Malawi’s leaders have refused to enter into an interim agreement with Tanzania on the disputed lake borders this weekend.
On Sunday, former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano and former South African president Thabo Mbeki met with Malawi’s president Joyce Banda, John Tembo, opposition leader in Parliament and president of the Malawi Congress Party, George Chaponda, leader of the Democratic Progressive Party in Parliament, and Joseph Kubwalo, former Malawian envoy to Tanzania, to discuss the ongoing border dispute and gather evidence. Mbeki and Chissano represent the 38-member Africa Forum of former African Heads of State and Government that was called upon late last year to mediate the 50-year-old lake dispute earlier this year.
At the beginning of 2013, the Africa Forum of former African Heads of State and Government under the leadership Chissano set out to resolve the dispute between Malawi and Tanzania over Lake Malawi (or Lake Nyasa at the waters are known in Tanzania). 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, and other companies are interested.
In January, the countries expected the Forum to take 3 months to make a resolution. However, in mid June, during the Extra-Ordinary Summit of the SADC Heads of State and and Government in Maputo, delegations from the two governments learnt that the mediation process will run until September 2013.
The lake dispute is an issue that is affecting the young and the old, regardless of race or political affiliations, hence my call so that the people of Malawi should get an update.
Your Excellencies, allow me to express my concern about Tanzania’s recent provocative statement about deploying boats on the lake.
My government is not, at this time, willing to entertain any interim agreement on say, the environmental issues or Tanzania usage of the lake until the sovereignty issue is resolved.
Our expectation is that the Forum’s role is to facilitate that the parties reach an agreement. If no agreement is made by 30 September, the Forum should recommend that the parties proceed to the International Court of Justice and ensure Tanzania’s commitment to the process.
The roadmap that was agreed, the Forum is expected to mediate over this issue for a period of three calendar months. We appreciate some of the challenges, but our government would be grateful if this process moved with speed.
Malawi’s position is that we own the entire lake - except for the position ceded to Mozambique in 1954 for mutually beneficial reasons. The law clearly supports that position. This was agreed upon by former presidents of Tanzania Julius Nyerere in 1963 and Benjamin Mkapa.
Chissano clarified that they will take up Malawi’s concerns with Tanzania and speed up the mediation process. His role in the mediation may further improve diplomatic relations between Malawi and Mozambique evident in cross-border collaboration in the energy sector. He reminded Malawi (again) not to engage in activities that may destabilise the resolution process.
Let me assure you, Madam Excellency, that the Forum of Former Heads of State and Government will resolve the matter with urgency as requested by you. We would like to tell you that this issue will be resolved in a friendly manner.
This matter will be treated with neutrality and experts across the region will be asked to give their inputs before the final resolution is made.
President Banda, we have heard your concerns and be assured that the team will work hard to resolve the issue. We advise that you still not make any comments regarding the lake issue and we will ask Tanzania of the same.
We have accepted the challenge knowing that it’s a hard task, but we are happy to try and do something.
We know the solution lies in the hands of the two parties and we take Malawi’s concerns to Tanzania.
Ensuring the dispute is resolved amicably is important for promoting a healthy investment environment, and Banda is on a mission to attract Foreign Direct Investment with support from the donor community and with many international trips. This week 30 business delegates travelled from India to Malawi to explore trade and investment opportunities in a number of sectors including mining.
Greg Walker, General Manager for International Affairs with Paladin Africa, a subsidiary of the largest foreign mining company operating in Malawi, recently reminded Malawians at the launch of a scathing report of their practices, it is in Malawi’s interests to ensure the environment for doing business is secure. It is not yet clear how the border dispute once resolved will impact companies already awarded exploration licences to the lake’s bed.
Lake shore communities are also concerned about the lake dispute. In the most recent reportage on these communities, people living along the lake’s northern borders were alarmed about large numbers of dead fish floating on the surface which some people attributed (without evidence!) to the dispute or the impact of Paladin’s activities at their uranium mine in Karonga.