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Notes on the Geography of Malawi: Lilongwe

The late 20th century saw a handful of celebrated new capital cities: Brazilia comes to mind, along with Chandigarh. It saw another group of new capitals that were less noticed: Bhubaneshwar is a good example. So is Lusaka. Add Lilongwe to this second list. Created adjacent to a town that had 400 residents in 1936 and 19,000 in 1966, the combined city now pushes a million.

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Malawi: Lilongwe picture 1

In Verandahs of Power, Garth Powers reviews the decision to build a new capital for Malawi. This was 1964, three years after Independence. The proposed location was more central than either Blantyre or Zomba but was also close to President Hastings Banda's birthplace.

The Capital City Development Corporation would build the city with funds lent by South Africa. Why such generosity? A draftsman recalled that "the Chief Architect was always white. But Kamuzu [Banda] was Minister. He was Minister of Everything" (p. 142). And he was an Anglophile, bitterly hostile to the Communist insurgencies around him.

Work began at Capital Hill, shown here.

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The one and only entrance.

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The Managing Director of IMEX, the South African organization designing the new capital, wrote in the published plan that "...the people of Malawi... must surely see, as we do, in the establishment of their new capital city an expression of their nation's dynamic force and a symbol of their pursuit of progress."

That was the verbiage in the letter of transmittal. In the preface, the director went on to say, "We believe that dignity, beauty, and all the other characteristics which the people of a country will demand of their Capital City, can be achieved with efficiency and economy" (W.J.C. Gerke and Charl J. Viljoen, Master Plan for the City of Lilongwe, 1968).

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Tower for ministries.

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Banda and his customary fly whisk.

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The monument behind him.

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His tomb, on site.

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The inscription.

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There isn't much commercial or residential development nearby. Here, a hotel.

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A residential subdivision nears completion.

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There's more going on in the older part of the city.

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