigns for improving the health and sanitation, education and agriculture of his people. He was widely touted for this by colonial authorities of the day as a model or exemplary Native Authority. Consequently, in 1946 he became a very influential member of the African Protectorate Council along with Chief Mwase of Kasungu and Inkosi ya Makhosi Mbelwa II of Mzimba.

    In 1951 he broke ranks with the Colonial Government when it imposed the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. He led his people to oppose federation risking his position as chief and his deteriorating health. He openly opposed British taxation and exploitation of all the people of Nyasaland including those outside his jurisdiction. He later ordered his people not to pay any taxes the government demanded, and to disregard the agricultural and forestry improvement regulations (Malimidwe) which government had been enforcing since 1949. When the Government asked him to renounce his passive resistance, he refused. Instead he inspired the people of Nyasaland to attain self government. He was deposed and sent into exile at Zomba Central Prison from where he was referred to Malamulo Hospital in Thyolo where he died in 1954. He died as a martyr who was prepared to suffer and die while defending the dignity and freedom of his people.

  • Inkosi Ya Makhosi M’mbelwa II – Lazalo Mkhozo Jere (K20 banknote)

    Lazalo Mkhuzo Jere (1902 – 1959). He went to school at the Free Church of Scotland Mission station of Loudon or Embangweni between 1915 and 1920. He was installed as Paramount Chief of the Northern or Jere Ngoni in 1928. His thirty-one years on the throne saw him emerge as a development conscious leader, and he was to go down in history as the most powerful and fearless king the Jere Ngoni have had since they settled in northern Malawi in the mid nineteenth century.

    M’mbelwa II endeared himself to his people by his cultural sensitivity and taste. This is because at a time of creeping westernization in dress and mannerisms, he took pride in being dressed with a touch of tradition: a colourful toga thrown over his shoulders and a headdress which spotted a plume (uluvi).

    He effectively lobbied for the establishment of the Kasitu Valley Milk, the Ghee Cooperative Society in 1948 and the development and exploitation of the natural resources in the Viphya Plateau. The latter resulted in the launching, with the assistance of the Commonwealth Development Corporation, of the Viphya Tung Plantations Project in 1952.

    He led his people to oppose the imposition of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in the early 1950s. He established auxiliary schools for the poor in 1957 based on the Ghana model and provided scholarships to the needy under the M’mbelwa Bursary Scheme. In the late 1950s, he mobilised the people of Mzimba District to rally behind the Nyasaland African Congress leader Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda, and the movement for national independence. He was one of the five Chiefs who went to protest against the imposition of the Federation of Nyasaland and Rhodesia in 1953 at Lancaster House, United Kingdom in 1953.

    M’mbelwa II died after a short illness, of diabetes, in 1959. He was mourned in grand style by the Ngoni from Mzimba, Ntcheu and Chipata in Zambia; as well as leaders and friends of Nyasaland African Congress from all parts of the country.

The Malawi Government and Reserve Bank of Malawi that there were/are several Malawi men and women who gallantly fought for the liberation of the country from the colonialists. They sacrificed their lives, their property, their careers and the safety of their families for mother Malawi.

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