Lake Wars: Malawi, Tanzania resume talks
Lilongwe – Officials from Malawi and Tanzania were this past week expected to resume stalled talks on their border dispute.
Malawi withdrew from the negotiations last month after Tanzania allegedly presented a redrawn draft map that stakes claim to half of Lake Malawi, as well as reported harassment of Malawian fishers.
Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Minister of Malawi, Ephraim Mganda Chiume, has disclosed that the two countries would resume talks in Tanzania from November 15 to 17.
The dispute over Lake Malawi’s has simmered for decades. The recent discovery of oil and gas potential beneath Lake Malawi has stoked tensions, with Tanzania claiming the border lies in the middle of the water body, while Malawi claims sovereignty over the entire lake except for a section that falls in Mozambique’s territory.
Tanzania says the Anglo-German Treaty (Heligoland Treaty) of 1890 that gave Malawi sole ownership of the lake was flawed.
In his August state of the nation address, Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete said the treaty denied Tanzanians living on the shores of Lake Malawi “their given right to utilise proximate water and marine resources”.
Malawi maintains that the colonial Heligoland Treaty between Great Britain and Germany is valid.
At the time talks broke off, Tanzania’s negotiators pointed out that if Malawi held the treaty to be valid, then it must respect Section 6 of the pact, which gives room for countries to renegotiate territorial borders.
The issue is muddied by the 1954 agreement between the British and the Portuguese that places the border in the middle of the lake with the exception of the only two inhabited islets, Chizumulu Island and Likoma Island, which were kept by the colonial British government – as part of Malawi.
At one point, Malawi’s Founding President, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, threatened to declare war on Tanzania over the matter.
Tensions eased in subsequent years but now the “curse” of oil is threatening to strain relations.
Malawi has given an oil and gas exploration licence to British firm Surestream, activities that Tanzania says should be put on hold until the dispute is settled.
President Joyce Banda of Malawi has indicated Lilongwe might approach the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to resolve the matter.
Foreign Minister Chiume has also said the ICJ is best-placed to mediate on the complex legal issue as “Malawi was prepared to respect any determination by the court”.
“President Banda would like this issue to be resolved peacefully and diplomatically,” said Chiume.
Tanzania, on the other hand, believes SADC or the AU should mediate, something that Malawi opposes.
On its part, Mozambique has said it is ready to work with Malawi on oil and gas exploration on the lake.
Mozambique’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Co-operation, Oldemiro Julio Baloi, said this at the recent 12th Malawi-Mozambique Joint Permanent Commission of Co-operation meeting in Lilongwe.
His Malawian counterpart Minister Chiume confirmed this, adding: “We are also working together on transport, energy, environment and agriculture.”
Mozambique officially declared the lake a reserve on June 10, 2011, in an effort to protect one of the world’s most bio-diverse freshwater lakes.
Lake Malawi, known as Lake Nyasa in Tanzania and Lake Niassa in Mozambique, lies in the East African Rift Valley system. It is Africa’s third-largest lake and the world’s eighth-largest and sprawls into Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania. It is the second-deepest lake in Africa and the habitat of more species of fish than those of any other freshwater body on Earth.