Mzuzu City, with a population of 133,968 and growing at 4.2 percent per annum, is one of the fastest growing cities in Malawi and is the third largest urban centre after Lilongwe and Blantyre. It is the hub of government administration, business, industry, commerce, and services for the northern region of Malawi, and it serves a hinterland with a population of 1,708,930. Originating from a Tung Oil Estate in 1947, the city has grown from 23km2 to 143.8 km2 in 2008 and was declared a city in 1985.
Mzuzu is the largest urban center in the Northern Region of Malawi and the Third largest cityof the country after Lilongwe and Blantayre. Therefore, it plays an importantrole as a regional center in the settlement hierarchy of Malawi.
Mzuzu is situated 385km north of the Capital City Lilongwe, and some 300km from Malawi and Tanzania border. The road distance to Lake Malawi and the small harbour town Nkhata Bay is 47 km.
Mzuzu first developed around the Commonwealth Development Corporation?s Tung oil estate in 1947. At this stage it composed largely workers housing and associated services for the estate which became known as Vipya Tung Estate. However, while development of Mzuzu started around the estate?s administration some traditional villages in the northern and western periphery are much older. For example, Luwinga and Nkhorongo were incorporated into Mzuzu City in the 1982. The decline and closure of the Tung Oil production due to rising exploration of cheap oil in the Arab countries, did not result in the devolution of the development of Mzuzu. The estate not only offered a suitable climate but also enough office space for the colonial administration at a closer distance to the emerging harbor of Nkhata Bay. Later, in the 1960s, the former estate was taken over by Agricultural and Development Corporation (ADMARC) who became a major landlord within Mzuzu City. With the transfer of regional administration from Mzimba to Mzuzu the foundation for urban growth was laid down (see the Paper of Bryson Gwiyani-Nkhoma and Friday Nambala). Mzuzu was designated a township in 1964, a municipality in 1980 and finally elevated to city status in 1985.
The city with a population of 168,928 and serving a regional population of over 1.7 million according to the population and housing census of 2011 has the highest urbanization rate of 7.6 per cent.
In addition, around 20,000 commuters use commercial and social services and the public infrastructure. The population for the near hinterland is around 363,000.
The urbanization is putting pressure on the growth rate of the city and this requires a lot of coping mechanism for the council to contain the booming population,
The culture of the city reflects the northern Tumbuka culture. Tumbuka is widely spoken in Mzuzu. Popular foods include botolo fish (a bottle-nosed mormyrid, Mormyrus longirostris or botomu in Chichewa).
There are other cultural facilities in the city, like the Regional Museum, National Library Services and National Archives. However, residents rarely visit these places due to lack of knowledge of their existence and a lack of interest to promote their culture. More efforts should be made to raise awareness among residents and visitors about the cultural institutions and the importance of archives and other cultural facilities.
There is one major public referral hospital, one public health centre and several private hospitals and clinics operated by private individuals and humanitarian organizations. Traditional healers and traditional birth attendants also provide health services. Health facilities in the city are not evenly distributed and are not enough to serve the population of Mzuzu, with the most affected being the residents of the informal settlements. Malaria and upper respiratory infections are the most common diseases at 23.4 percent and 22.6 percent respectively. Family planning services are provided in most health facilities. Malaria and HIV/AIDS are the main killers diseases in Mzuzu. The city registered 7,583 orphans in August 2008. At the same time, there were 117 service providers addressing various HIV/AIDS issues in the areas of prevention, treatment, care, support, and mitigation. There is need to improve the coordination of health service delivery by providing health facilities at strategic locations in the city.
Some of the economic activities taking place in Mzuzu include agriculture, tobacco grading and sales, transport services, hospitality services, mining, and food processing. The agriculture and mining industry is the most vibrant, employing 27 percent of Mzuzu's residents5. The central business district (CBD) is the hub of most of the banking, retailing and distribution companies. The tobacco industry and the uranium mining industry (in Karonga district) will boost the economy of Mzuzu and provide much needed employment for thousands of its residents. One of the major challenges facing the economy of Mzuzu is the lack of business and entrepreneurial skills.
Mzuzu City being a young city is cosmopolitan and indeed comprises people of different tribes, races and religions. More conspicuous in the city are Tumbuka, Tonga, Nkhonde, Chewa, Yao, Lomwe, and Ndali. There are also other races such as Asians and Europeans but they are in the minority.
The city?s religions are predominately Christian and to a minor degree Islam and Hindu. According to the 2008 Census figures 95.1% of the population belongs to one of the many Christian churches, 4.2% are Muslims and 0.6% have another religious orientation.
There is religious tolerance and this fact unites the people of Mzuzu.
The city enjoys a cool climate that is highly influenced by its topography and proximity to Lake Malawi. Inter-Tropical Convergence zone (ITCZ) affects the whole of Malawi with a distinct wet season in Mzuzu from December to April and moderate dry season from May to November. In general, Mzuzu experiences humid climate all year round with an annual rainfall of approximately 1,200mm. The highest average rainfall of about 255 mm is experienced in March while the least rainfall, normally of about 14 mm falls in September. A typical feature for Mzuzu is that weather conditions can immediately change within minutes.
The average monthly temperature is 19.5°C with a mean monthly maximum of 28.8°C in November and a mean monthly minimum of 7.8°C in July. The hottest period is September - November before the onset of the first rain. According to the observations of the Meteorological station at Mzuzu Airport maximum temperatures rarely exceed 30 degrees Celsius.
To sum up some local climate trends of the last decade it appears that as temperatures rise moderately so does the incidence of rain.
The city has a very attractive natural scenery and is located close to major tourist destinations like Lake Malawi and water activities, historical site of Livingstonia, Nykia Plateau and Vwaza Marsh Game Reserve is Malawi's largest park and great for trekking, mountain biking, horse riding safaris and 4x4 excursions.
Mzuzu city has hotels, rest houses, lodges, guest houses, bars, pubs and restaurants.
These hospitality facilities are mainly around the city centre in the Jombo Ward with others located in Chimaliro, Luwinga, Kaning?ina and Katoto.
At this time, there are no accurate data on the number of guests that can be accommodated in the city and where are they from. However, according to Regional Office of the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Culture the overall occupancy rate of accommodation facilities Is around 75% and indicates both the importance of the hospitality industry to the local economy and high demand.
The city is not fully serviecd with public transport. Most of the roads do not have cycle trucks despite increasing number of bicycle taxis, and pedestrian walkways those that have are in bad shape. The city is also having a small bus depot which cannot meet the growing demand. Ofgrowing concern is the shortage of parking space in the inner city area due to rising number of private vehicles.