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Malawi 2017 Crime & Safety Report

Africa > Malawi; Africa > Malawi > Lilongwe

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Lilongwe does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED LILONGWE AS BEING A CRITICAL-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Please review OSAC’s Malawi-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Crime Threats

Malawi presents a crime and safety situation that is consistent with many impoverished and developing countries. As the country continues to address ongoing economic issues, crime remains a serious concern. Pickpockets and purse snatchers often loiter near bus stations, marketplaces, shopping centers, and restaurants. Few problems have been reported at Malawian airports, but heightened awareness is still recommended in those locations as well. Most hotels are safe, but less reputable accommodations can be less secure. Valuables should not be left in hotel rooms, and visitors should be cautious when utilizing room safes, as many are not securely anchored.

Visitors should be mindful of vehicle robberies, carjackings, residential burglaries, armed robberies, and home invasions. Criminals tend to work in groups of 5-15 people, are most commonly armed with panga knives (machetes), and sometimes are armed with a firearm. Criminals are quick to use violence if their demands are not met. Expatriates have been victims of violent crime but do not appear to be specifically targeted. If faced with an armed assailant, compliance is usually the best course of action to avoid personal injury.

Criminal activity is more common in urban areas than rural areas. Neighborhood policing efforts have aided in crime prevention and reporting but have not substantially decreased criminal activity. The Embassy is aware of several incidents of mob justice resulting in fatalities, even within major city limits. These incidents are often a result of public distrust and lack of confidence in the Malawi Police Services.

Single family homes and compounds are frequent targets of property crime, and residential home invasions are not uncommon. Establish and use a residential safe haven/secure room if feasible. Hire a residential guard and install an alarm system with a reputable company.

Security should be factored into all decisions, particularly with regards to lodging, travel, and activities. Below is a list of tips to help visitors remain safe while visiting Malawi:
Never walk on the street during the hours of darkness. Walk in a group, or at least in pairs and avoid isolated areas.
Use extra caution when crossing the street.
Always have a means of communication and a list of phone numbers with you.

Let someone know about planned absences and means of contact.

Organized crime is not prevalent. However, Malawi's porous borders are ripe for exploitation and have facilitated human trafficking rings, illegal migration, and other cross-border criminal activities. Malawi is used as an illegal transit route for passage from other African countries en route to South Africa.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

One of the greatest safety risks when visiting Malawi is the potential of a traffic accident. If a road accident occurs away from an urban area, there is little chance of a timely response by emergency medical personnel. The majority of the vehicles on the road should not be considered roadworthy and often lack basic safety features (brake lights, turn signals, headlights). Overloading of vehicles is common and affects speed, the ability to stop, and maneuverability. Many drivers operate their vehicles with no regard for traffic laws.

The roads are in poor condition. Most of the roadways, except for major thoroughfares, are not paved, leading to accessibility problems during the rainy season. Asphalt roads often lack a shoulder and are crumbling at the edges; breakdowns and accidents are rarely cleared from the roadway and present additional hazards. Seasonal heavy rains result in washouts, sinkholes, and potholes. In this densely-populated country, the roads are also congested with people, cattle, goats, and cyclists carrying heavy loads. Almost all roadways are not illuminated at night. Vehicle travel at night should be strictly limited to major urban areas, and even then caution must be exercised not only due to other drivers and pedestrians on the road but because of criminal elements. Plan all in-country travel so as to arrive at your destination before dark. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

Vehicle robberies are not uncommon, even in daylight hours. Victims are often targeted when a vehicle is stopped at an intersection or in a residential driveway.

Public Transportation Conditions

The use of public transportation is not recommended. Public transportation is extremely limited and unreliable. It primarily consists of private citizens driving independently, and unregulated passenger vans in varying but generally poor states of condition and repair. These vehicles are frequently overburdened, and the drivers are inexperienced and untrained. In the cities, bicycle taxis or small motorized tricycles are common but unsafe.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

There are two international airports located in Lilongwe and Blantyre with service around the region. Both airports support commercial air traffic, and flights in/out of Malawi are readily available. Airport security, screening, logistics, and emergency response are commensurate with other airports in sub-Saharan Africa.

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED LILONGWE AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

Americans are welcome and do not normally face hostility or aggression on the basis of their citizenship. However, there is minimal indication of anti-American or anti-Western sentiment amongst the general population.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED LILONGWE AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Civil Unrest

Public discontent with economic problems (power cuts, food insecurity, fuel shortages, inflation) and perceived poor governance exists. Many security issues are the result of the poor state of the economy, which saw high inflation and unemployment persist in 2016. Public protests, both planned and unplanned, occurred through 2016 and have affected both residents and visitors. Protests and demonstrations have not been directed at American/foreign citizens or at U.S. government facilities/interests. Even though incidents of civil unrest have generally been peaceful with no resulting fatalities, political demonstrations can quickly become violent.

