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Orientation training workshop for traditional leaders from Traditional Authority Khosolo in Mzimba (Malawi)

On 20 and 21 September 2018, another workshop for traditional leaders took place in Mzimba, Malawi. For two days, 60 participants were introduced to the new land law in Malawi. The workshop was financed by KAS and conducted in cooperation with the organisation partners National Association of Smallholder Farmers of Malawi (NASFAM) and Emmanuel Mlaka, Land Governance Expert at LandNet Malawi. The workshop was also accompanied by Mzimba Community Radio.

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Objective(s) of the activity

The training for traditional leaders in Mzimba South was aimed at empowering traditional authorities to consider codified law and strengthen the position of women in issues of land use and land ownership. The workshop intended to cover the developments of the land law reform process in Malawi and specific legislations in the new land law that support women’s land ownership rights.

The workshop was important as traditional leaders directly deal with issues of customary land allocation and administration at community level. As custodians of cultural norms and primary authority, they are a strategic target in customary land allocation and resolution of land disputes. The intended outcome was that future actions of trained traditional leaders will be within the codified law as mediators and protectors of women’s rights. It was further anticipated that the training would strengthen their understanding of how positive aspects of customary and statutory laws can be used to protect and promote land ownership and land use rights of women.


The workshop targeted 45-50 participants from T/A Khosolo, in Mzimba South. In total 60 participants attended, 52 males and 8 females. These included Group Village Headmen (GVHs), Village Headmen (VHs), religious and civic leaders, and members of the Area Development Committees (ADC). The females were part of the local development theatre group who were invited as workshop participants and to display their drama performance during the workshop. Targeting Mzimba district is very strategic considering that patriarchal society does not recognise the separate right of a woman to own and hold land in her own right. In the northern region, inheritance of land and property rights is through males.

Workshop content was mainly delivered through interactive plenary discussions. Participants were free to ask questions and make contributions. The comedy display performance by the Khosolo Theater for Development summarized each day’s discussions. Importantly, this community was greatly and negatively impacted by the extractive industry investment case (the Kanyika mining) in the nearby community which happened before the new land law became effective. The community was barred from any land activity including farming pending relocation to a place not yet mentioned for five years and in the end the mining company that had dug a lot of holes in the ground and extracted tons and tons of mineral “samples” declared they will not continue with mining. Under the old land law both the government and the investor refused to compensate for any disturbance and loss of livelihoods sources on the basis that they were not vacated from the area. The community is bitter against the state. The greatest impact was high household food insecurity which in turn affected the health and nutrition of family members including children

The first day included a group discussion in which participants were asked to recall case studies on women land rights from their communities which occurred before the new law and analyzed them in relation to the new land law. On the second day, a 25-minutes session was devoted to a panel discussion to test the extent to which the workshop content was understood.

The workshop covered the following main presentation sessions:

The National Context – Land Matters in Malawi. This topic gave an overview on land pressure due to competing interests on land. It discussed land administration challenges where traditional authorities are formally recognized as having the right to control the use and allocation of customary land within their jurisdictions. The presentation also covered weaknesses that existed in the old land law, especially how it marginalized women and orphans resulting in landlessness and inequalities in land access to the poor. It also related to initiatives for eradication of hunger and poverty which depend largely on access to land and natural resources.

Historical background of land law review. It illustrated how the present land law and policy in Malawi is traced through the formal declarations of British authority over Central Africa and how as a result, the natives lost ownership and control of land under the ambit of certificates of claim and the fiction that all land was vested in the British Monarch. The session zeroed in on processes the country has gone through to reform the land sector resulting in the passage of new legislations in 2016.

A summary of key changes in the new land related laws. This presentation sought to orient participants on the new land laws (passed by Parliament in 2016), especially the Customary Land Act as operationalized in March 2018 and the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Act. The two Acts are presented in conjunction with older Acts that have a bearing to the Customary Land Act, e.g. the “Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act which came into force in July 2015 and the Deceased Estates (Wills, Inheritance and Protection) Act which came into force in 2011.

Participants got excited at the provisions that allowed participation of grassroots in land administration through democratically elected committees whose members should be gender balanced. However, the facilitator updated participants that, as at the date of this workshop, demarcation and adjudication of Traditional Land Management Areas (TLMAs) had been completed by the government in all districts of the country except Mzimba district. Mzimba was left out due to the objection raised by Paramount Chief Mbelwa for against the implementation of the new land law arguing about the new law being in conflict with patriarchal customs on customary land ownership rights in Mzimba. This will automatically delay the registration of customary land in the district.

Gender inclusive provisions in the new land law. The fact that the law provides for equal gender representation does not resolve the customary challenge of a deeply entrenched negative mentality of men that women are only good for labour and reproduction. The Customary Land Act 2016 also provides the freedom for families to register either as individual citizens, or as a family of citizens. The new land law promotes the right of women to own land and to hold leadership positions in land matters. Further, by registering customary estates as private land, spouses and children would be better protected from land grabbing when deceased.


Monitoring was done at two levels:

The first level was when on the second day, a 25-minutes session was devoted to a panel discussion to test the level of participants’ understanding of the content. The participants asked questions on women land rights to a panel of four selected leaders from among the group and the panel responded. The second level was when the facilitator reintroduced the list of the participants’ fears, which they had put forward on the first day during pre-workshop assessment session.

At the end the participants were asked questions about these fears and they correctly answered them, an indicator that they now had answers to most of their fears.


Actual workshop outcomes can only be observed in the medium term when decisions of traditional leaders start making decisions on land matters with absolute consideration of the new land law. However the following results were notable and anticipated:

  1. Although there was only one woman participant from among the traditional leadership representatives, (excluding the drama group members), it was notable during the panel discussion that she was greatly empowered and motivated to champion women land rights and to participate in decision making on issues of land ownership, use and control.
  2. The men-mostly chiefs who participated in the workshop have been exposed to the vital need to deal with gender discrimination in land administration based of the new law.
  3. All chiefs who were hitherto oriented to resist the new land law on the basis of protecting their tribe’s culture expressed appreciation that land ownership to a woman greatly facilitates right to food, right to a fair economic life and right to good health, to vulnerable women like single mothers, divorcees and widows.


The extension of the number of days for leaders workshop from one to two gave opportunity to facilitators to clearly respond to deeper questions communities had. Case studies and panel discussions helped to clarify what was missing in the outgoing land law as compared to the new land law. There were more traditional leaders under this T/A, who could not be accommodated in this one workshop. Participants strongly recommended that more such workshops be conducted for the others and include more community awareness meetings

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Dr. Samson Lembani

August 01 - 02, 2018
Traditional Authority Chikowi, Zomba-Malawi
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