When the Governments of Tanzania and Malawi presented their position papers on the disputed territory of Lake Malawi (known as Lake Nyasa in Tanzania) to the Africa Forum of former African Heads of State and Government in January this year, they expected to wait 3 months for a resolution from the team comprised of three former presidents from the SADC region. However, in mid June, during the Extra-Ordinary Summit of the SADC Heads of State and Government in Maputo, delegations from the two governments learnt more about the road map for the mediation process that will run until September 2013.
Ephraim Chiume, Malawi’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, refused to provide further details on this mediation plan because “The mediation team expressed concern that we are talking too much”. This comes as no surprise following the heated discussions in May and June around Tanzania’s decision to deploy ships on Lake Malawi. “Too much” talk may also refer to the announcement made in April by Malawi’s president Joyce Banda. She misspoke saying that Malawi was withdrawing from the mediation process.
On 20 June 2013, as if to reiterate the Forum concerns, Youth and Society, a Mzuzu-based youth advocacy group, reminded politicians from Malawi and Tanzania to refrain from “making inflammatory and irresponsible statements” and to remain committed to the mediation process.
Despite the request from Chissano’s mediation team for Malawi and Tanzania to reduce the talk on the dispute, on Sunday, Malawi’s Minister of Information, Moses Kunkuyu, said on air that Tanzania is “ignorant” on lake row. Nyasa Times reported that Kunkuyu said
Levels of understanding on any matter differs. Regimes in Tanzania have come and gone thinking that they own Lake Malawi but when they got facts about the matter they all realized that their claims were wrong.
It is the same this time but as government we want to settle this matter once and for all that is why we have engaged them directly so that they understand that they don’t own any waters in Lake Malawi and this matter is settled once and for all to ensure that no such claim would be repeated by anyone that side again.
This follows an online discussion between two pastors about the dispute resolution: Pastor Hastings Salanje argued that the Lake should be shared with Tanzania to avoid “the shed of innocent blood” and Pastor Robert Masikamu disagreed that Malawi should be “giving away what belongs to us“.
At the beginning of 2013, the Africa Forum of Former Heads of State and Government under the leadership of former Mozambiquan president Joaquim Chissano set out to resolve the dispute between Malawi and Tanzania over Lake Malawi. The dispute is linked to the oil reserves that lie in the lake bed. Currently, Malawi controls the lake’s territory based on the 1890 Heligoland Agreement, but this may change if Tanzania has its way. Malawi’s government has already awarded two companies, Surestream Petroleum and SacOil, exclusive prospecting licences.
“Too much” talk on the border wrangle means that there has been very little examination or discussion about the implications of exploring for oil on the livelihoods of lake shore communities and the Lake’s unique ecosystem, and about the outdated regulative and legislative framework and limited Malawian technical capacity to work along the value chain, which are necessary for ensuring that Malawi benefits from its natural resources. If there were an oil spill on the lake, the lake could take 700 years to recover, according to Maxon Ngochera, a Principal Fisheries Research Officer and marine biologist in Malawi.
In other Lake Malawi-related news, Mota-Engil has taken over the management of major shipping ports on the lake through the newly incorporated Malawi Ports Company, a subsidiary of Mota-Engil. Mota-Engil is one of the largest construction and engineering companies in Malawi. It is involved in Malawi’s largest mine, Paladin Kayelekera Uranium Project as well as in the USD 1 billion construction and rehabilitation of railway funded by Brazilian mining company Vale. This railway project made the news this week as workers were on strike over pay and the use of low-skilled foreign labour from Thailand, which have since been or are being repatriated. The company is helping communities near the railway access clean water and plant fruit trees. The company is expanding operations across southern Africa with plans to invest in Zambia.
Update 4 July 2013: Today Malawi’s president Joyce Banda met with leaders of opposition parties at her residence, Kamuzu Palace, in Lilongwe. They were updated, according to Joyce Banda’s Facebook page, “about the progress of our government’s implemented policies to promote social and economic developments in this country”. Nyasa Times reported that Banda also thanked the opposition leaders for their “input and guidance” on the dispute with Tanzania over Lake Malawi’s boundaries.