Tanzania advancing ‘selfish agenda’ on Lake Malawi, activists say

As the hype on Lake Malawi boundary dispute rage on, some local activists have criticized neighbouring Tanzania saying it pursuing a selfish agenda, arguing that it has no legal claim over the territory of the third-largest fresh water resource in Africa.

Tanzania and Malawi have recently engaged in cold war over ownership of Lake Malawi – also known as Lake Nyasa in Tanzania – following Malawi granting British company Surestream Petroleum rights to explore the lake for oil and gas. Surestream is currently conducting an environmental impact assessment.

The Easter African country has since threatened to go to war with Malawi if Lilongwe does not halt all exploration activities until the question of ownership is resolved.

No moral or legal basis

However, Malawian human rights lawyer and activist Justin Dzonzi has labelled Tanzania’s claims as both legally and morally unacceptable.

Dzonzi: Tanzania has no legal basis

Dzonzi, the Executive Director of Justice Link Blantyre-based think tank, told Nyasa Times in an interview that it is too late for Tanzania to claim ownership of part of the lake.

“We’re talking of close to 50 years ago when these two countries became independent, there were agreements and treaties that were signed then as such it is pointless for them to come now and say part of the lake belongs to them; it is total madness, nonsense and bullshit,” said Dzonzi.

“I think Tanzania is being driven by greed because if at all they had interest in the lake they would have raised this issue way back why now? Is it because of the oil? I think it is time our president showed strong leadership by not bowing to such stupidity demonstrated by Tanzania,” the lawyer added.

He further described the move by Tanzania to renegotiate partition of the territorial waters as ill-timed and day light obsession of imperialism.

Dzonzi added that there is no legal option which Tanzania can use to reinforce the change.

“Legally there is no case because of the partitioning that took place long time ago and this was sealed the moment we accepted independence from Great Britain so too is Tanzania. The only way to repartition the boundaries is either through mutual consent from both sides or an act of war where the other country invade the other but this is illegal by international standards,” added Dzonzi.

International Court of Justice referral

Commenting on the same issue, University of Malawi law lecturer Dr Mwiza Nkhata suggested that the only way to resolve the issue is to refer it to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

“Those familiar with history would agree with me that this is not a new case…..The best way to resolve the issue is by referring it to ICJ they will interpret the treaties that are there and this would put to rest all the differences that are existing,” said  Nkhata.

But on his part, Dzonzi observed that while the international court has legal instrument to resolve the issue, still it lacks jurisdiction to declare part of the waters as part of Tanzania.

“Currently, Malawi is legally covered by the 1890 Heligoland agreement between Britain and Germany as such if the case goes to ICJ the judges would make decision basing on the treaty; that is the farthest they can go because the court is there to interpret the laws not otherwise,” Dzonzi argued.

No need for war

Meanwhile, a Tanzanian university lecturer has warned his country that going to war with Malawi will be a big shame for the two countries which he said have enjoyed close ties since post colonial era.

Professor Mwesiga  Baregu is quoted by Tanzania’s Daily News that the two countries should resolve the dispute through diplomacy.

“This is not a new dispute between Tanzania and Malawi, I can recall in the 1960s we almost went to war. I suggest that our leaders should avoid provocations,” advised the St. Augustine University of Tanzania (SAUT) lecturer adding that the matter had been ignored for long.

He added further that it was high time the lasting solution was sought to avoid soiling bilateral ties.

“Let our politicians play a mature and diplomatic approach in this issue. There are three ways to do this, it can be through the International Court of Justice, the African Union or the Southern African Development Community,” he argued.

The border row has left many Malawians puzzled as to what has prompted Tanzania to come out in the open now yet it has remained silent throughout when the Malawi government under the leadership of late president Bingu wa Mutharika made its intentions of exploration clear.

Malawi’s Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security Uladi Mussa has meanwhile said Malawians have nothing to fear as discussions are underway to resolve the issue but insists that “ Lake Malawi belongs to Malawi government” and there is no way the country can halt oil and gas exploration.

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