Barcelona Field Studies Centre

Zomba Urban Land Use Model

In 1859, the famous Scottish discoverer David Livingstone was the first European to set foot in the region now known as Malawi. He called it Nyasaland, after the local term "nyasa" which means "big water," referring to the large 550 kilometre lake that borders the country to the east. Livingstone's discovery led to the arrival of British missionaries and colonialists, and Nyasaland was named a British protectorate in 1890.

Farm land surrounding Zomba, with the Zomba Plateau to the north
Farm land surrounding Zomba.

John Buchanan, a missionary, decided that the Mulunguzi river, flowing off the Zomba plateau to the north, would not only supply him with water but also power a small sugar mill. In addition to the temperate climate and other physical attractions of the site, Zomba was conveniently placed to monitor and eradicate the slave trade of those times. Zomba quickly became the country's capital and leading administrative settlement. 

In 1953, as colonialism was in decline, Nyasaland became part of the Rhodesian Federation. It didn't last long: in 1964 the Federation dissolved into the now independent nations of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi. Zomba was Malawi's capital until 1975 when Dr Hastings Banda transferred the title to Lilongwe. The Parliament still meets in Zomba, however.

The colonial legacy in Zomba is very evident. The Gymkhana Club, the old Governor's Residency and the army barracks are all well preserved. The field in front of the clubhouse is now used for sports, and socialising. Polo is no longer played at the Club; the barracks now house the Malawi Rifles rather than the King's African Rifles, and the Residency is a rest house.

The market in Zomba
Zomba's market.

There are traditional housing areas where people live in huts with grass roofs. There are also densely populated areas of one-roomed brick housing where perhaps fifty people share a tap. At the heart of Zomba is a commercial precinct with 19th and early 20th-century veranda-style shops and a Mosque surrounding the busy agricultural market complex.

The land use model for Zomba may be simplified as follows :

1. The main recreational zone is found in the centre of the urban area. This was once the Gymkhana Club, where the colonial rulers played polo.

2. The Central Business District contains the main businesses and market of the urban area. This is found close to the centre, the most accessible location where the main roads meet.

Industrial area along the airport road
Zomba's limited industrial district close to the main road and CBD

3. High status housing surrounds Zomba's CBD. This pattern is the opposite to that of cities in MEDCs. Inner city districts of MEDCs date back to the factories and tenement blocks of the Industrial Revolution, whereas the area surrounding Zomba's CBD dates from colonial times when it housed the colony's administrators and Governor. It consequently has the infrastructure - electricity, telephones, sewerage, water, etc. not found in other parts of the urban area.

4. Surrounding the high-quality residential area is medium quality housing which started out as low class housing. It has now been provided with some basic amenities.

5. Low class housing is found on the lower land to the south-east. This land is at risk from flooding, and contains the sewage works.

6. Industrial development is very limited, with some scattered light industry found along the main road and close to the CBD.



Zomba simplified urban land use structure
Zomba: a simplified urban structure model
Zomba airport is a small military/public facility, with the nearest international airport at Lilongwe, a distance of 150 miles. The modern factory zones in the model show very little, if any development in Zomba.

Zomba map with urban land use

Zomba urban land use
Zomba: actual urban structure