Event Reports

Orientation Workshop for Traditional Leaders in Zomba

by Samson Lembani

Sensitization training workshop for traditional leaders on the new land law in Malawi.

The orientation workshop for traditional leaders was held at Nsondole Teachers Development Centre in Zomba-Malawi. It aimed at ensuring that in settling land disputes, traditional authorities increasingly consider codified law and strengthen the position of women in issues of land use and land ownership. The workshop focused on how the past and present legal framework of land laws have undermined women’s land rights in Malawi. It was an introductory training workshop for two lower tiers in the traditional leadership in Malawi namely Group Village Headmen/women and Village Headmen/women.

Workshop scope and target group

Themed "Sensitization training workshop for traditional leaders on the new land law in Malawi," the workshop focused on how the past and present statutory framework of land laws have supported/disabled women’s land rights in Malawi. It was an introductory training workshop for the lower two tiers in the hierarchy of traditional leadership in Malawi namely Group Village Headmen/women (GVHs) and Village Headmen/women. While the workshop targeted 35 participants, in reality 43 workshop participants attended, comprising 25 males and 18 females.


Within the context of this project, the training for traditional leaders is very significant since this target group is a strategic power bearer and primary authority in land allocation and resolution of land related disputes at the community level. This particular workshop was a pilot one-being organised and conducted at a rural village setting (not at a modest hotel/lodge at the district headquarters) in order to cater for more traditional leaders to participate as they had repeatedly requested for an orientation training workshop during the community awareness outreaches in Zomba in 2017. The workshop was therefore aimed at engaging in an initial dialogue with traditional leaders in this area for them to better understand and appreciate the project objectives since they are the custodians of traditional customs and cultural practices.

The workshop further aimed at providing a platform to iron out misinformation regarding the effect of the new land laws in Malawi and ensure that traditional leaders support community facilitators from KAS partners in community awareness activities without resistance. As an indicator, it is envisaged that such training workshops will result in an increased number of trained traditional leaders that have basic understanding of the new land laws in Malawi, and will in turn, settle land-related disputes according to codified law.

Intended outcomes

The activity was intended to ensure that future actions of traditional leaders will be within the codified new land law as mediators and protectors of women’s rights. It is expected that through these series of workshops, traditional leaders will be informed and become knowledgeable about the new land law particularly on the aspects related to women’s land rights and through this knowledge they will be able to allocate land to women in their own right.

Cooperating partners

While the workshop was fully financed by KAS, the project co-operating partners: Women’s Legal Resources Centre (WoLREC) in collaboration with KAS identified and invited the workshop participants. WoLREC also approached Chancellor College Community Radio for a two-hour KAS-sponsored live-coverage of the event on their community radio. This was a pilot engagement with the community radio. On the other hand, LandNet Malawi provided the training facilitator who is an expert on Malawi's land laws.

Workshop programme and content

The workshop programme included short role plays by the participants in order to establish the level and quality of knowledge about the new land law among the traditional leaders. The discussion following the display revealed significant knowledge distortions and misinformation on the new land law. This became the basis from which the trainer began with an overview presentation on the process and outcomes of land law reform across Malawi’s post-independence political dispensation. The presentation emphasized that the land laws that existed until 2016 were a reflection of the inherited colonial land law template, which vested and perpetuated customary land ownership in the State. The presenter stressed that under the old land law, traditional leaders were only allowed to exercise delegated authority in the administration of customary land matters on behalf of the president in whom was the statutory power vested. The presentation also highlighted the discrepancy which existed between the revised land policy and the outdated old land laws, hence the justification to enact the new land law.

The afternoon's overview presentation on the new land law raised enormous interest among the participants demonstrated by the extended questions- and-answers session which followed. Some of the questions sought clarification on how the new land law envisages the retention and exercise of legitimate statutory power by traditional leaders over customary estates since ownership title deeds will imply that the customary land would become defacto private estate. Others wanted to understand how the new land law will deal with the potential for multiple customary land registration in matrilineal contexts like Zomba where traditional inheritance via the maternal lineage may privilege men to register twice while the women cannot.

Publicity and expanded audience

In addition to reaching a broader audience with the two-hours live- radio broadcast of the workshop, the community radio also conducted several interviews with workshop participants, organisers and KAS staff during the breaks. The recorded material will form part of the content in weekly sponsored 30-minute programmes that the community radio would be broadcasting after the workshop.