Monday, August 27, 2012

Dar es Salaam, Lilongwe meet on
Lake Nyasa flops

By Songa wa Songa
The Citizen Reporter

Lilongwe. Tanzania and Malawi on Saturday failed to reach a mutual agreement on their disputed border on Lake Nyasa. They, however, agreed to continue pursuing the matter via alternative diplomatic channels.

The two countries agreed to disagree during a meeting held in Lilongwe to resolve the decades long dispute which, after years of apparent lull, re-emerged earlier this month when Tanzania raised the red flag when a government agency alerted it that Malawi was undertaking gas exploration that covered the entire lake.

At the end of the Saturday talks involving the topmost government officials from both countries, Tanzania’s minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Bernard Membe and his Malawian counterpart Ephraim Chiume, declared in a joint communiqué that the two sides failed to reach a consensus.

The crucial meeting, which was also attended by minister for Lands, Housing and Human Settlements Development Anna Tibaijuka, was a follow-up of an earlier one held in Dar es Salaam last month.

After going through reports submitted by two committees: joint technical committee and joint committee of officials that had been meeting in the city of Mzuzu since Monday last week, the announcement was finally made.

“Our cardinal differences still remain. We have to go ahead with these meetings so that we resolve the dispute in a friendly, cordial and amicable way,” said Mr Membe who added: “But we have agreed that all the exploration activities in the disputed area be suspended until the matter is settled.”

The way forward now for the two countries is an arbitration by a third party and the options according to the resolutions are a council of wise men to be coordinated by the African Union (AU) or some eminent person(s) approved by both parties.

Should the arbitration option fail, the dispute would have to be taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for legal determination.

“We have tasked the two joint committees of experts and officials to thoroughly deliberate on the options, outline pros and cons of each and make recommendations before the next meeting,” said Mr Membe.

He added that attorneys general of the two countries have also been directed to provide legal interpretation of the “conflicting” articles of the Heligoland Treaty before the next meeting scheduled for September 10 until 15 in Dar es Salaam.

The Anglo-German Treaty or Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty signed on July 1, 1890 between Germany and Great Britain colonial rulers of then Tanganyika and Malawi respectively is the source of the whole disagreement.

Unlike the 1918 German-East Africa (Deutsch-Ostafrica) map that Tanzania recognises which, like lakes Victoria and Tanganyika, shares out Lake Nyasa between the countries it separates, the Heligoland Accord gives Malawi the entire water body.

While Malawi holds onto Article One, Sub Article Two of the document that defines the borderline in its favour, Tanzania maintains that Article Six of the same treaty, which provides for correction in conformity with local requirements, must not be overlooked.

Article Six reads: “Any correction of the demarcation lines described in Articles I to IV that becomes necessary due to local requirements may be undertaken by agreement between the two powers.”

Mr Membe is on record as saying that Tanzania has a map drawn by Britain, the then ruler of Tanganyika (after the defeat of Germany in World War Two) and Nyasaland (even before) indicating that there was an agreement to review the border and locate it at the middle of the lake as the case in the border between Malawi and Mozambique on the same lake.

In a bid to seek a peaceful solution on the matter, the late Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika wrote to his counterpart Benjamin Mkapa, then President of the United Republic of Tanzania, requesting the formation of a joint committee that would work on the dispute.

The two countries then created a joint committee of ministers for foreign affairs that met for the first time in 2010. But for Malawi, the strategy seems to involve diplomacy and to the most part, the legal path.

“For us this is a legal matter; it has been going on for so long, bringing unnecessary tension to our people,” said Mr Chiume, who adds: “Let’s hope we shall be able to resolve it amicably.

Mr Chiume said it was unfortunate that the two sisterly nations had come to the point of uttering inflammatory statements including the mention of war on a matter that could be peacefully and permanently resolved.

Following the reports of whole ownership claim and mineral exploration activities carried out by multination companies licensed by Malawi in the disputed area, temperatures went high in Tanzania early this month with various leaders declaring that the country was ever ready to protector its borders against any aggression.

Reacting to the fresh revelations, Mbozi East MP, Mr Godfrey Zambi (CCM) demanded a government statement. The then acting Leader of Government Business in Parliament, Mr Samuel Sitta, gave the assurance that there would be safety and full security for residents of Mbeya Region and other areas along Lake Nyasa.

Asking for the Speaker’s guidance, Mr Zambi said the statement issued by a senior Malawi government official that the entire Lake Nyasa belonged to his country, needed a firm stand from the Tanzanian government.

Source: The Citizen (TZ)

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