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.


Locating the poor in Lilongwe.

This post features edited excerpts from my recent report Survey of Urban Poor Settlements in Lilongwe, produced by ActionAid Malawi and the Lilongwe Urban Poor People’s Network.

Makatani settlement, categorised as Transitional-2

Makatani settlement, categorised as Transitional-2

In country where most people give directions based on landmarks, it can be difficult for an outsider to get a sense of what’s where. When it comes to poor settlements in Lilongwe, most people know they exist near so-and-so, but even people working in the settlements are not always clear which administrative area a particular settlement is located in. This of course says a lot about the relevance of (imposed) administrative boundaries for locals, as well as differences in how space is viewed and experienced by locals and outsiders (such as myself). In any case, part of what we wanted to do through our recent research project was to geo-locate the settlements we surveyed, and use that data in our analysis. Here’s what we found:

Poor settlements exist across Lilongwe City. However, as the below map shows, while most of the areas of Lilongwe are home to only one or two poor settlements, some areas stand out as containing more. Areas 25 and 49 are both home to five of the settlements surveyed, while Areas 50 and 55 contain three each. This is of note given that all four Areas, containing a total of 16 settlements (48% of total), are located in the northern part of Lilongwe and border each other.

The congregation of poor settlements in the northern part of the city is reflected in the distribution of settlements across Traditional Authorities (T/A) in Lilongwe. The clear majority (64%) of settlements surveyed is located in T/A Chitukula, which spans Areas 10, 25, 39, 41, 44, 49, 50, 51, and 55. 24% of settlements are located in T/A Tsabango, while only 2% of settlements are located in T/A Malili and T/A Njewa respectively.

There are however notable differences in living standards across the settlements surveyed. While all can be described as ‘poor’, there are variations in access to basic public services as well as land management practices between the settlements. To give an overall sense of the type of settlements surveyed, each settlement was scored on ten characteristics, and categorised as either Urban, Transitional-1, Transitional-2, or Rural. The categories were defined as follows:

Urban – Settlements are planned and residents pay City Rates. Land is managed by the LCC and Chiefs do not allocate land. House types are mixed or permanent, and the majority has access the LWB water, ESCOM electricity, access by tarmac road, and LCC waste collection.

Transitional-1 – Land is managed by the LCC and residents pay City Rates. All settlements are either fully or partly planned. All have access to LWB water and ESCOM electricity (one does not have electricity access).

– Settlements are unplanned and residents do not pay City Rates. House types are mixed, and some residents have access to tenure security documents. All have access to LWB water and ESCOM electricity.

Rural – Unplanned settlements where Chiefs play a role in land allocation and residents do not have secure tenure nor do they pay City Rates. Very limited access to public services.

The below pie chart shows the frequency of the resulting groups:

settlement typology

The chart indicates that two-thirds of the settlements fall into the Rural or the Transitional-2 category. As the map below shows, Transitional-2 settlements are located throughout the city. Settlements categorized as Rural on the other hand are located in the northern parts of the city; seven are located in adjacent Areas 25, 49, 50, and 55, while three are located in nearby each other in Areas 39, 41, and 44. Only one, Sese, is located in the southern part of the city.

Interestingly, ten of the eleven settlements categorized as Rural are located in T/A Chitukula, implying that there is not only a significant amount of poor settlements in the area, but also that those poor settlements are some of the worst off among those surveyed. Indeed, 71% of settlements in T/A Chitukula fall into categories Rural and Transitional-2, indicating a concentration of poverty in the area.

Only five settlements fall into the Transitional-1 category. Three of these are located close to each other in rapidly gentrifying Area 49. Similarly, only six settlements are classified as Urban. Apart from Mchesi, these were all established after Lilongwe became the capital of Malawi, i.e. post-1970. They are all also located in the vicinity of trading centres, which may account for their better than average access to public services as well as the prevalent formal land management structures.

A house in Sector 7, a settlement categorised as Urban

A house in Sector 7, a settlement categorised as Urban