AskDefine | Define lilongwe

Dictionary Definition

Lilongwe n : the capital of Malawi; located in south central Malawi [syn: capital of Malawi]

Extensive Definition

Lilongwe, estimated population 597,619 (2003 census), is the capital of Malawi. It lies in the country's central region, on the Lilongwe river, near the border of Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia, and on the main north-south highway of Malawi, the M1. Lilongwe is located at (-13.98333, 33.78333).


The city started life as a small village on the banks of the Lilongwe river, and became a British colonial administrative centre at the beginning of the 20th century. Due to its location on the main north-south route through the country and the road to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Lilongwe became the 2nd largest city in Malawi. In 1974, the capital of the country was formally moved from Zomba (the fourth largest city today in Malawi ) to Lilongwe. Although, Lilongwe is the official capital of Malawi and has grown immensely since 1974, most commercial activity takes place in Malawi's largest city, Blantyre. Recently, as part of political restructuring, the parliament has been shifted to Lilongwe and all parliament members are required to spend time in the new capital. Lilongwe is now the political centre of Malawi, but Blantyre remains the Economic capital.


As compared to other African capitals, Lilongwe is politically stable, safe, and quiet. Many European and South African expatriates live in Lilongwe, and many NGOs (Care International, Plan International, Concern, UNHCR, UNFAO, WFP, Population Services International, The UNC Project, World Camp, Baylor International AIDS Initiative,), international aid organizations (Peace Corps, USAID, DFID), and international corporations, particularly tobacco-related firms, operate out of Lilongwe. As a result, most western visitors will find the city to be accommodating and friendly. Many coffee shops, cafes, bars, clubs, restaurants, and even a casino are located in Lilongwe. In Lilongwe, as opposed to rural Malawi, one can live, work, or vacation in a manner that most westerners would consider typical, if not luxurious.
However, most of Lilongwe's Malawian citizens live on just a few dollars a day and many are unemployed. The population of Lilongwe has grown as villagers, including young orphaned children, from the surrounding rural areas have relocated to the capital in search of jobs and the unattainable quality of life enjoyed by government officials, NGO and other international workers, and expatriates. Despite the highly visible class differences, most of the city's residents go about their lives in relative harmony. Street crime is uncommon, but begging and street hustling are not.
During the rainy season, between October and April, Lilongwe is muddy, humid, and hot. During the other months of the year, Lilongwe is dry and dusty. June and July are particularly cold and windy months.
Lilongwe is a hot-spot for the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Malawi. It is estimated that up to 20% of the urban population is HIV positive. Frighteningly, the Malawi National AIDS Commission reports that professionals, especially teachers and agricultural extension agents - many of whom travel between urban centers and rural villages, are dying faster than they can be replaced. Also, the central region of Malawi is experiencing extreme deforestation. It is feared that rural citizens will have no access to wood for cooking fires, heating fires, and building materials by 2015. Problems with HIV/AIDS and deforestation are interrelated to the rapid population growth the city is currently experiencing.


The city has many districts known as Areas. Areas are numbered, and range from one to fifty or more as the city grows - City Centre not being a numbered Area. The Areas are not necessarily consecutively numbered from one area to another.
Some Notable Areas are:
  • City Centre is by far the most modern, developed area of Lilongwe. Many banks (Stanbic - or Standard Chartered, National Bank of Malawi, NedBank, the Reserve Bank of Malawi), diplomatic missions, exclusive hotels (Sunbird Capital Hotel), airline offices (including South African Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, British Airways, Kenya Airways) and international corporate offices are located in City Centre.
  • Area 2: Old Town (North of A1) - Closest to the city centre; thriving commercial district, frequented primarily by locals; clothing, local food, western-style groceries, car parts, building supplies, bicycles/bicycle accessories are available here; home to Lilongwe's main local market, two major mosques, and a sprawling mini-bus station.
  • Area 3 and Area 9: Old Town (West of A1) - West bank of the Lilongwe river; large, wealthy residential neighborhoods, expatriate bars, nice hotels, western style shopping and restaurants, private expatriate clinics (Moyo Wathanzi on Likuni Road - Dr. Huber of Amsterdam).
  • Area 47: Home to African Bible College, and its dependable, inexpensive missionary clinic which is typically staffed by American doctors. There is also a small stadium (Silver stadium). Children of the Nations is headquartered in African Bible College
  • Other medium to low density residential areas are Areas 6, 12, 11, 43, 10, 44. There are also areas 15, and 18 which are medium to high density. Area 15 in particular has about 250 bungalows and houses medium earners.
  • While the areas mentioned above are quite wealthy, safe, and modern, many citizens of Lilongwe live in sub-standard/non-permanent housing in a variety of Areas, often without electricity or running water.


Lilongwe is served by Malawi Railways and Shire Bus Lines, and local buses and minibuses run between Old Town, City Centre, Kamuzu International Airport, and other urban centers, including Mzuzu and Blantyre. Taxis are available from hotels and a taxi rank on Presidential Way, North of City Centre Shopping Centre. Most major urban roads are severely congested, and most Malawians prefer, or are economically limited to, walking or travel by bicycle. Kamuzu International Airport, located about 35 km north of Lilongwe in the suburb of Lumbadzi, offers local turbo-prop flights and flights on a number of major airlines to South Africa, Kenya, Dubai, and Ethiopia.


The main western-style shopping area is around Shoprite and the Nico Centre in Area 3, on the west bank of the Lilongwe river in Old Town. A newer, similar shopping center is located near the Mchinji round-about across from the Seven Eleven filling station - the Crossroads Shopping Center. Several internet cafes are located in and around these two shopping centres. Gifts and crafts can be bought from the post office craft market directly opposite the Nico Centre. To get a fair deal in the craft market, you must bargain hard. Pharmacies, bureau de changes and banks (including Stanbic and Malawi National Bank) are located throughout the city. ATM's which accept VISA cards are available at the banks mentioned above in City Centre and Area 3. It should be noted that almost any necessity can be purchased in Lilongwe, and many back-packers and overland travellers stop in Lilongwe to stock-up and enjoy city life for a few days.


Gerke, W.J.C. & Viljoen, Charl J. Master Plan for Lilongwe the Capital City of Malawi (Johannesburg: Swan Publishing, 1968)


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