Photos of Malawi



Malawi shares its name with the Chewa word for flames and is linked to the Maravi people from whom the Chewa language originated. The Maravi settled in what is now Malawi around 1400 during one of the later waves of Bantu migration across central and southern Africa. Several of Malawi’s ethnic groups trace their origins to different Maravi lineages. A powerful Maravi kingdom, established around 1500, reached its zenith around 1700, when it controlled what is now southern and central Malawi as well as portions of neighboring Mozambique and Zambia before beginning to decline because of destabilization from the escalating global trade in enslaved people. In the early 1800s, widespread conflict in southern Africa displaced various ethnic Ngoni groups, some of which moved into Malawi and further undermined the Maravi. Members of the Yao ethnic group - which had long traded with Malawi from Mozambique - introduced Islam and began to settle in Malawi in significant numbers in the mid-1800s; in the late 1800s, members of the Lomwe ethnic group also moved into southern Malawi from Mozambique. British missionary and trading activity increased in the area around Lake Nyasa in the mid-1800s, and Britain declared a protectorate, called British Central Africa, over what is now Malawi in 1891 and eliminated various political entities that sought to retain their autonomy over the subsequent decade. The British renamed the territory Nyasaland in 1907 and it was part of the colonial Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland - including present-day Zambia and Zimbabwe - from 1953 to 1963 before gaining independence as Malawi in 1964.

Hastings Kamuzu BANDA served as prime minister at independence and, when the country became a republic in 1966, he became president. He later instituted one-party rule under his Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and was declared president for life. After three decades of one-party rule, the country held multiparty presidential and parliamentary elections in 1994 under a provisional constitution that came into full effect the following year. Bakili MULUZI of the United Democratic Front party became the first freely elected president of Malawi when he defeated BANDA at the polls in 1994; he won reelection in 1999. President Bingu wa MUTHARIKA was elected in 2004 under the United Democratic Front and subsequently started his own party, the Democratic Progressive Party, in 2005. MUTHARIKA was reelected to a second term in 2009. He died abruptly in 2012 and was succeeded by Vice President Joyce BANDA, who had earlier started her own party, the People's Party. MUTHARIKA's brother, Peter MUTHARIKA, defeated BANDA in the election in 2014. Peter MUTHARIKA was reelected in a disputed election in 2019 that resulted in countrywide protests. The courts ordered a new the election, and in 2020 Lazarus CHAKWERA of the MCP was elected president after defeating MUTHARIKA as head of a coalition of opposition parties. Population growth, increasing pressure on agricultural lands, corruption, and the scourge of HIV/AIDS pose major problems for Malawi.

Visit the Definitions and Notes page to view a description of each topic.



Southern Africa, east of Zambia, west and north of Mozambique

Geographic coordinates

13 30 S, 34 00 E


total: 118,484 sq km

land: 94,080 sq km

water: 24,404 sq km

comparison ranking: total 100

Area - comparative

slightly smaller than Pennsylvania

Area comparison map:
Area comparison map

Land boundaries

total: 2,857 km

border countries (3): Mozambique 1,498 km; Tanzania 512 km; Zambia 847 km


0 km (landlocked)

Maritime claims

none (landlocked)


sub-tropical; rainy season (November to May); dry season (May to November)


narrow elongated plateau with rolling plains, rounded hills, some mountains


highest point: Sapitwa (Mount Mlanje) 3,002 m

lowest point: junction of the Shire River and international boundary with Mozambique 37 m

mean elevation: 779 m

Natural resources

limestone, arable land, hydropower, unexploited deposits of uranium, coal, and bauxite

Land use

agricultural land: 59.2% (2018 est.)

arable land: 38.2% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 1.4% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 19.6% (2018 est.)

forest: 34% (2018 est.)

other: 6.8% (2018 est.)

