A Voice Gained, A Message Heard

As my time in Malawi is coming to an end, I have been quite busy trying both to get our remaining activities with LUPPEN done in time while also trying to make the most of the time left. This past Friday, Bauti (of LUPPEN) and I attended the Malawi National Habitat Committee (NHC) meeting that we were invited to earlier this month.

The idea of NHCs was born during the Habitat II meeting held in Istanbul in 1996, aiming to provide a productive forum where actors from the central government, civil society, and the private sector could discuss and debate urban issues. Primary among these issues is the growing challenges facing most cities within the Global South that are experiencing rapid growth of slums and informal settlements that are only becoming more problematic with the increasing rate of urbanization. Central to the NHC’s ambitions is to find a way of curbing the negative effects of this growth on urban livelihoods and finding a way to provide economic and socially sustainable alternatives to these populations.

Clearly, such a complicated mission requires a variegated range of actors to be involved in the planning and discussions, and fortunately UN-Habitat at least discursively recognized the importance of the urban poor to be present. According to Mercy Betty of the Ministry of Lands, this was the first convening of the Malawi NHC, and I think that it speaks volumes that LUPPEN was invited. As I’ve mentioned before in previous blog posts, I think that having an inclusionary urban planning process is not only essential to equitable development but is also ethically-sound politics. My only hope, or perhaps worry, is that more influential voices within the NHC will dictate the way these discussions are conducted, but that remains to be seen.

The meeting itself involved actors from a variety of NGOs and officials within government institutions, who led a series of presentations explaining the nature of urban challenges in Malawi, the trajectory of urban growth in Lilongwe, and the current frameworks that are in place to address these challenges. After every presentation, there was a period of questions and discussion that involved all the stakeholders present at the meeting. It is in this span of time that LUPPEN will be able to amplify the voice of the urban poor. Being the largest network of poor urban residents in Lilongwe, and perhaps Malawi, I think that their continued participation is exciting and inspiring.

Work aside, I had a fantastic weekend. On Saturday, we went to the Malawi vs. Madagascar football match in the new Bingu Stadium in Lilongwe. The stadium itself is a sight to see. The China-funded gargantuan is a monument of modernism in the midst of a city that doesn’t quite fit that bill, seating up to 40,000 people. Despite the game being a bit underwhelming (Malawi lost 1-0), the atmosphere was fantastic. It seemed that the general positivity of Malawians spilled over en masse, with every minor positive move from the Malawian team being met with huge roars of approval. It was truly a day to remember. On Sunday, I was able to go to Dzalanyama Forest Reserve for a day trip, an expansive montane forest on the border of Mozambique. After several hours of hiking through the forest with several friends, we swam in the river before heading home to Lilongwe. Definitely recommended for anyone who is coming to Malawi!

This week, we will be holding the last activities of my stay here, the TOT Refresh trainings. I am increasingly sad about the coming close of my stay here, but am also overwhelmingly positive about my experience here.


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