Whose garden, who farms? Uncovering Lilongwe’s reimagination as a Garden City in conflict: The case of the Lilongwe Ecological Corridor Initiative

Mittwoch (20. September 2023), 09:00–10:30
HZ 15
Willi Bauer (FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg)
Alexandra Titz (FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg)
Fred Krüger (FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg)
This presentation problematizes the reconfiguration of ‘Garden City’ Lilongwe through large-scale green infrastructures in conflict on a local and political level.


Malawi’s “new” capital Lilongwe was planned as a Garden City. In the 60 years since, its population grew from roughly 20,000 to 1,2 Million. This growth led to a sharp decrease of urban greenspaces. The Garden City image is visibly under pressure. Against this background and in the context of climate change, the city council and partners launched the Lilongwe Ecological Corridor Initiative. Aiming to protect and restore greenspaces and riverine areas, the initiative profiles as a lighthouse green infrastructure project. It is also the first explicitly labeled “Nature-based Solution” in Malawi and a supposed blueprint for future urban conservation efforts. The hoped-for benefits range from biodiversity protection, increased recreational values and appeal to tourists, to flood mitigation. Further, it is a milestone in Lilongwe’s attempt to become one of southern Africa’s green capitals. Yet, this vision follows the pattern of exclusive planning for the rapidly shrinking formal city. Green infrastructure in Malawi is as political as grey infrastructure.

In this presentation, we hence seek to broaden the understanding of the initiative as influenced by large-scale developments and situated within specific urban politics. We ask whose vision, or which Nature-based ‘solutions’ to whose problems, are considered in its planning. Based on qualitative research, we illustrate how the observed way of ‘green city making’ leads to specific challenges and opportunities of policy integration and inclusivity in Lilongwe. We illustrate this through the conflict between urban agriculture and flood protection in the context of riverine restoration. Connected in the framing of the initiative, urban agriculture is being considered a potential cause of flooding and the destruction of riverbeds. Hence, it is supposed to be replaced. Conversely, national policies promote urban agriculture and water intensive winter cropping, while legally disregarding cities as sites of risk. It appears that urban agriculture is specifically unwanted in Lilongwe’s green and polished future vision. On the other hand, flood protection as a co-benefit of riverine restoration can help mitigate disaster risks despite the institutional void in terms of urban DRR.

Through detailing these conflicts, opportunities and relations, this presentation provides insights into three main domains. First, it offers empirical evidence into the planning and implementation of urban green infrastructure projects in Malawi. Second, it politicizes greening as interest-driven and power laden, privileging a specific set of values, demands and practices over others. Lastly, we point out mismatches between national and local policies, showcasing the complicated environment of green interventions in Malawi, while illustrating their potential to address weak-spots in institutional frameworks. Through this approach, we seek to provide entry points for further discussion surrounding inclusive green futures in Malawi.