Decision on Lake Malawi dispute by 30 September unlikely as Malawi and Tanzania given 3 weeks to respond to each other’s position papers

Lake Malawi Ownership - Godfrey Mwampembwa (Courtesy of IQ4News)

Lake Malawi Ownership - Godfrey Mwampembwa (November 2012, Courtesy of IQ4News)

We had expected the Africa Forum of Former African Heads of State and Government to reach a decision on the ongoing dispute between Tanzania and Malawi over Lake Malawi (or Lake Nyasa as the body of water is known in Tanzania) by the end of September 2013. This now seems unlikely given that Malawi and Tanzania have three weeks to submit responses to each other’s position papers on the territory and to a set of questions “as a step towards starting of mediations“. Based on evidence from other territorial disputes in the region, reaching a resolution could take several years.

This week, during the Organ Troika Summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Organ on Politics, Defence and Security held in Windhoek, Namibia, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation for Malawi (Ephraim Chiume) and Tanzania (Bernard Membe) met with former Mozambiquan president Joaquim Chissano, who is leading the Africa Forum mediation team. Chissano gave the Malawian government the position paper Tanzania had submitted to the Africa Forum earlier this year. Similarly, Tanzania received Malawi’s position paper. The two governments have three weeks to respond to these position papers.

As explained in a statement released by Malawi’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation,

The meeting was specifically organised in order for the two parties to exchange their written submissions which they had earlier submitted to the Forum. The two parties have been given a period not exceeding three weeks from the date of the exchange (September 11, 2013), to provide written comments on each other’s submission.

Four questions were also outlined in the press release which the Malawian government is expected to address. These are:

  1. Does Malawi agree that there is a boundary along the Lake between itself and Tanzania?
  2. What is the legal implication of the absence of ratification on the delimitation in Article 1(2) of the 1980 Treaty in relation to the Lake?
  3. What is the legal implication of the acceptance by either party of the importance of the Lake to the local population along the shoreline and their use of the Lake?
  4. Are there examples of cooperation between the parties in relation to the use of the Lake?

Malawi’s Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, George Mkondiwa, welcomed this exchange of position papers as a positive step in the mediation process. However, many Malawians, including two main presidential candidates for the 2014 tripartite elections, believe that Malawi should not have entertained negotiations over the borders of the Lake since it lies 100% within the country’s territory and because the outcome of negotiations is unlikely to be to Malawi’s advantage.

Lake Malawi is sitting on oil resources and the Malawian government has already awarded exclusive prospecting licences to two companies, SacOil and Surestream Petroleum, for three blocks.

To learn more about the lake wrangle as it has evolved over the last year, visit the section on the Lake Malawi Dispute.

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