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Lilongwe, estimated population 781,538 as of 2012, is the capital and largest city of Malawi. It lies in the country's central region, on the Lilongwe River, near the border of Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia, and on the main north-south highway of Malawi, the M1.
The city started life as a small village on the banks of the Lilongwe river, and became a British colonial administrative centre at the beginning of the 20th century. Due to its location on the main north-south route through the country and the road to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Lilongwe became the second largest city in Malawi after Blantyre. In 1975, the capital of the country was formally moved from Zomba to Lilongwe. Lilongwe has grown immensely since then and since 2008 has been the largest city in Malawi. All parliament members are required to spend time in the capital. Although Lilongwe is the political centre of Malawi, in some respects Blantyre remains the economic capital.
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Many European and South African expatriates live in Lilongwe, and many NGOs (Care International, Plan International, Concern Worldwide, , Population Services International, The UNC Project, World Camp, Baylor International AIDS Initiative, Baobab Health Trust, WaterAID), international aid organisations (Peace Corps, USAID, DFID,UNICEF, UNHCR, UNFAO, WFP), 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, bars, clubs, restaurants, and even a casino 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.
During the rainy season, between November and April, Lilongwe is muddy, humid, and hot. June and July are relatively cool and windy months. During the other months of the year, Lilongwe is dry and dusty.
Lilongwe is a hot-spot for the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Malawi. It is estimated that up to 20% of the urban population is HIV positive. The Malawi National AIDS Commission reports that professionals, especially teachers and agricultural extension agents - many of whom travel between urban centres 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 are interrelated 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 - City Centre not being a numbered Area. The Areas are not necessarily consecutively numbered from one area to another.
Some notable areas are:
- City Centre is by far the most modern, developed area of Lilongwe. Many banks (Stanbic - or Standard Chartered, National Bank of Malawi, NedBank, the Reserve Bank of Malawi), diplomatic missions, exclusive hotels (Sunbird Capital Hotel), airline offices (including South African Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, British Airways, Kenya Airways) and international corporate offices are located in City Centre. Close to City Centre, on an elevated ground, lies Malawi's Capital Hill which is a large campus of Government Ministries. There are over a dozen office blocks on Capital Hill, including Office of President and Cabinet, Ministries of Finance, Defence, Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, Education, Works and Transport, Health, Home Affairs and Ministry of Economic Planning. Capital Hill is surrounded by a fence and a ring road, with a maze of streets connecting the office blocks.
- Area 2: Old Town (North of A1) - Closest to the city centre; thriving commercial district, frequented primarily by locals; clothing, local food, western-style groceries, car parts, building supplies, bicycles/bicycle accessories are available here; home to Lilongwe's main local market, two major mosques, and a sprawling mini-bus station.
- Area 3 and Area 9: Old Town (West of A1) - West bank of the Lilongwe river; large, wealthy residential neighbourhoods, expatriate bars, hotels such as Lilongwe Hotel, western style shopping and restaurants, private expatriate clinics (Moyo Wathanzi on Likuni Road - Dr. Huber of Amsterdam).
- Area 47: Home to African Bible College, and its dependable, inexpensive missionary clinic which is typically staffed by American doctors. There is also a small stadium (Silver stadium). Children of the Nations, a non-profit organisation dedicated to caring for orphaned and destitute children, is also headquartered in Lilongwe.
- Other medium to low density residential areas are Areas 6, 12, 11, 43, 10, 44. There are also areas 15, and 18 which are medium to high density. Area 15 in particular has about 250 bungalows and houses medium earners.
While the areas mentioned above are quite wealthy, safe, and modern, many citizens of Lilongwe live in sub-standard/non-permanent housing in a variety of Areas, often without electricity or running water.
Lilongwe is served by Malawi Railways and Axa Bus company, and local buses and minibuses run between Old Town, City Centre, Kamuzu International Airport, and other urban centres, including Mzuzu and Blantyre. Taxis are available from hotels and a taxi rank on Presidential Way, North of City Centre Shopping Centre. Most major urban roads are severely congested. Nevertheless, recently, most of the roads have been expanded into dual carriage ways (Paul Kagame Road running from Area 15 to Lilongwe Hotel in Area 3, Capital Hill to City Centre Road. The flow of traffic has been greatly improved lately with traffic lights (called robots by locals) installed in strategic intersections, unlike a few years ago when traffic lights were a rarity in Lilongwe. Kamuzu International Airport, located about 35 km north of Lilongwe in the suburb of Lumbadzi, offers local turbo-prop flights.
The main western-style shopping area is around Shoprite and the Nico Centre in Area 3, on the west bank of the Lilongwe river in Old Town. A newer, similar shopping centre is located near the Mchinji round-about across from the Seven Eleven filling station - the Crossroads Shopping Centre. Lilongwe has also seen the opening of Mr. Price at this Crossroads Shopping Centre. Aside from that a new high street shopping mall is being constructed at the former Shire Bus lines premises at Old Town (next to the Nico Centre). It has been said that this will be the biggest shopping mall in Malawi. Some of the retailers who confirmed as tenants of this mall include: Woolworths, Spar, Game, Mr. Price Home among several others. The Pacific Shopping Mall is located in Area 10. Several internet cafes are located in and around the Nico Centre. Gifts and crafts can be bought from the post office craft market directly opposite the Nico Centre. To get a fair deal in the craft market, you must bargain hard. Pharmacies, bureau de changes and banks (including Stanbic and Malawi National Bank) are located throughout the city. ATMs, which accept VISA cards are available at the banks mentioned above in City Centre and Area 3, with National Bank branches accepting bank-issued cards using the PLUS international banking network. Almost any necessity can be purchased in Lilongwe, and many back-packers and overland travellers stop in Lilongwe to stock up and enjoy city life for a few days.
There are several youth centres in this town. The city assembly controls the Lilongwe community ground located close to police unit south east of the main bus terminal. The youth center is surrounded by a wall 10 meters high. Local teams come to play at this ground. The young people come to play basketball, football, karate, boxing, volleyball and many games.
Another major youth centre is Don Bosco Youth Centre located at Area 23, on the outskirts of the town. It is run by the Salesians of Don Bosco. Young people come to this place to play and pray. In addition to the good grounds and courts that it has, there is a technical school that hold over 600 young people who train in different trades. 
Lilongwe features a humid subtropical climate that borders on a subtropical highland climate, with pleasantly warm summers and mild “winters”. Due to the altitude, temperatures are lower than would be expected for a city located in the tropics. Lilongwe features a short wet season that runs from December to March and a lengthy dry season that covers much of the remainder of the year, particularly June and July which are cooler than the rest of the year. However, the city sees heavy downpours during its rainy season, seeing around 200mm of rain in a month during the wettest months.
Gerke, W.J.C. & Viljoen, Charl J. Master Plan for Lilongwe the Capital City of Malawi (Johannesburg: Swan Publishing, 1968)
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