Irrigated land

740 sq km (2012)

Major lakes (area sq km)

fresh water lake(s): Lake Malawi (shared with Mozambique and Tanzania) - 22,490

salt water lake(s): Lake Chilwa - 1,040 sq km

Major rivers (by length in km)

Zambezi (shared with Zambia [s], Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Tanzania, and Mozambique [m]) - 2,740 km
note – [s] after country name indicates river source; [m] after country name indicates river mouth

Major watersheds (area sq km)

Atlantic Ocean drainage: Congo (3,730,881 sq km)
Indian Ocean drainage: Zambezi (1,332,412 sq km)

Population distribution

population density is highest south of Lake Nyasa as shown in this population distribution map

Natural hazards

flooding; droughts; earthquakes

Geography - note

landlocked; Lake Nyasa, some 580 km long, is the country's most prominent physical feature; it contains more fish species than any other lake on earth

People and Society


21,279,597 (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: 62


noun: Malawian(s)

adjective: Malawian

Ethnic groups

Chewa 34.3%, Lomwe 18.8%, Yao 13.2%, Ngoni 10.4%, Tumbuka 9.2%, Sena 3.8%, Mang'anja 3.2%, Tonga 1.8%, Nyanja 1.8%, Nkhonde 1%, other 2.2%, foreign 0.3% (2018 est.)


English (official), Chewa (dominant), Lambya, Lomwe, Ngoni, Nkhonde, Nyakyusa, Nyanja, Sena, Tonga, Tumbuka, Yao

note: Chewa and Nyanja are mutually intelligible dialects; Nkhonde and Nyakyusa are mutually intelligible dialects


Protestant 33.5% (includes Church of Central Africa Presbyterian 14.2%, Seventh Day Adventist/Baptist 9.4%, Pentecostal 7.6%, Anglican 2.3%), Roman Catholic 17.2%, other Christian 26.6%, Muslim 13.8%, traditionalist 1.1%, other 5.6%, none 2.1% (2018 est.)

Demographic profile

Malawi has made great improvements in maternal and child health, but has made less progress in reducing its high fertility rate. In both rural and urban areas, very high proportions of mothers are receiving prenatal care and skilled birth assistance, and most children are being vaccinated. Malawi’s fertility rate, however, has only declined slowly, decreasing from more than 7 children per woman in the 1980s to about 5.5 today. Nonetheless, Malawians prefer smaller families than in the past, and women are increasingly using contraceptives to prevent or space pregnancies. Rapid population growth and high population density is putting pressure on Malawi’s land, water, and forest resources. Reduced plot sizes and increasing vulnerability to climate change, further threaten the sustainability of Malawi’s agriculturally based economy and will worsen food shortages. About 80% of the population is employed in agriculture.

Historically, Malawians migrated abroad in search of work, primarily to South Africa and present-day Zimbabwe, but international migration became uncommon after the 1970s, and most migration in recent years has been internal. During the colonial period, Malawians regularly migrated to southern Africa as contract farm laborers, miners, and domestic servants. In the decade and a half after independence in 1964, the Malawian Government sought to transform its economy from one dependent on small-scale farms to one based on estate agriculture. The resulting demand for wage labor induced more than 300,000 Malawians to return home between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s. In recent times, internal migration has generally been local, motivated more by marriage than economic reasons.

Age structure

0-14 years: 38.54% (male 4,073,674/female 4,128,035)

15-64 years: 57.64% (male 6,001,150/female 6,264,749)

65 years and over: 3.82% (2023 est.) (male 362,428/female 449,561)

2023 population pyramid:
2023 population pyramid

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: 84.7

youth dependency ratio: 79.7

elderly dependency ratio: 5

potential support ratio: 20.1 (2021 est.)

Median age

total: 20 years (2023 est.)

male: 19.7 years

female: 20.2 years

comparison ranking: total 202

Population growth rate

2.28% (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: 32

Birth rate

27.3 births/1,000 population (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: 40

Death rate

4.5 deaths/1,000 population (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: 207

Net migration rate

0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: 89

Population distribution

population density is highest south of Lake Nyasa as shown in this population distribution map


urban population: 18.3% of total population (2023)

rate of urbanization: 4.41% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

Major urban areas - population

1.276 million LILONGWE (capital), 1.031 million Blantyre-Limbe (2023)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.01 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 0.99 male(s)/female

15-64 years: 0.96 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.81 male(s)/female

total population: 0.96 male(s)/female (2023 est.)

