Filling a vacuum: Efforts to map and enumerate Lilongwe


My latest for looks at how civil society actors in Lilongwe are generating their own maps and data to understand urban poverty due to a gap in official statistics. Initiatives include participatory community mapping efforts as well as an open geospatial database. But more could be done.

You can read the article here, and join the discussion on visualising poverty around the Global South here.


urban_net #4: Land reform, community mobilisation, and waste management.

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The fourth urban_net meeting took place today at the ActionAid office in Lilongwe, featuring three presentations. First up was Harun Aubi Juma, a Masters student at Chancellor College, presenting a political economy analysis of (lack of) land reform in Malawi. Juma outlined how land reform was initially initiated at the start of multi-party democracy in 1994, but that since has stalled and while the Land Bill was passed last year, it is still to be enacted. “Land reform in Malawi is caught in competing objectives between the state and private sector on one hand and local communities on the other,” he argued, noting how the poor are the losers in this scenario and how the scarcity of land in rural areas pushes people to migrate to urban areas, resulting in the profileration of unplanned settlements.

The second presentation, by CCODE intern Eleonore Dupre, featured research findings on community mobilisation and participation in community projects in Kauma, a large poor settlement in Lilongwe. Key findings included that poverty and the need to make a living can trump participation in community development projects, and that when individuals participate, the motivation for doing so often centres on the individual benefit gained from the project, such as a daily allowance, as opposed to the common benefit. Dupre also found that there was a general lack of awareness of many development projects, as well as that newcomers to the settlement often felt excluded. Nevertheless, respondents indicated an overall sense of well-being.

The final presentation, by ActionAid and LUPPEN Advisor Nora Lindstrom, looked at waste management in poor areas of Lilongwe. Lindstrom showed how the city’s poor settlements are significantly under-served by municipal waste collection services, leading to harmful practices such as burning and dumping waste. She noted that part of the reason for this lies in that the City Council does not have adequate resources to manage waste in the city, which in turn has led to the proliferation of (illegal) private waste management services who collect waste for a fee from the city’s wealthier residents and subsequently appear to dump it in poor communities. Composting, if done properly, was highlighted as an effective waste management strategy given that over 70% of waste in Lilongwe is estimated to be organic.

The next urban_net meeting will take place on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2014 – join us!

Housing and inclusive planning.

Typical housing in poor areas of Lilongwe

Typical housing in poor areas of Lilongwe

Housing and inclusive planning is the focus of‘s latest debate. My article discusses Lilongwe’s impending housing crisis, and how one local NGO, CCODE, is mobilising communities to address the issue. Other pieces look at the situation in as varied a places as Dar es Salaam, Mexico City, Lagos, Cali, and Mumbai. Click here to access all the stories, and join the discussion!

Mind the (gender and age) gap.


The latest Urban Talks even took place last night at Crossroads Hotel in Lilongwe. Sponsored by UN-Habitat and organised by the Urban Research Institute, the public debate took on the topics of inequality, women, and youth in the city. On the panel were Pamela Mkwanda, UN Women; Harvey Chimaliro, Concerned Youth Organisation; Maggie Banda, Women Legal Resource Center; Justin Saidi, Principal Secretary Ministry of Youth Development and Sports; and Annie Chinoko-Soko, a community leader from Mtandire settlement.

The debate focused on lack of employment opportunities for youth, and challenges in accessing quality education facing both boys and girls, but girls to a larger degree. Panelists also spoke about the many challenges facing women in the city, including access to water, adequate housing, and safe and affordable transportation. Given the upcoming tripartite elections in May, women’s participation in political processes and indeed standing for elections also came up, with panelists noting that cultural conservatism discourages women from entering the political arena. The debate was broadcast live on Zodiak radio.