A delegation from the Tanzanian and Malawian governments submitted a letter today (20 December 2012) requesting Mozambique’s former head of state, Joaquim Chissano, to mediate the dispute between Tanzania and Malawi on ownership of Lake Malawi (known as Lake Nyasa in Tanzania).
Representatives from the two countries’ governments failed to reach an agreement at border talks held for two days in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in November 2012.
Regarding the decision to consult Chissano, Malawi’s Foreign Minister, Ephraim Chiume, told Malawi’s Zodiak Radio,
Having failed to reach a consensus, we are leaving the matter in the hands of the former heads of state of SADC [Southern African Development Community] countries to help mediate.
Tanzania insists part of the lake is hers while we also believe that Lake Malawi wholly belongs to us and we cannot therefore agree on one thing.
Chissano, the chairperson of the Africa Forum of former African Heads of State and Government, will appoint a panel of other former heads of state and relevant professionals to mediate the dispute. On receiving the application, he responded,
We (the forum) have happily accepted the task. We know that it is not easy but we will make sure we find a solution. […] We will be guided by the interests of both countries when seek a lasting solution to the dispute.
If the dispute is not resolved between January and March, Malawi’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Patrick Kabambe, explained that the case will be taken before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In the past, rulings by the ICJ have been in favour of the median line border.
According to Tanzania’s media, the Tanzanian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mhadhi Juma Maalim, announced that the delivery of the letter has been rescheduled and will be delivered on a date agreed by the ministers and Chissano. Mining in Malawi will continue to monitor this.
In the early 1960s, Malawi’s first president, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, claimed that Lake Nyasa was part of Malawi referring to 1890 Heligoland Agreement between Britain and Germany which stipulated that the border between the countries lay along the Tanzanian side of the lake. This treaty was reaffirmed at the 1963 Organisation of African Unity summit where it was accepted reluctantly by Tanzania although disputes reignited in 1967-8.
Some, however, argue that it is necessary to correct the errors of the colonial powers, and Tanzania has sought recourse to international law, which indicates that borders are generally in the middle of a body of water, claiming Tanzania should therefore own half the lake.
The decision is critical as the Lake is sitting on oil and gas reserves. The Government of Malawi has already awarded two exploration licenses to two companies (Surestream Petroleum and SacOil) to explore for oil in Lake Malawi.
The most recent license was awarded last week on the 12 December 2012 to SacOil, as we blogged.