Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi, lies in the country’s central region. Due to its location on the main north-south route through the country and the road to Zambia, by the 1970s Lilongwe grew to become the second largest city in Malawi.
Although Lilongwe is the official capital of Malawi and has grown immensely since 1974, most commercial activity takes place in Malawi’s largest city, Blantyre. Recently, as part of political restructuring, the parliament was shifted to Lilongwe and all parliament members are required to spend time in the new capital. Lilongwe is now the political center of Malawi, but Blantyre remains the economic capital.
Many European and South African expatriates live in Lilongwe, and many NGOs (non-governmental organizations), international aid organizations, and international corporations, particularly tobacco-related firms, operate out of Lilongwe. As a result, most Western visitors will find the city to be accommodating and friendly. Many coffee shops, cafes, and restaurants are located in Lilongwe. In Lilongwe, as opposed to rural Malawi, one can live, work, or vacation in a manner that most Westerners would consider typical, if not luxurious.
However, most of Lilongwe’s Malawian citizens live on just a few dollars a day and many are unemployed. The population of Lilongwe has grown as villagers—including young orphaned children—from the surrounding rural areas have relocated to the capital in search of jobs and the unattainable quality of life enjoyed by government officials, NGO and other international workers, and expatriates. Despite the highly visible class differences, most of the city’s residents go about their lives in relative harmony.
Lilongwe is a hot spot for the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Malawi. It is estimated that up to 20 percent of the urban population is HIV positive. Frighteningly, the Malawi National AIDS Commission reports that professionals, especially teachers and agricultural extension agents—many of whom travel between urban centers and rural villages—are dying faster than they can be replaced. Also, the central region of Malawi is experiencing extreme deforestation. It is feared that rural citizens will have no access to wood for cooking fires, heating fires, and building materials by 2015. Problems with HIV/AIDS and deforestation in rural areas contribute to the rapid population growth the city is currently experiencing.
The city has many districts known as Areas. Areas are numbered, and range from one to fifty or more as the city grows.