Mobile penetration remains very low in comparison to the African average. This allows for considerable opportunities for further growth. The expectation that a third nationwide operator would enter the mobile market could provide the impetus to make it grow, leading to a fall in end-user prices. 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. The Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) has all the regulatory functions of the communications sector.
Landlocked Malawi ranks among the world’s most densely populated and least developed countries. The country’s economic performance has historically been constrained by policy inconsistency, macroeconomic instability, limited connectivity to the region and the world, poor infrastructure, rampant corruption, high population growth, and poor health and education outcomes that limit labor productivity. The economy is predominately agricultural with about 80% of the population living in rural areas. Agriculture accounts for about one-third of GDP and 80% of export revenues. The performance of the tobacco sector is key to short-term growth as tobacco accounts for more than half of exports.
The economy depends on substantial inflows of economic assistance from the IMF, the World Bank, and individual donor nations. In 2006, Malawi was approved for relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) program but recent increases in domestic borrowing mean that debt servicing in 2016 exceeded the levels prior to HIPC debt relief.
Heavily dependent on rain-fed agriculture, with corn being the staple crop, Malawi’s economy was hit hard by the drought in 2015-16, which also slowed economic activity, led to two consecutive years of declining economic growth, and contributed to high inflation rates. Following a successful humanitarian response in 2016-2017 providing food assistance to 6.7 million people – 40% of the population – and increased transparency by agricultural parastatals, the economy has stabilized and inflation is dropping.