Fear grips Malawians over Tanzania’s war threats

Malawi is known as the Warm Heart of Africa because of its peace and tranquility but the current diplomatic row with her neighbour Tanzania has created panic among its people, particularly those living along the two countries’ border.

The fear has ensued following media reports quoting Tanzania authorities that they were ready to go to war with Malawi if the country continues with its plans to explore gas and oil on Lake Malawi.

Malawi awarded a contract to UK’s Surestream Company last year to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the lake which is believed to have oil and gas in abundance.

Basing her argument on a common international law which stipulates that when two countries are separated by a body of water, the border is at the middle of that body, Tanzania claims half of the lake belongs to her as such Malawi cannot explore oil on it.

Internal Security Minister Uladi Mussa: Fear not

And Malawians living in Karonga and Chitipa, the two border districts with Tanzania, are getting worried with their safety as some are already planning to flee following the war remarks by Tanzania.

Tanzania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Bernard Membe this week told his country’s Parliament in Dodoma should Malawi not stop its plans to explore oil on the lake they will regard it as an act of aggression.

 No panic

But Malawi’s Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security, Uladi Mussa, speaking to Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) on Tuesday asked the people in the two districts to remain calm assuring them nothing would happen.

“I should assure all the people in this country to remain calm. We are talking to the Tanzanian government and all will be fine. If push comes to shove we will take the matter to International Court of Justice,” reported the radio.

The minister reaffirmed that the entire lake belongs to Malawi adding that government has evidence to prove its point.

Mussa further said government will not stop exploring oil on the lake as demanded by Tanzania saying “they [Tanzanians] have no powers to do so”.

“There is no issue here. We all know the lake belongs to us. In fact if such a claim came from Mozambique at least it would have made sense to some extent but not Tanzania. We have all the evidence and treaties are there to support that Lake Malawi belongs to Malawi,” said the Home Affairs Minister.

 Malawi arguments

Malawi government argues that the principle being pursued by Tanzania- that the border is along the middle- only applies where there is no treaty but in this scenario the border was clearly and specifically defined in the 1890 Heligoland Treaty.

Germany and Britain, colonial masters of Tanzania and Malawi respectively, signed the treaty after the issue- of the border between the two countries- was clearly defined.

In addition, records show that in 1963 Heads of State of Organisation of African Union (OAU) made a resolution that member states should recognize and accept the borders that were inherited at the time of independence.

The leaders also made similar resolutions in 2002 and 2007 during the African Union (AU) summits.

However, Malawi Government’s decision to extract gas and oil on Lake Malawi has not only touched on the raw nerves of the Tanzanians but many Malawians as well who have argued that the disadvantages of the project far much outweigh the benefits.

Malawi, a former British colony, and Tanzania, once ruled by Germany, are due to hold showdown talks on the disputed border in the northern Malawian town of Mzuzu on August 20.

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