Mother's mean age at first birth

19.1 years (2015/16 est.)

note: data represents median age at first birth among women 20-49

Maternal mortality ratio

381 deaths/100,000 live births (2020 est.)

comparison ranking: 25

Infant mortality rate

total: 32.7 deaths/1,000 live births (2023 est.)

male: 37.1 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 28.2 deaths/1,000 live births

comparison ranking: total 44

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 72.7 years (2023 est.)

male: 69.6 years

female: 75.9 years

comparison ranking: total population 153

Total fertility rate

3.3 children born/woman (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: 43

Gross reproduction rate

1.64 (2023 est.)

Drinking water source

improved: urban: 96.7% of population

rural: 91% of population

total: 92% of population

unimproved: urban: 3.3% of population

rural: 9% of population

total: 8% of population (2020 est.)

Current health expenditure

5.4% of GDP (2020)

Physicians density

0.05 physicians/1,000 population (2020)

Hospital bed density

1.3 beds/1,000 population (2011)

Sanitation facility access

improved: urban: 59.9% of population

rural: 35.9% of population

total: 40% of population

unimproved: urban: 40.1% of population

rural: 64.1% of population

total: 60% of population (2020 est.)

Major infectious diseases

degree of risk: very high (2023)

food or waterborne diseases: bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever

vectorborne diseases: malaria, dengue fever, and sexually transmitted diseases: HIV/AIDS (2024)

water contact diseases: schistosomiasis

animal contact diseases: rabies

note: on 31 August 2023, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Travel Alert for polio in Africa; Malawi is currently considered a high risk to travelers for circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses (cVDPV); vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV) is a strain of the weakened poliovirus that was initially included in oral polio vaccine (OPV) and that has changed over time and behaves more like the wild or naturally occurring virus; this means it can be spread more easily to people who are unvaccinated against polio and who come in contact with the stool or respiratory secretions, such as from a sneeze, of an “infected” person who received oral polio vaccine; the CDC recommends that before any international travel, anyone unvaccinated, incompletely vaccinated, or with an unknown polio vaccination status should complete the routine polio vaccine series; before travel to any high-risk destination, the CDC recommends that adults who previously completed the full, routine polio vaccine series receive a single, lifetime booster dose of polio vaccine

Obesity - adult prevalence rate

5.8% (2016)

comparison ranking: 174

Alcohol consumption per capita

total: 2.04 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

beer: 0.08 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

wine: 0 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

spirits: 0.25 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

other alcohols: 1.7 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

comparison ranking: total 129

Tobacco use

total: 10.8% (2020 est.)

male: 17.5% (2020 est.)

female: 4.1% (2020 est.)

comparison ranking: total 132

Children under the age of 5 years underweight

11.7% (2020)

comparison ranking: 47

Child marriage

women married by age 15: 7.5%

women married by age 18: 37.7%

men married by age 18: 7% (2020 est.)

Education expenditures

2.9% of GDP (2020 est.)

comparison ranking: 160


definition: age 15 and over can read and write

total population: 67.3%

male: 71.2%

female: 63.7% (2021)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)

total: 11 years

male: 11 years

female: 11 years (2011)


Environment - current issues

deforestation; land degradation; water pollution from agricultural runoff, sewage, industrial wastes; siltation of spawning grounds endangers fish populations; negative effects of climate change (extreme high temperatures, changing precipitation patterns)

Environment - international agreements

party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Climate Change-Paris Agreement, Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Life Conservation, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands

signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements


sub-tropical; rainy season (November to May); dry season (May to November)

Land use

agricultural land: 59.2% (2018 est.)

arable land: 38.2% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 1.4% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 19.6% (2018 est.)

forest: 34% (2018 est.)

other: 6.8% (2018 est.)


