Of war and dying for my country: The case of Lake Malawi

There are but two types of men who desire war: those who haven’t the slightest intention of fighting it themselves, and those who haven’t the slightest idea what it is. … Any man who has seen the face of death knows better than to seek him out a second time. — Abraham Lincoln


For the past three weeks or so, there have been reports of a diplomatic stand-off between Malawi and her eastern neighbor, Tanzania, over the ownership of Lake Malawi. That is regrettable. However, that is expected, for in the affairs of nations, disagreements are inevitable. It has been claimed that Tanzania’s renewed interest in the lake is due to possible discovery of oil. Whether that is true or not, is not the aim of this essay to show. However, disturbing trends have largely been about war talk (both subtle and direct) from both sides, officially and otherwise. My take is that this war mongering is needless, irresponsible and is rooted in the rocky soils of sentimentalism and not in common sense and reason.

War is sweet to those who have never fought it. Reality tells us that once one hears the details of victory, it is hard to distinguish it from a defeat. Indeed, if we really saw war, what war does to young minds and bodies, it would be impossible to embrace the myth of war. If we had to stand over the mangled corpses of school children killed in South Sudan, Angola, DRC or Libya and listen to the wails of their parents, we would not be able to repeat arguments we use to justify war. This is why war is carefully sanitized. This is why we are given war’s perverse and dark thrill but are spared from seeing war’s consequences. The mythic visions of war keep it heroic and entertaining.

As the situation between Malawi and Tanzania stands now, diplomacy is the way to go for both nations. Diplomacy will help both sides avoid needless bloodshed. For example, if on the negotiating table Malawi accepts to cede 50 percent of its northern part of the lake to Tanzania, it will do so without any Malawian dying for the nation.

The same case also applies to Tanzania. If Tanzania agrees to yield the part it claims as hers to Malawi, some youths in Mwanza or Dodoma today won’t have to die from Malawian bullets. Methinks it is not in the best interests of the two nations to involve themselves in a senseless war only for their leaders to later to come to their senses and resolve to solve the problem in air-conditioned hotels somewhere in exotic parts of Europe or East Africa.

Yes, we should avoid the classical situation whereby the master class always declares the wars and the subject class fights the battles. Reality tells us the master class has all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has nothing to gain and all to lose – especially their lives. And in the case of Tanzania being a neighbor whom Malawi relies for many of her imports and exports to pass through, we risk a situation where we might “win a war but lose the peace”.

Sadly, this war talk has made many people lose sight of key questions that should be tackled. Issues over how residents and the environment will be affected by oil drilling, or how disempowered communities might benefit from major finds are not being addressed/tackled as comprehensively. These issues need to be discussed and addressed, especially given that information about existing taxation and fiscal distribution systems in Malawi, and probably Tanzania on the other hand, is at times clouded.

Looking at the situation in the Great Lakes region, it can be seen that much of the oil drilling in Tanzania, Kenya and Mozambique is occurring in areas suffering from poor soil, low water tables and geographical isolation, and in regions in which many residents struggle to find employment. In our case, we should be talking of whether discoveries of valuable natural resources will help or hinder  communities around the lake and not of gallant soldiers we have made ourselves believe we have.

This cheap war talk has also in a way taken our eyes off the possible agent of this confrontation – Western corporations. While this is highly speculative, it is an open secret that western corporations involved in arms trade will benefit from an increased demand for their products if the nations at loggerheads decide to go to war. Corporations know that negotiations may lead to a peaceful settlement; and since peace is the enemy of the war industry, they might be seduced to attempt to derail the said peaceful process.

In case someone has doubts over the role of the western war industry in Africa, the question she or he should be asked is “how come wars are failing to stop even though the conflicting parties do not have anything close to a weapons manufacturing factory on their territory?”

As a reminder, oil or any other natural resource is going to be a curse to Africa if there is no better leadership. I am not speaking of leadership that can’t or won’t recognize the need to develop these resources, no. I am talking about leadership that recognizes that need as well as the need to see to it that their citizens, nations and institutions also benefit from the revenues.

Most importantly, instead of indulging in wars of nations; which are fought to change maps, we need leaders who will wage war on of poverty. In doing so, they will mapchange.

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