This week the Tanzanian Daily News reported that the Tanzanian government submitted its position to the Lake Malawi (Lake Nyasa as the lake is known in Tanzania) to the Chairperson of the Africa Forum of former African Heads of State and Government, Joaquim Chissano. Chissano, the former Mozambiquan head of state, will preside over negotiations on the lake’s boundaries.
According to the Tanzanian Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, John Haule,
We have submitted a document explaining our position on the matter. The forum is now reviewing the document and will thereafter seek consultation if it is needed, but we expect that they will be able to conclude the matter in three months.
Malawi submitted its position on the disputed Lake Malawi at the end of January, 2013, meeting the deadline on the 31st.
The Forum was requested to step in this January as the two countries failed to reach a consensus on the lake’s boundaries last year. The dispute has been linked to the oil reserves that lie below Lake Malawi. The Government of Malawi has already awarded two companies, Surestream Petroleum and SacOil, exclusive prospecting licences.
At the beginning of January, the Chairperson of the Forum of Former African Heads of State and Government and former Mozambiquan president, Joaquim Chissano, accepted the Government of Malawi and Tanzania’s December submission of a Joint Application of Mediation to the forum for assistance with negotiation over Lake Malawi’s boundaries. The former presidents of the countries involved in the dispute will not be involved in the mediation process.
By approaching the Forum, both countries signal their willingness to resolve the dispute peacefully. Tanzania’s High Commissioner to Malawi, Patrick Tsere, confirmed this,
We submitted our opinion because we want this matter to be resolved peacefully and amicably through dialogue. We are now just waiting for the mediators to brief us but certainly the time table is on course.
I am literally very happy with both sides’ conduct. Let me reiterate the message from Tanzanian government; Tanzania does not want to fight with Malawi over the lake and we will not fight over this. It will be foolish for Malawi and Tanzania to fight. On our part, we have never even contemplated that path.
However, if the dispute is not resolved within three months, the case may be presented before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) although Tanzania has not ratified the treaty that established the ICJ. The ICJ has always ruled in favour of a median border. Malawi’s claim is based on an 1890 colonial agreement (Heligoland) made between the colonial administrations at the time, Germany and Britain.
According to the Tanzanian online news report, when the Mozambique negotiated the borders with Malawi, Tanzania (then Tanganyika) was under the British government, following the redistribution of German colonies after the Germany was defeated in the second world war. Since Malawi and Tanzania were under the same colonial rule the report suggests that the lake’s boundaries could not be discussed.
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