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As is the case in many post-colonial states, land reform has remained one of Malawi’s pressing issues since the country attained independence in 1964. Upon the declaration of a British protectorate in 1891, the colonial government began to formalise the alienation of vast tracts of land from African chiefs and headmen to the Crown and settlers. A dual land system was instituted in terms of which settlers held land derived from Crown grants while the indigenous African inhabitants possessed land on insecure tenure often approximated to usufructs.

Since independence, there have been two waves of land reform. The first occurred in 1967 and has been widely criticised for entrenching and exacerbating colonial patterns of landholding and marginalising the majority of the population. The second is the 2016 wave of land law reform born out of struggles in the early 1990s to reclaim the alienated land.

This paper considers Malawi’s stumbling blocks to a more decisive departure from the colonial property regime by first, analysing how land law was modified for the acquisition of land in African dependencies and secondly, assessing statutory efforts at the reform of land law in 1967 and 2016.