Malawi makes U-turn on lake boundary dispute with Tanzania

Late President Bingu wa Mutharika prided himself as being Mr Unpredictable and we can perhaps proclaim President Joyce Banda as ‘Mrs Undecided’.

Barely four days after the Malawi leader hinted that continuing with mediation talks in the border dispute with Tanzania was a waste of time, her administration has made a sudden turnaround saying Malawi government was committed to talks.

The Joyce Banda administration says it is more than committed to finding an amicable and lasting solution to the dispute with Tanzania through peaceful dialogue and diplomatic efforts.

Malawi’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation says in a statement issued Saturday and made available to Nyasa Times that the government has trust and confidence in the Forum for Former African Heads of State and Government that it will do a good job.

Malawi Foreign Affairs Ephraim Chiume: Still have faith in the adjudication team

Malawi Foreign Affairs Ephraim Chiume: Still have faith in the adjudication team

On Tuesday this week, President Banda told reporters at a news conference in Lilongwe on return from her 23-day visit to the United States, Britain and Botswana that Malawi would seek help from International Court of Justice (ICJ) to ensure that justice prevailed because mediation by the Forum had been compromised.

“Our view is that we should eventually go to court. We should not waste time on this [mediation] because we feel everything is compromised,” Banda said.

She claimed the mediation bid left to the Forum, which is chaired by Mozambican former President Joachim Chissano, was compromised after information submitted by Malawi was reportedly leaked to Tanzania.

It is reported that some vital information was leaked by the Forum’s Executive Secretary, John Tesha, who is a Tanzanian national before his country made its submission.

But in a twist of events, the ministry insists that the country is committed to the talks that was why it resorted to mediation by the Forum on the matter.

“The Government of Malawi has trust and confidence in the Forum, whose members are men of high integrity, and believe that the matter will be handled with professionalism and objectivity that it rightly deserves. Malawi’s commitment to the mediation efforts cannot be overemphasized,” says the statement.

The ministry further clarifies that it wrote the chairperson of the Forum raising concerns on the participation of Tesha whose involvement, Malawi feels may compromise the talks and that the playing field may not be level.

“The ministry is confident that the Forum will give this concern the necessary attention. The government is very committed to the mediation process and that is why the concern was raised so that the process should be deemed free and fair,” states the ministry.

The ministry has since downplayed remarks by President Banda that government was pulling out of the mediation process describing them as “not correct”.

Tanzania Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Bernard Membe, said the decision made by President Banda to take the dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was a bit unfortunate.

Membe requested Malawi to return to the arbitration process, bearing in mind that the aspired settlement by ICJ has to be agreed upon by both sides.

The Lake Malawi boarder conflict escalated last July when Malawi awarded oil exploration licenses to United Kingdom-based Surestream Petroleum.

Malawi claims ownership of the entire lake under the 1890 agreement, while Tanzania disputes this validity, insisting part of the lake falls within its borders.

The two countries took the issue to the Forum after failing to reach an agreement during their several series of talks held in Malawi and Tanzania.

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