urban population: 18.3% of total population (2023)

rate of urbanization: 4.41% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

Food insecurity

widespread lack of access: due to weather extremes and high food prices - the latest analysis indicates that about 3.8 million people (20 percent of the population) are estimated to have faced high levels of acute food insecurity between January and March 2023; this figure is more than double the number in the corresponding months of 2022; high food prices are the key reason for the deterioration in food insecurity, which, in the absence of a substantial increase in incomes, are severely constraining households’ economic access to food; production shortfalls in southern districts in 2022, areas that have the highest prevalence of food insecurity, are a further contributing factor; the impact of Cyclone Freddy (February-March 2023) on southern districts, including crop losses and destruction of infrastructure as well as high food prices, are expected to aggravate food insecurity conditions in 2023 (2023)

Revenue from forest resources

6.19% of GDP (2018 est.)

comparison ranking: 10

Revenue from coal

0.03% of GDP (2018 est.)

comparison ranking: 37

Air pollutants

particulate matter emissions: 18.57 micrograms per cubic meter (2019 est.)

carbon dioxide emissions: 1.3 megatons (2016 est.)

methane emissions: 11.12 megatons (2020 est.)

Waste and recycling

municipal solid waste generated annually: 1,297,844 tons (2013 est.)

Major lakes (area sq km)

fresh water lake(s): Lake Malawi (shared with Mozambique and Tanzania) - 22,490

salt water lake(s): Lake Chilwa - 1,040 sq km

Major rivers (by length in km)

Zambezi (shared with Zambia [s], Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Tanzania, and Mozambique [m]) - 2,740 km
note – [s] after country name indicates river source; [m] after country name indicates river mouth

Major watersheds (area sq km)

Atlantic Ocean drainage: Congo (3,730,881 sq km)
Indian Ocean drainage: Zambezi (1,332,412 sq km)

Total water withdrawal

municipal: 140 million cubic meters (2020 est.)

industrial: 50 million cubic meters (2020 est.)

agricultural: 1.17 billion cubic meters (2020 est.)

Total renewable water resources

17.28 billion cubic meters (2020 est.)


Country name

conventional long form: Republic of Malawi

conventional short form: Malawi

local long form: Dziko la Malawi

local short form: Malawi

former: British Central African Protectorate, Nyasaland Protectorate, Nyasaland

etymology: named for the East African Maravi Kingdom of the 16th century; the word "maravi" means "fire flames"

Government type

presidential republic


name: Lilongwe

geographic coordinates: 13 58 S, 33 47 E

time difference: UTC+2 (7 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

etymology: named after the Lilongwe River that flows through the city

Administrative divisions

28 districts; Balaka, Blantyre, Chikwawa, Chiradzulu, Chitipa, Dedza, Dowa, Karonga, Kasungu, Likoma, Lilongwe, Machinga, Mangochi, Mchinji, Mulanje, Mwanza, Mzimba, Neno, Ntcheu, Nkhata Bay, Nkhotakota, Nsanje, Ntchisi, Phalombe, Rumphi, Salima, Thyolo, Zomba


6 July 1964 (from the UK)

National holiday

Independence Day, 6 July (1964); note - also called Republic Day since 6 July 1966


history: previous 1953 (pre-independence), 1964, 1966; latest drafted January to May 1994, approved 16 May 1994, entered into force 18 May 1995

amendments: proposed by the National Assembly; passage of amendments affecting constitutional articles, including the sovereignty and territory of the state, fundamental constitutional principles, human rights, voting rights, and the judiciary, requires majority approval in a referendum and majority approval by the Assembly; passage of other amendments requires at least two-thirds majority vote of the Assembly; amended several times, last in 2017

Legal system

mixed legal system of English common law and customary law; judicial review of legislative acts in the Supreme Court of Appeal

