Change along the Lilongwe River
Figure 1

Informality is an integral part of almost all African cities[i]. Of particular interest to ICLEI Africa, the UNA Rivers project team and the Lilongwe City council is the Tsoka and Lizulu informal markets in Lilongwe, Malawi. Both are located on the banks of the Lilongwe River and have increased in size significantly (Figure 1), compromising the health of the Lilongwe River (Figure 2).

Figure 2

These markets have been identified as significant point sources of pollution along the Lilongwe River with associated challenges including encroachment into the river buffer zone, urban agriculture on the river banks and waste dumping alongside and in the river (Figure 5). Compounding this challenge is the fact that the Lilongwe River is the primary source of water to the city. Therefore, its health directly effects the people of Lilongwe as well as the lives of those that reside downstream of Lilongwe and rely on the Lilongwe River for their survival.

Both markets are of high importance for the provision of livelihoods, economic opportunities and as integrated community spaces that are embedded in the urban framework of the city. Based on this significance and the importance of these markets to the community of Lilongwe, the Lilongwe City council highlighted the Tsoka and Lizulu markets as the pilot site for a river revitalisation project, being implemented with ICLEI Africa.

Figure 3

The methodology currently being employed by ICLEI Africa and partners, to conduct this river revitalisation includes:

  • Stakeholder identification to highlight all key participants for engagement throughout the project (these include national government departments, private sector, NGOs, Lilongwe City council officials, vendor associations, community members and market traders).
  • Extensive consultation and engagement with all key stakeholders in order to assess the challenges and opportunities of the site.
  • Intensive engagement with stakeholders, who provide key inputs into the design and functionality of the space.
  • Numerous site visits and smaller one-on-one meetings.
  • Public participation and community engagement with all key stakeholders in order to present a draft and then final implementation plan, aiming to also address key concerns and ensure project ownership.
  • Extensive engagement to develop a phased implementation strategy (with an associated budget) through a prioritisation exercise of the numerous activities presented under the plan.
  • On-going partnership and relationship building.
  • Implementation of components of the phased implementation strategy; to date this has included: (a) awareness and capacity building of roughly 200 stakeholders with regards to waste management and the importance of protecting urban natural assets; (b) training approximately 16 women in composting organic waste; and (c) establishing compost areas, where the capacitated women produce compost that is then sold for additional income. The compost is also used by the women on their individual plots, helping grow better vegetables which are then sold at a higher rate at the market.
  • On-going monitoring and evaluation of the project.


Figure 4

Important outputs of this piece of work are:

  • A site analysis (see Figure 3);
  • A landscape master plan (see Figure 4);
  • A phased implementation strategy (with an accompanied budget); and
  • The establishment of a steering and technical advisory committee, with the following mandate: improve co-ordination of key stakeholders, co-design activities implemented at the site and oversee activities so that they are aligned with the local council mandates.


To date a variety of lessons have been learnt. These include:


  • The need to work with informality, harnessing the knowledge and skills of those residing in informal areas.
  • Recognising that in certain contexts it may be helpful to see informal areas as unserviced rather than unplanned.
  • How specific projects, like this river revitalisation project, that rely on multi-stakeholder engagements can assist in bridging the divide between city officials and community members.
  • How important co-production processes are, where all stakeholders have the opportunity to influence the design, planning and implementation of projects, particularly in relation to ensuring project ownership and buy-in.
  • That there are often structured governance systems in place in informal areas that can be harnessed for successful project implementation.
  • Enhanced understanding of procedures and processes vital to the success of implementation projects in African cities.
  • The role and effectiveness (or non-effectiveness) of on the ground activation or pilot projects. Improved understanding of the immense effort and time needed in order to effectively build partnerships and relationships, which are so vital to project success.
  • The importance of context specific information in planning.
Figure 5

Through relationship and partnership building, as well as project proposal submissions, it is the project team’s ambition to see additional components of the river revitalisation plan being implemented in the near future.

[i] Myers, 2011. Available at

Copyright © 2017 | All rights reserved