Lake Malawi: A fish for the ‘master’, pain for the people

Malawi and Tanzania have daggers drawn, almost close at each other’s throats. As the politicians probably sweet-talked by global corporates continue to pull and shove for a part of a rich natural resource that has always been Lake Malawi up north of the Warm Heart of Africa, the man in Karonga and his colleague just across the border is preparing to go for fishing.

Lake Malawi Chambo in Net. Photo by Patrick Dugan
Lake Malawi Chambo in Net. Photo by Patrick Dugan

It is not big time-sea going fishing business. It is dug-out canoes, reed and bamboo made fish hooks, and in many places, mosquito nets created to waive aside malarial attacks used to ensnare small fish by lakeside and river mouths that are true to one of the world’s most promising fresh water lakes.

Fresh Water Lake? You can say that again, because the politicians are about to turn that around. In fact, they are already at the drawing boards with impunity charting a different course for a natural resource that has been a lifeline for people on both sides of the water mass.

For the Tanzanians, Lake Malawi was a mere waterfall for its people living along its sandy shoulders to make a small fishing living. It never occurred to them, for starters, that beneath this beautiful Lake, which in uncharted papers is labelled Lake Nyasa by Dodoma, and of course, Lake Niassa by Maputo in Mozambique, lies a rich bed of resources.

Of course, without skimming for the bottom of the lakebed, Lake Malawi has always in its natural presentation being a great ecosystem. Rich in marine life and a sure supplier of endless protein and edible minerals for the peoples on both sides.

The first Malawi leader, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, and Julius Nyerere on the Tanzanian side, long discussed the issue of ownership of the lake and settled it. Before this post-colonial settlement, the British and all those that colonised Tanzania had also entered treaties that realised the lake as belonging to no other than Malawi.

This may be a subject now at dialogue level between the two nations, as it stands today, but it is the natural beauty and the life that it brings to the peoples that come to matter.

Malawi has already given exploration concessions to several multinational companies to explore for minerals including gas, and on the other side of the border, Tanzania is claiming claim and also engaged its own bi-economic allies to start to explore gas, all from the same vicinity of the lake.

What is worrying is not the political economic interest, which if not handled well, may provoke a serious bilateral strain to long-existed cordial ties, and in the near to long term possible conflict – diplomatic, political, military, and worse economic. The main catastrophe already happening with the scenario is the threat to the eco-system, the environmental and climatic strain that would not only destroy the beauty and marine life that Lake Malawi has always been cherished for, but also continue to put drastic changes to the environment and balance of nature.

Already on the Malawi side, Karonga district suffers near annual flooding and droughts. With a uranium mining company now existent for over a decade, the rivers nearby are starting to experience marine disorder, where in some places fish has been found dead on their own.

Local and some national authorities and groups have raised eyebrows and in many places came out strongly to speak against the effects of mining on life and the environment. But as is the case almost everywhere, extractives corporates speak with impunity cushioned by powerless governments that have either entered into mining deals with not much of technical knowledge on the sector or engendered by pure political greed that is characteristic of most African leaders.

As both Malawi and Tanzania sit on multiple platforms that seek to curve in a voice for a legally binding deal at the forthcoming Paris Conference of Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC), it becomes more likely that this will be pursued by departments of environment and climate change in both nations that are kept at arm’s length from m shenanigans of the on goings on of the destructive deals been discussed and entered by the very politicians that will speak the pro-clean environment voice and yet act the destructive way.

With policies that fail to speak to each other, marine and land policies that at one hand will promote governments wills to protect natural resources and also protect the environment, other policies around land and even investment will give open sesame contracts that exploit the very same resources.

For instance in Malawi, one land policy allows for exploitation of land for economic pursuits without necessarily giving clear limits to how this can be done environmental friendly, whilst agriculture policy spells that you cannot cultivate closer to roads or indeed right at the banks of rivers and other water sources.

Evidently, both countries, and beyond their borders, such demonstration of political imbalances have put many innocent people at a disadvantage. Farmers continue to lose seed and crops to harsh land and environmental realities indirectly and directly connected to these non-harmonised settings.

The faith groups and civil society collectives have come out strongly to put governments in check, but where economic benefits supersede the survival of multitudes of poor families, most of them reliant on subsistence agricultural activities, such calls are only met and responded to with promises of hope on paper and in boardrooms, but never meet the realities on the ground.

Meanwhile the fishermen of Malawi and Tanzania, living harmoniously over the many years, slowly will start to look at each other as competition. Such scenario cannot only breed mistrust between the two peoples, but are also a breeding area for ignorant conflict, physical and otherwise.

As the bureaucrats maintain their wrong advice to their political leaders, and as the politicians think more about their political and personal economic gains, the scenario lives the common man and woman and vulnerable child wondering if anybody cares.

Fish is already in depleting numbers due to various reasons including growing populations, harsh climatic conditions that follow, among many other reasons.

When oil and gas starts to be exploited from Lake Malawi, a few foreign corporates will gain, millions of Malawians and Tanzanian families relying on the lake will suffer, and the bionetwork will be dealt a bigger blow.

The question is, should everyone really suffer for ‘a fish’ for the master that those in authority want to put on the dinner table of our political leaders? COP21 must be the turning point and the process of Intended Nationally Decided Contributions (INDCs) development must be a consultative and binding end to checking these issues and stopping impunity at country and global levels!

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5 years ago

will c what happens next

Winston Msowoya
Winston Msowoya
5 years ago

It is foolhardy to believe that Malawi would waste her resources and time to demand that lake nyasa/ lake Malawi belongs to them.If Masauko Chipembere could be the leader of Malawi,the issue of the lake could be the last thing he could have wasted his precious time and resources.The lake was created in the continent of Africa billion of years ago before even the names Tanganyika and Nyasalnd were there.It shows that the present leadership is misguided and idiotic in the sense that it could have embarked on the most pressing issue: The dilapidated state of the national economy where… Read more »

5 years ago

TZ should get half of Lake Malawi. This is what the international law says. We Malawians in the north will support TZ if war has to break out from these drawn daggers. Northerners have for long been sidelined in Malawi’s development and are segregated by the quota system of DPP. We love you TZ, and want to be annexed to you just like Cremia of Ukrane is annexed to Russia.

Che Nkope
Che Nkope
5 years ago

Infact chimanga anapereka a Tanzania chija was poisoned kuti asilikali athu adwale and they start the war. Nyasa reporters find out l hear the govt has ordered the maize to be burnt at unknown location. Testing was done in Zambia and the govt is ust quiet on this why???????

Climate guru
Climate guru
5 years ago

This is the real truth. The leaders in the two countries pretend before their people all is well, when it is the poor that are living in fear and are suffering. Nothing sensational here, only facts. Keep it up, the author.

5 years ago

“Malawi and Tanzania have daggers drawn almost close at each others throat”. Sensational reporting.

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