International law organization participation

accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction with reservations; accepts ICCt jurisdiction


citizenship by birth: no

citizenship by descent only: at least one parent must be a citizen of Malawi

dual citizenship recognized: no

residency requirement for naturalization: 7 years


18 years of age; universal

Executive branch

chief of state: President Lazarus CHAKWERA (since 28 June 2020); Vice President Saulos CHILIMA (since 3 February 2020); note - the president is both chief of state and head of government

head of government: President Lazarus CHAKWERA (since 28 June 2020); Vice President Saulos CHILIMA (since 3 February 2020)

cabinet: Cabinet named by the president

elections/appointments: president directly elected by simple majority popular vote for a 5-year term (eligible for a second term); election last held on 23 June 2020 (next to be held in 2025)

election results:
2020: Lazarus CHAKWERA elected president; Lazarus CHAKWERA (MCP) 59.3%, Peter Mutharika (DPP) 39.9%, other 0.8%

2014: Peter MUTHARIKA elected president; percent of vote - Peter MUTHARIKA (DPP) 36.4%, Lazarus CHAKWERA (MCP) 27.8%, Joyce BANDA (PP) 20.2%, Atupele MULUZI (UDF) 13.7%, other 1.9% 

Legislative branch

description: unicameral National Assembly (193 seats; members directly elected in single-seat constituencies by simple majority vote to serve 5-year terms)

last held on 21 May 2019 (next to be held in May 2024)

election results:
percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - DPP 62, MCP 55, UDF 10, PP 5, other 5, independent 55, vacant 1; composition as of February 2024 - men 153, women 40, percentage women 20.7%

Judicial branch

highest court(s): Supreme Court of Appeal (consists of the chief justice and at least 3 judges)

judge selection and term of office: Supreme Court chief justice appointed by the president and confirmed by the National Assembly; other judges appointed by the president upon the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission, which regulates judicial officers; judges serve until age 65

subordinate courts: High Court; magistrate courts; Industrial Relations Court; district and city traditional or local courts

Political parties and leaders

Democratic Progressive Party or DPP [Peter MUTHARIKA]
Malawi Congress Party or MCP [Lazarus CHAKWERA]
People's Party or PP [Joyce BANDA]
United Democratic Front or UDF
United Transformation Movement or UTM [Saulos CHILIMA]

International organization participation


Diplomatic representation in the US

chief of mission: Ambassador Esme Jynet CHOMBO (since 19 April 2022)

chancery: 2408 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008

telephone: [1] (202) 721-0270

FAX: [1] (202) 721-0288

email address and website:

Diplomatic representation from the US

chief of mission: Ambassador David YOUNG (since 5 May 2022)

embassy: 16 Jomo Kenyatta Road, Lilongwe 3

mailing address: 2280 Lilongwe Place, Washington DC  20521-2280

telephone: [265] (0) 177-3166

FAX: [265] (0) 177-0471

email address and website:

Flag description

three equal horizontal bands of black (top), red, and green with a radiant, rising, red sun centered on the black band; black represents the native peoples, red the blood shed in their struggle for freedom, and green the color of nature; the rising sun represents the hope of freedom for the continent of Africa

National symbol(s)

lion; national colors: black, red, green

National anthem

name: "Mulungu dalitsa Malawi" (Oh God Bless Our Land of Malawi)

lyrics/music: Michael-Fredrick Paul SAUKA

note: adopted 1964

National heritage

total World Heritage Sites: 2 (1 cultural, 1 natural)

selected World Heritage Site locales: Lake Malawi National Park (n); Chongoni Rock-Art Area (c)


Economic overview

low-income East African economy; primarily agrarian; investing in human capital; urban poverty increasing due to COVID-19; high public debt; endemic corruption and poor property rights; poor hydroelectric grid; localized pharmaceutical industry

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$29.932 billion (2022 est.)
$29.658 billion (2021 est.)
$28.864 billion (2020 est.)

note: data in 2017 dollars

comparison ranking: 140

Real GDP growth rate

0.92% (2022 est.)
2.75% (2021 est.)
0.8% (2020 est.)

note: annual GDP % growth based on constant local currency

comparison ranking: 189

Real GDP per capita

$1,500 (2022 est.)
$1,500 (2021 est.)
$1,500 (2020 est.)

