Malawi irked by Tanzania border dispute talks delay

By Penelope Paliani Kamanga

The government of Malawi has reacted angrily towards Tanzania’s move to postpone mediation talks over a dispute on Lake Malawi boundary.

The two governments were scheduled to meet in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 8 and 9 May, this year but the Tanzanian government at the last minute cancelled the meeting without giving a proper excuse.

This has since angered the Malawi government who stated that the postponement protracts the conclusion of the matter.

The resumption of the mediation talks was agreed upon after a prolonged break since March 2014,  by President Peter Mutharika and  his Tanzania counterpart John Magufuli when they met at an African Union summit in January this year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Malawi government received communication on the postponement of the meeting from the High Level Mediation Team (HLMT) chairperson Joaquim Chissano, who is former president of Mozambique.

In a press statement issued on Sunday, Malawi Foreign and International Co-operation Minister, Francis Kasaila, stated that the longer it took to hold the talks,  the more difficult it would be to resolve the issue.

Kasaila said that the government intended to resolve the issue as soon as possible, as it wanted to conduct a number of development projects on the lake, one of which included the controversial oil exploration.

“The Government of Malawi continues to be committed to the mediation process, and peaceful resolution of the dispute, through contact and dialogue.

Malawi believes that the HLMT has the capacity to decisively make a determination on the dispute, in a logical and timely manner, and on the basis of long established principles,” said Kasaila

The minister said Malawi’s position remained that the boundary was the shoreline of Lake Malawi, as established by Article 1(2) of the 1890 Anglo-German Treaty, therefore Lake Malawi belongs to Malawi in its entirety. This is despite Tanzania’s claims that the boundary was the median line of the lake, based on principles of customary international law.

The meeting’s postponement coincided with earlier accessions by Tanzania of its interest in oil exploration since 2012. At the time, Malawi’s north-eastern border neighbour claimed that it owned half of the eastern part of Lake Malawi.

Tanzania High Commissioner to Malawi, Victoria Mwakasege, told the media recently that her government wanted to have a share of the oil resources.

However, talks on extracting oil on Lake Malawi have been receiving lots of opposition with the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources and Climate Change, last month strongly denouncing the Malawi government’s decision on oil exploration in Lake Malawi, arguing that the country has outdated laws to safeguard all stakeholders during the exercise.

The committee observed that the absence of a national petroleum policy, and its outdated Act, would not be safe for Malawi to go ahead with the process.

Even the country’s civil society organisations such as Natural Resources Justice Network (NRJN), and Publish What You Pay (PWYP), also expressed concerns over the negotiation team plans to submit an addendum to the 30-year agreements, for Mutharika to approve, and the commencement of oil exploration.

However, Malawi a signatory to the 1972 World Heritage Convention that seeks to ensure an appropriate and equitable balance between conservation, sustainability  and development being blacklisted for failing to meet United Nations Education Scientific Commission (UNESCO)’s World Heritage Centre (WHC) deadline submission of the Lake Malawi status report, which was slated for February 1, 2017.

WHC demands that to protect aquatic life, there should be no oil and gas exploration on Lake Malawi.

Meanwhile, in a typical sibling situation, Malawi and Tanzania plan to set aside the Lake Malawi boundary dispute to raise funds to fix the unruly Songwe River basin. Malawi deputy minister of agriculture Aggrey Massi told a local radio station Zodiak that they intended to raise over US$800 million to fix the basin which was wrecking havoc in the area by disturbing the residents when it constantly shifted the boundary.

The money raised would be used to construct a dam which wouldl also be used to generate hydro electric power as well as irrigation. They also wanted to use it as a tourist attraction area.

The two governments have since put strict measures to ensure both countries benefit equally from the venture.

May 2017
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