In 2016, Malawi had a road network of 15,451 kilometers, of which 28 percent was paved (4,312 kilometers). The network of main roads was then 3,357 kilometers long, 2,976 kilometers of which were paved. In 2014, it was determined that 38% of the paved roads were in good condition, 40% in fair condition and 22% in poor condition.
According to wholevehicles, Malawi’s road network is fairly extensive, which is partly due to the relatively high population density for African standards. The network of paved roads is relatively extensive for a country with such a low standard of living. There is one major north-south route, the M1, with a number of branches along it forming parallel routes. The number of east-west routes is logically much more limited, as the country is mainly stretched in the north-south direction. However, the road network is often in poor condition. In the capital Lilongwe there are only a few paved roads. The largest town, Blantyre, is more like a city, and has more paved roads. There are no motorways in Malawi, but a cloverleaf cloverleaf opened in Lilongwe on September 28, 2020.
The largest cities of Lilongwe and Blantyre have a modestly developed road network. Typically, there are almost no roads with 4 lanes or separated lanes. There are also virtually no bypasses, only Lilongwe has a southwestern bypass. In Lilongwe, all roads in the center and in the rich neighborhoods are paved, in the poorer suburbs virtually no streets are paved. There are relatively many roundabouts in Lilongwe. The situation in Blantyre is somewhat similar. In Blantyre, the M2 is equipped with separate carriageways, for a long time the only road in Malawi of this type. Blantyre has two urban cores because it merged in 1956 with its sister city Limbe, which was 10 kilometers to the east.
In parts of Malawi one finds more modern designed roads, improved roads often have a carriageway of 9 to 10 meters wide with emergency lanes for non-motorized traffic. In some places, more modern designed elements can also be found, such as roundabouts constructed according to European design requirements.
Motorways in Malawi
There are no motorways in Malawi. The Highway Code does include instructions on how to drive on motorways.
The national road network is divided into three road classes, the main roads, the secondary roads and the tertiary roads. These roads are numbered. The main roads are the primary roads that provide access to all larger towns. These roads are often but not always paved. The M1 is the country’s main road, running north-south across Malawi, passing through the country’s largest cities.
|Main roads in Malawi|
|M1 • M2 • M3 • M4 • M5 • M6 • M7 • M8 • M9 • M10 • M11 • M12 • M14 • M16 • M18 • M20 • M22 • M24 • M26|
The national road authority of Malawi is the Malawi Roads Authority (RA). The Malawi Roads Authority was established in 2006 and manages all public roads that are part of the national road network. The Malawi Roads Authority manages the main roads, secondary roads and tertiary roads, together covering a network of 10,603 kilometers in 2016. The Malawi Roads Authority also supports local authorities with the development of local roads.
- According to Abbreviationfinder, Lilongwe is the capital of Malawi.
In the British colonial period, the road network was only developed to a limited extent. The best roads were in the south of Malawi, at independence in 1964 the M3 between Blantyre and Zomba was the only modern paved road in the country. Furthermore, the M2 between Blantyre and Mulanje was a narrow paved road, as was the M14 between Lilongwe and Salima.
Under the dictatorship of President Hastings Banda (1964-1994), Malawi followed the philosophy of self-sufficiency. The country has no raw materials, is not located on important corridors and is not located by the sea. From the 1960s onwards, roads were paved on a fairly large scale, mainly to accommodate transport from agriculture to the cities. Malawi’s road network developed relatively quickly in the 1960s-70s-80s and was of a somewhat higher standard than other countries with a comparable level of prosperity. The first road to be paved after independence was the M3-M8-M1 route between Zomba and Lilongwe over a length of 288 kilometers. Subsequently, 351 kilometers of the M1 between Lilongwe and Mzuzu were paved. Later, 222 kilometers of the M1 further to Karonga were paved in the 1970s.
In the 1980s, priority was given to the M5 along Lake Malawi as the country’s second north-south route. This was a 492-kilometer-long stretch that was built as a paved road in a relatively short time. In the 1980s, roads in southern Malawi were mainly paved, such as the M1 between Blantyre and Chikwawa, the M6 to Mwanza and the M12 from Lilongwe to Mchinji. A number of old narrow roads were also modernised, such as the M14 between Lilongwe and Salima and the M2 between Blantyre and Mulanje.
The first Road Maintenance and Construction (ROMAC) program began in 1984 and was completed in 1988. A ROMAC II program was carried out between 1992 and 1996. In this, the M1 between Chikwawa and Bangula was upgraded to a modern two-lane road and a number of older roads were renovated.
At the transition to democracy in 1994, Malawi had a network of 1,820 kilometers of paved roads between towns in the country, plus a limited network of paved streets in the largest cities. In 2011, 60% of the paved roads were in good condition, 33% in fair condition and 7% in poor condition. Due to a lack of money, the condition of the road network deteriorated sharply in the following years, to 38% good, 40% fair and 22% bad.
Road construction in Malawi has been largely carried out by foreign construction companies, both European and Chinese construction companies. Especially Italian, British and Portuguese construction companies have been active in Malawi. Road projects in Malawi have also been financed to a significant extent by foreign donations and loans, such as by the African Development Bank, the European Union/European Investment Bank, the World Bank, China, the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the OPEC Fund.
There are a number of toll roads in Malawi where tolls are collected by the Roads Fund Administration to finance the roads in Malawi. In 2021-2022, toll gates will come into operation on the M1 between Lilongwe and Blantyre. Foreign vehicles must pay a Road Access Fee to drive in Malawi.