The Internet in Malawi: past, present, and beyond

The number of individuals using the internet in Malawi has more than doubled since 2015. Despite this, the country still has the lowest rate of internet access in the region, meaning many Malawians are left without connectivity.

As of December 2019, 14.2% of the population had internet access, up from 5.83% in 2014. While this is a promising increase, Malawi’s neighbors continue to outperform them. For example, connectivity in countries such as Tanzania and Kenya is much higher, with much more of the population able to access the internet.

Coverage for 3G and 4G has improved, and users can purchase bundles or use WiFi in larger urban areas. Mobiles are the most common way that Malawians access the internet, and mobile penetration in Malawi sits at 41.3%. The regional average is 74.4 % meaning there is considerable potential for growth in the country.

The problem is that slow connection speeds prevail across the country. They can vary between 1.3 Mbps and 1.7 Mbps, compared to the global average of 7Mbps.

The cost of connectivity

According to the 2020 Inclusive Internet Index, Malawi ranks 97th out of countries surveyed in terms of affordability. The current price of a standard monthly internet package is $200, $25 less than the average salary, meaning that, for most of the country, the internet is out of reach.

Local IT experts are pushing for change and are lobbying the government to decrease taxes, increase the promotion of careers in IT, and to build properties with broadband included as standard. Most of Malawi’s regional neighbors outpace them in terms of affordability, however. Therefore, the government will need to make some swift changes to ensure economic, technological, and social competition in the region.

Some neighbors such as Tanzania and South Africa have higher connectivity costs, but salaries are also higher as well. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Madagascar all have cheaper internet and better connections in relation to the average salary.

What do Malawians look at online?

Social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and messaging platforms like WhatsApp are popular in Malawi. They don’t require particularly fast internet connections but provide entertainment with a social element. As mobile internet access prevails, an increase in the popularity of mobile games has been observed, as there are plenty of games available that don’t need fast internet speeds to download or to play.

Some of the most popular games played by Malawians include mobile slot games, puzzles, and games you can download and play offline. Slots are a favored choice because they don’t require high internet speeds or use much data to play. For example, Malawians can search for the best mobile slots and choose between playing free, or real money slots, depending on their preference.

The same trends have been observed across the region. Social media remains very popular, followed by messaging platforms. Games such as slots and ‘lite’ versions of other mobile games are also seeing an increase. Whereas, streaming activity in the region remains low due to various factors including price and internet speed, however, even that is on the rise it seems.

A growing number of Malawians are also using the internet to look for new jobs, continue online education, and read. As internet speeds increase and associated costs decrease, it’s hoped that these trends will continue, allowing residents greater access to information and the world beyond their borders.

The future for Malawi

There is hope and even signs that things will improve. As the world becomes increasingly more connected, local lawmakers will have to act to keep up with the digital economy. By not doing so, the country is missing out on income-generating industries. These would provide far more fiscal benefits to the state than the current high taxes imposed on internet access. As with many things, the change will not happen overnight.

In the meantime, Malawians will continue using the net in savvy and money-saving ways to learn, play games, explore, and communicate with friends and family.