Land reform and customary authorities in contemporary Malawi

Land reform and customary authorities in contemporary Malawi

Davide Chinigò

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Land in rural Africa performs a wide range of social, political, and economic roles. The relationship between statutory and customary law in determining land policy reforms reflects broader restructuration of political power and authority and configures dynamics state building, as well as the negotiation of national and local citizenship. This article addresses these issues in the case of Malawi where discussions over the role of customary authorities in land administration and management was a prominent feature of the land reform process undertaken since the mid-1990s following the transition to multiparty democracy. The article reconstructs the political and social context of land policy reform in Malawi in the last twenty years, and locates the Malawian case in the broader literature about land policy reform in Africa in order to highlight specificities, as well as common trends. I argue that customary rule in Malawi still plays a very relevant role in national and local decision-making processes, this being embodied by the current political impasse preventing the enactment of the land legislation. The analysis of the policy reports of the different land committees that followed one another for about twenty years since 1996 prove that the powers granted to customary authorities have considerably increased throughout time, and hence highlighting that the chiefs have been very successful as a lobbying group.