The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Lilongwe: City report

ACRC Working Paper 2024-13. Manchester: African Cities Research Consortium, The University of Manchester.

Lilongwe: City report cover

1 May 2024

By Donald Brown Associate Professor, Development Planning Unit, UCL, UK, Mtafu Manda Associate Professor, Department of the Built Environment, Mzuzu University, Malawi, and Tuntu Mwalyambwile, Private Consultant, Lilongwe, Malawi

Lilongwe is the capital of Malawi and its largest city, with a population of around 1 million. Three-quarters of all residents live in informal settlements, characterised by poor-quality housing and living conditions. This paper draws together a set of studies completed by a team of researchers in Lilongwe as part of the African Cities Research Consortium (ACRC). The aim of the studies was to understand the political-economic factors that have contributed to Lilongwe’s development problem over time. The argument is that, with the introduction of multiparty democracy in 1994, a highly competitive electoral system emerged, with the winners rewarding supporters through patronage and clientelism. While this pattern of politics is found in other democracies, the key difference in Malawi is the effect of its small economy, widespread poverty and low public finances on the relative magnitude of clientelism. Reform coalitions are emerging to support participatory informal settlement upgrading, but they require capacity building. It is concluded that the capability of these coalitions to reach scale hinges largely on whether the small amount of funding pledged by Lilongwe City Council can attract additional resources (probably from external aid agencies), how the invited spaces of participation will be facilitated in neighbourhoods where local government structures have been politicised, and how far communities can participate in local political spaces influenced by democratic reforms, clientelism and limited resources.

Keywords: Political settlements, development domains, city systems, clientelism, reform coalition

Published by the African Cities Research Consortium.

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