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Balancing inclusivity and progress, the challenge for Blantyre City development




August 2, 2019


What constitutes a developed African city? How does Blantyre city achieve it? And is the waste-to-energy value chain a realistic goal for the city?

Those were the key questions posed to participants at a stakeholder think tank workshop in Blantyre, Malawi.

The workshop was hosted by the Innovation Fund for their research project in Blantyre city, titled Exploring values and perspectives that underpin the development of African cities. It brought together a variety of stakeholders from public, private and non-governmental organisations, relevant to the development of Blantyre city in various ways.

Blantyre is one of the major two industrial and commercial cities in Malawi, located in the southern region of the country. As with many African cities it has a high population density and the population is projected to increase (from the current count of 1.0 million to 2.1 million people in 2040).

So what is a developed city? The stakeholders present at the think tank brainstormed on what they perceived and expected of a city that is ‘developed’. The outcome was a set of characteristics, including adequate security, good infrastructure, reliable services (such as water, sanitation, electricity, and transport), and recreational areas.

According to the stakeholders Blantyre city still has a way to go to achieve this. The consensus was that: “Blantyre city, generally, has inadequate, unreliable and poor quality power supply. In addition, the city is faced with the problem of unreliable and poor quality transport network, which is aggravated by inadequate and poor road network. Further, there is uncoordinated development control, which also contributes to poor waste management. The city also experiences unreliable water supply, and has few recreation facilities.”

Through discussing priority areas for the city, it was clear that different stakeholders have different mandates and responsibilities, and thus view different elements to be priorities for the city. This makes a democratic and inclusive decision process for development in the city slow and difficult and city authorities will need to balance between democracy and inclusiveness, and progress.

However, despite the differences in mandates and responsibilities, the stakeholder groups agreed on major issues that require attention. They considered good governance, resource mobilisation and management, patriotism, and regulatory frameworks and implementation essential in order to realise a developed Blantyre city.

Lastly, the stakeholders looked at the waste-to-energy value chain, a decision process to turn solid wastes into energy with the help of the private sector. While the project has the potential to assist with the development of Blantyre by dealing with the waste management issue and enhancing power infrastructure development, it faces a number of key barriers. According to the stakeholder groups the project lacks resources, good political leadership and essential support from the private sector.

Considering this, is the waste-to-energy value chain realistic for the city? The short answer is yes, but, as with all development decisions affecting Blantyre, the project is multifaceted, and the development will affect other areas of the city. Thus it requires all relevant stakeholders on board to address all the crucial areas that are important for the city to function properly. And while it can be difficult to balance inclusivity and progress in such a process, workshops like this think tank in Blantyre are a good start.

Download the Think Piece: Exploring perspectives that underpin decisions for southern African urban development – Insights from Blantyre, Malawi here.

Blantyre is one of the cities participating in the FRACTAL research programme. The FRACTAL research programme is working alongside local government authorities in several southern African cities, to help design climate-responsive development plans.

This article was written by Robyn Bowden.