A partnership between Johannesburg and Lilongwe that helped Malawi’s capital formulate a robust city development strategy (CDS), with Cities Alliance support, received a 2012 International Guangzhou Award for Urban Innovation.


[31 January 2013] -- A partnership between Johannesburg and Lilongwe that helped Malawi’s capital formulate a city development strategy (CDS) received a 2012 International Guangzhou Award for Urban Innovation.

The award—organised by Metropolis, United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), and the Guangzhou (China) Municipal Government—recognises innovations that can improve the socio-economic climate of cities and regions, promote sustainability, and thus improve the lives of city residents around the world. The five winners each received USD20,000 prizes.

As in most developing countries, the provision of quality housing and services has not kept pace with rapid urbanisation, leading to more poverty and slums. In 2007 the Lilongwe City Assembly decided to develop a city development strategy to guide its future development. But it had no experience with the strategic urban planning process and was confronted with political leadership, management, resource, and corruption issues. With support from both global and national associations (United Cities and Local Governments and the Malawi Local Government Association), Lilongwe therefore turned to the more experienced city of Johannesburg for guidance.



Old town commercial centre and high crime area in Lilongwe, Malawi. Photo: Adele Hosken/Cities Alliance

A Structure but Flexible Process

First, a Cities Alliance grant paid for a consultant to assess the context. It revealed a critical need to fix financial systems, fill vacant management positions, and upgrade equipment before moving on to the next phase. An administrative reform strategy was therefore developed and implemented.

This marked the end of Johannesburg’s mentorship role. The CDS itself was developed by the Lilongwe City Assembly without any external financial support and launched in 2010. This led to full ownership of the strategy and the robust development of institutional knowledge. The CDS included a five-year implementation plan with proposed iconic projects, and monitoring and evaluation guidelines. Incorporation of MDG targets ensured a pro-poor orientation.

Many organisations were consulted during these first two phases to ensure adequate input. The third phase, now underway, is focused on laying the groundwork for the implementation of the CDS. It is being driven and carried out solely by Lilongwe officials, with funding from the Cities Alliance.


The Many Benefits of Mentorship

Johannesburg’s mentorship, although it required plenty of time and resources, was critical; a guide pack would not have offered the same benefits. The mentorship ensured that the programme had the right tools, involved critical stakeholders, remained on target, and used the best possible information.

The Johannesburg team offered targeted support and guidance to the Lilongwe City Council. The mentors were involved as little or as much as was needed, and they led by example, carrying out many activities first and then explaining how to use their outputs.

This approach substantially improved the council’s capacity to formulate and adopt strategies in economic management, shelter, land, and infrastructure. The council also computerised much of its accounting and billing system, leading to more transparency, accountability, and efficiency, as well as higher revenues. This enabled the council to raise staff salaries, based on the new performance management system. One significant service delivery improvement has been the absence of cholera cases in the past fiscal year.

These improvements have enabled the council to quickly leverage additional investments to implement some elements of the CDS. These funds are being used to: Create nearly 2,000 residential and commercial plots for the poor; improve water and sanitation in the settlements; strengthen the Community Savings and Loans Association; and improve dilapidated roads and install street lighting.

The mentorship also strengthened the relationship between the two countries. The benefits were far-reaching: Representatives from Malawi’s other major cities—Blantyre, Zomba, and Mzuzu—participated in all of the CDS workshops in order to learn how to replicate the CDS process themselves. UCLG then facilitated a mentorship between Mzuzu and Durban/eThekwini, which has led to Mzuzu’s first visioning process and strategic planning framework.




Fresh produce market in Lilongwe. Photo: Adele Hosken/Cities Alliance


Lessons Learned

Mentorships such as this are best provided by peer cities that have typically shared similar challenges and environments. Because the relationship was managed informally, the process was flexible and could more easily respond to changing capacity levels within the assembly and accommodate new requirements such as the stabilisation strategy. The informality also allowed the relationship between the two cities to develop organically and laid a solid foundation for a more formal relationship to develop.

It was important that the mentorship request originated in Lilongwe and was clearly articulated. Mentoring will only yield meaningful long-term results if is accompanied by structured and extensive capacity building that improves the city’s systems and develops the administration’s strategic and management skills. Regular face-to-face contact is essential to maintain momentum. It is best if the mentor team possesses a wide range of high-level skills and experience, in order to provide value during different stages of the process.

This partnership also challenged the widely held belief that strategic planning and related technical outputs can only be produced with substantial donor funding and extensive reliance on consultants.

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