Whose Security? Deepening Social Conflict over ‘Customary’ Land in the Shadow of Land Tenure Reform in Malawi

March 2007
Pauline E. Peters and Daimon Kambewa (Centre for International Development, Harvard University Working Paper 142)

Malawi, like other countries in Africa, has a new land policy designed to clarify and formalise customary tenure. The country is poor with a high population density, highly dependent on agriculture, and the research sites are matrilineal-matrilocal, and near urban centres. But the case raises issues relevant to land tenure reform elsewhere: the role of ‘traditional authorities’ or chiefs vis-a-vis the state and ‘community’; variability in types of ‘customary’ tenure; and deepening inequality within rural populations. Even before it is implemented, the pending land policy in Malawi is intensifying competition over land. Discusses this and the increase in rentals and sales; the effects of public debates about the new land policy; a new discourse about ‘original settlers’ and ‘strangers’; and political manoeuvring by chiefs.