note: data in 2017 dollars

comparison ranking: 216

GDP (official exchange rate)

$13.165 billion (2022 est.)

note: data in current dollars at official exchange rate

Inflation rate (consumer prices)

20.95% (2022 est.)
9.33% (2021 est.)
8.63% (2020 est.)

note: annual % change based on consumer prices

comparison ranking: 201

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: 28.6% (2017 est.)

industry: 15.4% (2017 est.)

services: 56% (2017 est.)

comparison rankings: services 151; industry 179; agriculture 19

GDP - composition, by end use

household consumption: 84.3% (2017 est.)

government consumption: 16.3% (2017 est.)

investment in fixed capital: 15.3% (2017 est.)

investment in inventories: 0% (2017 est.)

exports of goods and services: 27.9% (2017 est.)

imports of goods and services: -43.8% (2017 est.)

Agricultural products

sweet potatoes, cassava, sugar cane, maize, mangoes/guavas, potatoes, tomatoes, pigeon peas, bananas, plantains


tobacco, tea, sugar, sawmill products, cement, consumer goods

Industrial production growth rate

0.89% (2022 est.)

note: annual % change in industrial value added based on constant local currency

comparison ranking: 152

Labor force

8.072 million (2022 est.)

note: number of people ages 15 or older who are employed or seeking work

comparison ranking: 65

Unemployment rate

5.11% (2022 est.)
5.76% (2021 est.)
5.74% (2020 est.)

note: % of labor force seeking employment

comparison ranking: 103

Youth unemployment rate (ages 15-24)

total: 9.9% (2021 est.)

male: 7.6%

female: 12.2%

comparison ranking: total 153

Population below poverty line

50.7% (2019 est.)

note: % of population with income below national poverty line

Gini Index coefficient - distribution of family income

38.5 (2019 est.)

note: index (0-100) of income distribution; higher values represent greater inequality

comparison ranking: 67

Household income or consumption by percentage share

lowest 10%: 2.9%

highest 10%: 31% (2019 est.)

note: % share of income accruing to lowest and highest 10% of population


1.97% of GDP (2022 est.)
2.05% of GDP (2021 est.)
1.92% of GDP (2020 est.)

note: personal transfers and compensation between resident and non-resident individuals/households/entities


revenues: $1.628 billion (2019 est.)

expenditures: $2.129 billion (2019 est.)

Budget surplus (+) or deficit (-)

-3.4% (of GDP) (2017 est.)

comparison ranking: 142

Public debt

44.89% of GDP (2019 est.)
41.7% of GDP (2018 est.)
34.29% of GDP (2017 est.)

note: central government debt as a % of GDP

comparison ranking: 122

Taxes and other revenues

11.38% (of GDP) (2021 est.)

note: central government tax revenue as a % of GDP

comparison ranking: 178

Fiscal year

1 April - 31 March

Current account balance

-$1.543 billion (2021 est.)
-$1.466 billion (2020 est.)
-$1.321 billion (2019 est.)

note: balance of payments - net trade and primary/secondary income in current dollars

comparison ranking: 141


$1.538 billion (2021 est.)
$1.268 billion (2020 est.)
$1.447 billion (2019 est.)

note: balance of payments - exports of goods and services in current dollars

comparison ranking: 169

Exports - partners

Belgium 16%, United States 8%, Egypt 7%, South Africa 6%, Germany 6%, Kenya 5%, United Arab Emirates 5% (2019)

Exports - commodities

tobacco, gold, soybeans, raw sugar, tea, dried legumes and nuts (2021)


$3.582 billion (2021 est.)
$3.208 billion (2020 est.)
$3.266 billion (2019 est.)

note: balance of payments - imports of goods and services in current dollars

comparison ranking: 157

Imports - partners

South Africa 17%, China 16%, United Arab Emirates 9%, India 9%, United Kingdom 8% (2019)

Imports - commodities

postage stamps, refined petroleum, packaged medicines, fertilizers, office machinery/parts (2019)

