By The Conversation
Malawi’s landlocked status places a huge burden on its economy. This makes imports and exports expensive. Because of time-consuming and poor-quality rail and road transport, the country’s transport costs are among the highest in Africa.
The search for a solution has dominated Malawi’s foreign policy since independence in 1964. Malawi relies on four main trade corridors: the ports of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania; Beira and Nacala in Mozambique and Durban in South Africa.
An alternative route is a waterway to the Indian Ocean through Mozambique. It was first proposed in 1891. The now controversial idea was revived in 2005 by Malawi’s third president, Bingu wa Mutharika (2004-2012) as a signature foreign policy project. It was known as the Shire-Zambezi Waterway.
Believing it would be an important legacy of his presidency, he consistently claimed that using the route from Nsanje in Malawi to Chinde in Mozambique would drastically reduce Malawi’s transport costs and boost economic growth.
Malawi’s main exports are tobacco, tea, sugar. It imports oils, consumer goods and fertilisers.
But Malawi has so far failed to get access to the Indian Ocean. Our research suggests this is because of two important factors: Malawi’s diplomatic strategy and the absence of Mozambique’s buy-in.