Malawi Reports: Urban Profiles of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba


UNHabitat released a series of urban profiles on Malawian cities Blantyre, Lilongwe, Zomba and Mzuzu, as well as a National Urban Profile.

The Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme (PSUP) is an accelerated and action-oriented urban assessment of needs and capacity-building gaps at national and local levels. It is currently being implemented in over 30 countries in Africa, Caribbean, and Pacific Region. PSUP uses a structured approach where priority interventions are agreed upon through consultative processes. The PSUP methodology consists of three phases: (1) a rapid participatory urban profiling, at national and local levels, focusing on Governance, Local Economic Development, Environment, Land, Shelter and Slums, Gender and HIV/AIDS, and Basic Urban Services and proposed interventions; (2) detailed priority proposals; and (3) project implementation. PSUP in Malawi encompasses a national profile, as well as profiles for Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba cities, each published as a separate report. This report constitutes a general background, a synthesis of the seven themes: Governance and Financial Management, Local Economic Development, Environment, Land, Shelter and Slums, Gender and HIV/AIDS, and Basic Urban Services, and priority project proposals.

Blantyre City is the oldest urban centre in Malawi, established by the Scottish Missionaries in the 1870s and declared a planning area in 1897. It is the hub for communication, commercial activities and cooperation in Malawi. The influence of Blantyre declined when Lilongwe became the capital city in 1975. However, it has maintained its grip as the commercial capital of Malawi. The city offers a number of economic opportunities but lacks resources to meaningfully implement its strategies and provide the required basic social infrastructure and urban services required for economic development to take place. Over 65 percent of the city’s population lives in informal settlements which occupy about 23 percent of the land in Blanytre. Poverty stands at 24 percent while unemployment stands at 8 percent. Improved governance, revenue collection and management capacity are seen as major factors needed for reducing poverty in the city. The establishment of a development coordinating committee (DCC) is vital for encouraging participation and city management. Policies must be formulated and implemented to address the existing shortfalls and such policies should be pro-poor. Improvement and expansion of service delivery, planning capacity and financial management is a necessity. All in all, the leadership of Blantyre should embrace good governance through principles of sustainability, subsidiarity, equity, transparency and accountability, civic engagement and citizenship, and security.

Lilongwe, the largest city in Malawi, became the capital and administrative City of Malawi in 1975 after relocating from Zomba. Lilongwe has witnessed a high urbanization rate ever since, accelerated by the relocation of all government head offices from Blantyre to Lilongwe from 2005. The city is divided into four sectors (Old Town, Capital Hill, Kanengo, and Lumbadzi). Lilongwe is situated at the centre of a large agricultural area and there are many economic activities taking place in the city. However, Lilongwe lacks the necessary financial resources to implement significant development plans and provide the required basic infrastructure and urban services needed for economic development to take place. Lilongwe’s major industry is tobacco processing. Approximately 76 percent of the city’s population lives in informal settlements. Poverty stands at about 25 percent with unemployment at 16 percent. Improved governance, revenue collection, management capacity, and understanding of the city’s competitive advantages are seen as major factors to address the current development challenges faced in Lilongwe.

Under the motto of “Floriate Zomba” (Make Zomba a Flowery City) Zomba City, the first capital of Malawi up to 1975, is undergoing rejuvenation since it was declared a city in March 2008. The city is experiencing rapid population growth with a population of 88,314 in 2008 and an annual growth rate of 3 percent. Some 51 percent of the city’s population is male and 49 percent is female. The city has a population density of 2,264 per km². The local economy of Zomba is comprised of trade and distribution, community and social services, agriculture, and some light industries. Poverty stands at 29 percent and over 60 percent of the population lives in informal settlements. Comprehensive urban management and development of land use and local economic development plans will help in positively addressing various challenges being faced. The city council needs to foster public-private partnerships (PPP) in order to maximize the potential in urban development and poverty alleviation and improve its capacity in terms of physical economic infrastructure and environmental planning.

Mzuzu City, with a population of 133,968 and growing at 4.2 percent per annum, is one of the fastest growing cities in Malawi and is the third largest urban centre after Lilongwe and Blantyre. It is the hub of government administration, business, industry, commerce, and services for the northern region of Malawi, and it serves a hinterland with a population of 1,708,930. Originating from a Tung Oil Estate in 1947, the city has grown from 23km² to 143.8 km² in 2008 and was declared a city in 1985. However, the city lacks adequate infrastructure and services. Over 60 percent of the population lives in unplanned settlements. The city does not have adequate policies and regulations to support orderly and planned growth. Improvement and expansion of service delivery, proper urban planning and good financial management are crucial for the development of the city.

Full Text

To access the full text of the UNHabitat: Regional and Technical Cooperation Division reports on Malawian cites follow the links below:

Malawi: Blantyre Urban Profile

Malawi: Lilongwe Urban Profile

Malawi: Zomba Urban Profile

Malawi: Mzuzu Urban Profile




Publication Type Report
Year 2011
Author(s) Habitat UN
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2 Responses to “Malawi Reports: Urban Profiles of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba”

  1. Hastings zidana jnr

    There is a need for quarterly reports so that change can be adequately observed in order to draw more accurate assumptions. The reports should also encompass a wider range of economic issues including the sectors in which the labour is employed and the income of the various cities. A closer cooperation with the national statistical office situated in zomba along with students from the chancellor college economics department would also be advised.


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