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold

$594.498 million (2020 est.)
$846.84 million (2019 est.)
$766.155 million (2018 est.)

note: holdings of gold (year-end prices)/foreign exchange/special drawing rights in current dollars

comparison ranking: 155

Debt - external

$2.102 billion (31 December 2017 est.)
$1.5 billion (31 December 2016 est.)

comparison ranking: 152

Exchange rates

Malawian kwachas (MWK) per US dollar -

Exchange rates:
749.527 (2020 est.)
745.541 (2019 est.)
732.333 (2018 est.)
730.273 (2017 est.)
718.005 (2016 est.)


Electricity access

population without electricity: 17 million (2020)

electrification - total population: 14.1% (2021)

electrification - urban areas: 54.2% (2021)

electrification - rural areas: 5.5% (2021)


installed generating capacity: 618,000 kW (2020 est.)

consumption: 1,117,378,000 kWh (2019 est.)

exports: 0 kWh (2019 est.)

imports: 0 kWh (2019 est.)

transmission/distribution losses: 460 million kWh (2019 est.)

comparison rankings: installed generating capacity 145; transmission/distribution losses 82; imports 211; exports 211; consumption 156

Electricity generation sources

fossil fuels: 11.8% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

nuclear: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

solar: 3.2% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

wind: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

hydroelectricity: 81.9% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

tide and wave: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

geothermal: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

biomass and waste: 3.2% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)


production: 48,000 metric tons (2020 est.)

consumption: 47,000 metric tons (2020 est.)

exports: 0 metric tons (2020 est.)

imports: 0 metric tons (2020 est.)

proven reserves: 2 million metric tons (2019 est.)


total petroleum production: 0 bbl/day (2021 est.)

refined petroleum consumption: 9,400 bbl/day (2019 est.)

crude oil and lease condensate exports: 0 bbl/day (2018 est.)

crude oil and lease condensate imports: 0 bbl/day (2018 est.)

crude oil estimated reserves: 0 barrels (2021 est.)

Refined petroleum products - production

0 bbl/day (2015 est.)

comparison ranking: 188

Refined petroleum products - exports

0 bbl/day (2015 est.)

comparison ranking: 177

Refined petroleum products - imports

4,769 bbl/day (2015 est.)

comparison ranking: 173

Natural gas

production: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

consumption: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

exports: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

imports: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

proven reserves: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

Carbon dioxide emissions

1.542 million metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

from coal and metallurgical coke: 203,000 metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

from petroleum and other liquids: 1.339 million metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

from consumed natural gas: 0 metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

comparison ranking: total emissions 165

Energy consumption per capita

1.809 million Btu/person (2019 est.)

comparison ranking: 187


Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 9,456 (2022 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: (2021 est.) less than 1

comparison ranking: total subscriptions 191

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 11,940,135 (2021 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 60 (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: total subscriptions 82

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: with few resources, Malawi is one of the world’s least developed countries; there has been little investment in fixed-line telecom infrastructure, and as a result, the country’s two mobile networks Airtel Malawi and TMN provide the vast majority of connections for voice and data services; both operators have invested in LTE technologies to improve the quality of data services; the lack of market competition, together with limited international internet bandwidth, has also resulted in some of the highest prices for telecom services in the region; the government in late 2020 secured an average 80% reduction in the cost of data bundles offered by the MNOs; following continuing customer complaints, the regulator in mid-2021 ensured that costs were again reduced, this time by about a third; mobile penetration remains low in comparison to the regional average and so there are considerable opportunities for further growth, particularly in the mobile broadband sector, though there is the possibility that a new play come launch services by the end of 2022; the internet sector is reasonably competitive, with about 50 licensed ISPs, though the limited availability and high cost of international bandwidth has held back growth and kept broadband access prices among the highest in the region; these limitations are being addressed, with the second phase of the national fiber backbone having started in mid-2021 (2022)

domestic: limited fixed-line subscribership less than 1 per 100 households; mobile-cellular subscribership roughly 60 per 100 households (2021)

international: country code - 265; satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (1 Indian Ocean, 1 Atlantic Ocean) (2019)

