Tanzania has warned that it will be prepared to go to war with Malawi on the ownership of Lake Malawi, also referred to as Lake Nyasa by some countries, thought to have oil deposits.
The two countries have scheduled August 20,this year, in Mzuzu — the northern city of Malawi -for showdown talks on the matter.
Despite Malawi government saying it wants the matter to be handled diplomatically, some overzealous Tanzanian officials have been war-mongering .
Tanzania’s chairman of the parliamentary committee for Defence, Security and Foreign Affairs, Edward Lowassa, is quoted by The Citizen, declaring: “We expect this conflict will be solved diplomatically using the committee of foreign affairs ministers from both countries and using the mediator whenever needed. Malawi is our neighbour and therefore we would not like to go into war with it.”
“However, if it reaches the war stage then we are ready to sacrifice our people’s blood and our military forces are committed in equipment and psychologically. Our army is among modern and stable defence forces in the world,” declared Lowassa.
There are reports that Tanzania has already sent troops to the border but that has not been independently verified.
Malawi’s Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Ephraim Chiume has since assured that “ this should not be a cause for anxiety or alarm.”
Nonetheless, Tanzania minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Bernard Membe, has ordered Malawi to consider an immediate stop to all gas and oil prospecting activities on the portion of the lake that falls on the Tanzania side.
He told parliament that the Tanzanian government was committed to ensuring that its people are protected “at any cost”.
The conflict time line
According to Chiume, the border between the two countries was defined in the Heligoland Treaty signed by the former colonial powers Germany and Britain on 1st July 1890.
“The Heligoland Treaty defined the border between the two countries as being the edge of the waters on eastern shore of Lake Malawi.
“Furthermore, the Heads of State and Government of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) made a resolution in 1963 that member states should recognise and accept the borders that were inherited at the time of independence. The African Union (AU) made similar resolutions in 2002 and 2007,” said Chiume.
But Tanzania’s Membe said the conflict started in the early 1960s, when the first Malawian president, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, claimed that Lake Nyasa and the whole of Mbeya in Tanzania were part of Malawi using the 1890-Heligoland treaty.
“But, talks about the matter stopped somewhere as Dr Kamuzu Banda had a relationship with South Africa and Tanzania was in support of South African freedom fighters,” Membe said.
He said serious talks on the matter were revived in 2005, between President Jakaya Kikwete and the late Dr Bingu wa Mutharika, whereby a ministerial committee was appointed by both countries to solve the dispute over the border and the lake’s name.
“The committee met in 2010 and 2012, whereby a number of issues were discussed including some of the aircraft claimed to belong to the oil and gas researching companies from Malawi flying in the Tanzania airspace,” he said.
He told Parliament that Tanzania was interested to end the conflict through round-table discussions and to find a long-term solution.
Tanzania wants 50 per cent share of the lake, but Malawi claims to own the whole of it.
Malawi has awarded Surestream Petroleum of UK a licence to prospect for oil on the lake.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :