The Challenges of Producing Urban Structure Plans in Rural Urban Centres in Malawi

Malawi attained her independence in 1964 following an election and proceeded to be ruled under an autocratic rule of a one-party regime for 30 years. When she returned to a multi-party system of politics in 1994 the new democracy had to be consolidated by among other things adopting the democratic system of decentralisation, hence she adopted and passed the decentralisation policy and the new Local Government Act respectively.
The New Local Government Act places the responsibility of producing local development plans on the local governments themselves. Malawi, like many developing countries, adopted the new planning system when probably they were least prepared to face the challenges that go with adopting such new methods.
One such area of planning expertise that has not fully received the required and deserving support with the setting in of the decentralised urban planning and implementation in Malawi. The following points form part of the crucial factors that frustrate this process:
1. Human resource is not sufficient in District Assemblies (rural local governments). The department mandated to undertake physical planning in Malawi is still at regional level in terms of human resource availability. Little effort has been made to devolve the functions of the said department to district assemblies to undertake formulation and implementation of physical development plans.
2. The adoption of planning tools like Geographical Information Science is slow. In many cases GIS software and hardware as planning tools have been adopted by local authorities at a snail’s pace owing to the fact that most local authorities (save for cities) still do not appreciate the powerful nature of GIS in urban development planning. This is compounded by the fact that GIS hardware is expensive to procure by most local authorities.
3.It has also been noted that the few human resources that are in local assemblies are not properly trained to enable them attain requisite capacity to utilise GIS for planning purposes.
4. Whenever it becomes necessary to hire technical planning expertise from private planning bureaus most District Assemblies are still challenged with limited financial resources to be able to consult these private planning practitioners to produce digitised land use plans/maps. As a result most local authorities are still tracing their land use maps using traditional drawing boards.
5. Furthermore, once plans are prepared their implementation is ineffective due to the absence of readily available funding window for projects identified in the plans thereby rendering the process less useful and politically frustrating.  
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