Broadcast media

radio is the main broadcast medium; privately owned Zodiak radio has the widest national broadcasting reach, followed by state-run radio; numerous private and community radio stations broadcast in cities and towns around the country; the largest TV network is government-owned, but at least 4 private TV networks broadcast in urban areas; relays of multiple international broadcasters are available (2019)

Internet users

total: 4.8 million (2021 est.)

percent of population: 24% (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: total 100

Broadband - fixed subscriptions

total: 12,255 (2020 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 0.1 (2020 est.)

comparison ranking: total 176


National air transport system

number of registered air carriers: 2 (2020)

inventory of registered aircraft operated by air carriers: 9

annual passenger traffic on registered air carriers: 10,545 (2018)

annual freight traffic on registered air carriers: 10,000 (2018) mt-km


28 (2024)

comparison ranking: 123


total: 767 km (2014)

narrow gauge: 767 km (2014) 1.067-m gauge

comparison ranking: total 97


total: 15,451 km

paved: 4,038 km

unpaved: 11,413 km (2022)

comparison ranking: total 122


700 km (2010) (on Lake Nyasa [Lake Malawi] and Shire River)

comparison ranking: 82

Ports and terminals

lake port(s): Chipoka, Monkey Bay, Nkhata Bay, Nkhotakota, Chilumba (Lake Nyasa)

Military and Security

Military and security forces

Malawi Defense Force (MDF): Land Forces (Army), Maritime Force, Air Force, National Service (reserve force) (2024)

note: the MDF reports directly to the president as commander in chief; the Malawi Police Service is under the Ministry of Homeland Security

Military expenditures

0.7% of GDP (2022 est.)
0.9% of GDP (2021 est.)
0.9% of GDP (2020 est.)
1.1% of GDP (2019 est.)
0.8% of GDP (2018 est.)

comparison ranking: 145

Military and security service personnel strengths

estimated 10,000 active military personnel (2023)

Military equipment inventories and acquisitions

the MDF's inventory is comprised of mostly obsolescent or secondhand equipment originating from such countries as France and South Africa; in recent years, it has received small amounts of armaments from a few countries, including China (2023)

Military service age and obligation

18-30years of age for men and women for voluntary military service; high school equivalent required for enlisted recruits and college equivalent for officer recruits; initial engagement is 7 years for enlisted personnel and 10 years for officers (2023)

Military deployments

740 Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) (2024)

Military - note

the MDF’s primary responsibility is external security; it is also tasked as necessary with providing support to civilian authorities during emergencies, supporting the Police Service, protecting national forest reserves, and participating in regional peacekeeping missions, as well as assisting with infrastructure development; it is generally considered to be a professional and effective service, although most of its equipment is aging and obsolescent; Malawi contributes regularly to African Union and UN peace support operations; the Army is the dominant service and has three infantry brigades while its subordinate maritime force has a few patrol boats for monitoring Lake Malawi

the MDF was established in 1964 from elements of the Kings African Rifles (KAR), a British colonial regiment raised from Great Britain's various possessions in East Africa from 1902 until independence in the 1960s; the KAR conducted both military and internal security functions within the colonial territories, and served outside the territories during the World Wars (2023)

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international

Malawi-Mozambique: the two countries have held exercises to reaffirm boundaries a number of times

Malawi-Tanzania: dispute with Tanzania over the boundary in Lake Nyasa (Lake Malawi) and the meandering Songwe River; Malawi contends that the entire lake up to the Tanzanian shoreline is its territory, while Tanzania claims the border is in the center of the lake; the conflict was reignited in 2012 when Malawi awarded a license to a British company for oil exploration in the lake

Refugees and internally displaced persons

refugees (country of origin): 11,502 (Burundi) (refugees and asylum seekers), 6,594 (Rwanda) (refugees and asylum seekers) (2023); 34,605 (Democratic Republic of the Congo) (refugees and asylum seekers)