Post-specific Concerns

Critical Infrastructure

Malawi’s infrastructure is underdeveloped. Water shortages can occur, especially during the dry season. Electricity is generally limited to the large cities, and power outages are frequent.

Personal Identity Concerns

Homosexuality is regarded as taboo, and openly identifiable LGBTQ persons can be subject to harassment and hostility. Although the government has maintained its moratorium on enforcement of anti-sodomy laws, those accused may still be subject to arrest.

Individuals with albinism have been attacked in the rural areas. The government of Malawi is actively engaged in a campaign to protect individuals with albinism.

Police Response

Crime Victim Assistance

The capabilities of the Malawi Police Service are growing, but its abilities to deter and investigate crimes, assist victims, and apprehend criminals are extremely limited. The police lack basic equipment (particularly transportation), are poorly funded, and do not receive sufficient training. Public support for the police has continued to drop, due in part to alleged corruption and ineffectiveness in deterring criminal activity. Should you become the victim or suspect of a crime, you should contact the local police and U.S. Embassy Lilongwe, or inform the police of your American citizenship and ask them to contact the embassy on your behalf.

Police/Security Agencies

The Malawi Police Service is the national law enforcement authority. The police emergency phone number is 990 and is the easiest means of obtaining police assistance.

The 24-hour phone number for the national police headquarters in Lilongwe is 01-796-333. The phone number for the Lilongwe Central Police Station is 01-753-333, and the Blantyre Central Police Station can be reached at 01-623-333. If dialing from a U.S.-based phone, first dial 265 and drop the initial “0” of the telephone number. These are office numbers and are not capable of dispatching any police units.

Medical Emergencies

Medical facilities lack resources and are not comparable with those of the U.S.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

Lilongwe

  • Lilongwe Central Hospital –– 01 753 555/ 01 751 109
  • Medi Clinic – 01 796 091
  • Likuni Mission Hospital – 01 766 574
  • Adventist Health Center – 01 775 680
  • African Bible College Community Clinic – 01 761 670/743
  • Medical Aid Society of Malawi (MASM) Clinic – 01 750 404
  • Partners in Hope – 01 727 155

 

Blantyre

  • Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital – 01 874 333
  • Mwaiwathu Hospital – 01 834 989

 

Insurance Guidance

All visitors are strongly encouraged to carry international medical evacuation insurance, and they should keep the contact information for the evacuation service with them at all times. In the event that a medical evacuation is necessary, those without insurance may have to pay $45,000 to $95,000 just to initiate the process.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

All visitors are strongly encouraged to begin and maintain appropriate malaria prophylaxis. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Malawi.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Lilongwe Country Council is scheduled to launch in February 2017. Please contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions or to join.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Lilongwe is located in the City Centre district of Lilongwe, which is loosely bordered by the major arteries of Presidential Way, Kenyatta Drive, and Africa Unity Drive. Physical addresses are not regularly used and are a poor means of locating the compound.

U.S. Embassy Lilongwe
Area 40, Plot 24
16 Kenyatta Drive

Lilongwe, Malawi

Embassy Contact Numbers

From within Malawi, U.S. Embassy Lilongwe can be reached by calling 01-773-166 or 01-773-342; international callers should use +265-1-773-166 or +265-1-773-342. Please note that Malawi’s country code is 265 and the intial “0” should be omitted from all telephone numbers when calling from outside of Malawi. These phone numbers can be utilized 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for routine assistance or emergencies.
Website: https://lilongwe.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

The Embassy's Consular Section provides a full range of consular services, including: renewal/replacement of passports, registering U.S. citizens, certifying the citizenship of American children born in Malawi, providing information and advice on obtaining medical or legal assistance, processing requests for Social Security and Veterans Benefits, and emergency assistance in case of illness, injury, arrest or death.

Routine services for U.S. citizens are provided by appointment with limited availability for walk-in services on Tuesday and Thursday morning from 8:00am to 11:00am. Appointments can be scheduled online via the Embassy’s website at Malawi.usembassy.gov. Individuals seeking more specific information can call +265 (1) 773-166 during regular working hours. The Consular Email address is consularlilong@state.gov.

U.S. citizens are encouraged to register with the Consular Section via the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).

Additional Resources

Malawi Country-Specific Information