Malawi’s state-owned media corporation receives court order from presidential aspirant over Lake Malawi dispute

Claims made by Tanzania and Malawi on Lake Malawi (Courtesy of SAIIA)

Claims made by Tanzania and Malawi on Lake Malawi (Courtesy of SAIIA)

Peter Mutharika, presidential aspirant with the Democratic Progressive Party and brother to the former president, has come under fire in the last week for alleged “warmongering” remarks he made about the border dispute between Malawi and Tanzania over Lake Malawi (or Lake Nyasa as the waters are known in Tanzania). Mutharika has since taken out a court injunction against the media houses that have been spreading reports that he declared war.

Mutharika proclaimed at the beginning of August that Malawi should not negotiate with Tanzania over Lake Malawi, which is sitting on potentially lucrative oil reserves. Mutharika, a professor in International and Comparative Law, suggested that there is

No need to negotiate, Lake Malawi belongs to Malawi, and it will always belong to Malawi.

Tanzania is only taking advantage of the weak leadership we currently have, but deep down in their heart they know that not even an inch of the lake belongs to them.

When we take back government next year, all this nonsense will end. And I will deploy more ships on the lake to boost our economy and create jobs for our young people.

Mutharika’s stance aligns with Malawi’s first president’s statement made in parliament in June 1967. Hastings Kamuzu Banda underlined

As to the claim that the Lake should be divided between Malawi and another neighbouring country, I should like to say here and now that we will never recognise or accept this claim; we will never agree to the suggestion or proposal. Lake Malawi has always belonged to Malawi.

Two Malawian human rights groups, the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP), issued a statement cautioning Mutharika’s approach.

On state-owned Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) television station, Blessings Chinsinga, Political Science lecturer at the University of Malawi, along with two veteran politicians, Humphreys Mvula and Sam Mpasu, castigated Mutharika for his divisive “war” remarks. In response, Mutharika clarified (defended?) his position that Malawi should not negotiate, emphasising that this is not the same as a call to go to war. Subsequently, Mutharika took out a court injunction against MBC, Chinsinga, Mvula and Mpasu for spreading “lies” that he is suggesting war is the solution for the dispute.

Mutharika’s aide, Ben Phiri, explained the decision to take the issue to court,

We are not asking for much. We just want MBC to broadcast same time same minutes the statements, a recording where our party president (Peter) made and where they say he was propagating or insinuating war with Tanzania as they claim. Let MBC TV put the video where our party president made such statement. It is very damaging and unfair because its total lies.

Mvula, who was named in the court order, believes that presidential aspirants should expect people to disagree with their positions, and noted

As an individual I will guard jealously my freedom of speech. I do not think he (Peter) was in a way defamed by disapproving his thought on the lake dispute.

The lake wrangle is much discussed in Malawi, and it is not the only dispute in Africa over territory linked to the presence of oil. For example, this weekend, the dispute is on the agenda of an indaba organised by non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations in Malawi’s capital, and it is mentioned at the Southern African Development Community (SADC) People’s Summit on “Reclaiming SADC for People’s Development and Solidarity: Ensuring our natural resources benefit the people not Elites and Multi-national corporations” that is taking place at the moment (an alternative to the SADC Heads of State and Government Summit which is also being held in Lilongwe). Visit the Malawi Economic Justice Network’s Facebook page for up-to-date information.

Media houses in Malawi are also questioning the legitimacy of Tanzania’s claims. For example, this week the new online Banthu Times reported that the Tanzanian draft constitution released earlier in the year does not include Lake Malawi within its borders.

The dispute is being mediated by the Africa Forum of former African Heads of State and Government, led by Mozambique’s former president Joaquim Chissano, and a resolution is expected by 30 September 2013. A researcher with the South African Institute of International Affairs posits that the Forum is unlikely to reach an agreement, which will lead to a loss of credibility of the SADC in the eyes of the international community. The case may then be taken to the International Court of Justice.

You can read our coverage of the dispute here.

One response to “Malawi’s state-owned media corporation receives court order from presidential aspirant over Lake Malawi dispute

  1. Pingback: 20 days until former SADC leaders are expected to announce decision on Malawi-Tanzania Lake Dispute | Mining in Malawi·

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