SDG 11 could boost Malawi's recently elected City Councillors

Nora Lindstrom, Lilongwe Community Manager
Lilongwe, 10 September 2014

Malawi's May 2014 tri-partite elections saw the election of City Councillors for the first time in over a decade. This represents a win for local accountability in Lilongwe, as most urban governance and management functions in Malawi have been devolved to the city level, meaning Councillors have a key role to play in ensuring effective decision-making as well as timely passage of bylaws. It is also a win for the urban poor, who during the long absence of elected representatives at the local government level were effectively disenfranchised, given their limited access to other means to influence decision-makers.

Re-establishment of an elected City Council comes not a moment too soon in Lilongwe. Given the city's high rate of urban growth, strong emphasis on its management is needed. To some extent, this is recognised in Malawi's current Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS II) which contains a sub-theme on urban development, with the goal of creating "a sustainable, economically and socially integrated urbanising system." Urban development is however not identified as a key priority area, and little progress on key strategies such as slum upgrading and reduction, and enforcement of land use plans and regulations can be seen.

The Millennium Development Goals advised the priorities of the first and second MGDS, and as such there is reason to expect that the Sustainable Development Goals, once finalised, will similarly do so for the third strategy. The anticipated inclusion of an urban SDG can therefore reasonably be expected to be reflected in the next MGDS, which is likely to be developed over the next few years as the current strategy expires in 2016. The goals of the new MDGS, in turn, can be expected to guide development priorities at the local level. In short, inclusion of an urban SDG is likely to trickle down to give the work of Lilongwe's City Councillors a boost, as well as much-needed direction.

In its current form, Sustainable Development Goal 11 contains important targets that Lilongwe, and other cities in Malawi, should aim to meet. In particular, ensuring access to adequate housing for all, as well as inclusive and participatory human settlements planning and development, are important steps towards resolving Lilongwe's housing crisis. While a stronger emphasis on preventing forced evictions and urban land grabs would be desirable in SDG 11, the commitment to upgrade slums is of particular importance for Lilongwe: residents in the city's many peri-urban settlements fear eviction as the city grows. Renewed commitment to upgrade these increasingly desirable areas, as opposed to evicting current residents, would represent a significant step towards developing an inclusive, equitable Lilongwe.

The hope is that the combination of democratically elected City Councillors and a strong international and national urban development agenda with an emphasis on inclusiveness will bring about positive changes, particularly for Lilongwe's poorer residents. This is not a given, but stronger local accountability in conjunction with incentives to develop a pro-poor urban policy framework is certainly as step in the right direction.

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