Tanzania underplays churches’ intervention on Lake Malawi border dispute

Tanzania Government has doubted the practicability of an agreement by Malawi Council of Churches (MCC) and its counterpart, the Christian Council of Tanzania (CCT) to mediate in the ongoing Lake Malawi/Nyasa border dispute.

The two countries’ major religious bodies agreed last week to intervene and mediate in the matter following a prolonged stalemate after the two countries failed to reach a consensus.

The impasse forced the two countries to approach Southern African Development Community (SADC) former heads of state and government for assistance.

But Tanzania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Bernard Membe, has ruled out the possibilities of the two church bodies’ mediation saying the chapter was closed.

Membe, ex-president Chissano and Chiume: Agree to take lake dispute for former leaders mediation

Membe observed that had there been any avenue to seek the solution internally, that would be the way to go but the decision which was reached at in November by both parties to move forward to the SADC Forum means that internal avenues have been exhausted.

“The submission of joint letters means that the chapter for internal mediation dialogues between the two countries is closed and all the hopes are now on the Forum to decide on the matter,” Membe told Tanzania’s state owned Daily Newspaper.

The newspaper quoted Membe saying the current intention by MCC and CCT was belated since the matter was already being handled at higher level which was beyond the two countries.

Last week, Tanzania and Malawi submitted joint letters of application to chairperson of the Forum of Former Southern African Heads of State and Government, Joaquim Chissano, requesting the Forum to mediate over the dispute.

The letters were presented on behalf of the two countries to Chissano, former President of Mozambique, last Friday by Membe and his Malawian counterpart Ephraim Mganda Chiume.

The two foreign ministers were also accompanied by Attorneys General of both countries.

The  Forum is expected to work on the matter within four months from the day of submission (December 21, 2012).

According to a letter written by MCC’s, the council says it holds that Malawi and Tanzania have been good neighbours for decades, and it was mindful that both governments are committed to resolving the matter peacefully, but feel disturbed about the apparent loggerhead that has characterized the discussions.

“Our worry and concern is that should the SADC ex-heads fail to resolve the matter, it may blow out of proportion and lives of innocent people in the two neighbouring countries may be brought to danger. The current development calls for churches to pray asking God to timely intervene for a peaceful solution,” the letter signed by MCC General Secretary Jodar Mbewe reads in part.

MCC also asks, in the letter, all political and other leaders in the dialogue to maintain some level of “good headedness and soberness” and discuss the issue with a view to normalize the relations.

It further asks all stakeholders at different levels to exercise great restraint and caution through the dialogue process.

Malawi is claiming all of the northern part of the lake, based on the Heligoland Treaty of 1890 between Britain and Germany, at the time Malawi was under British rule, and Tanganyika was a German colony.

However, Tanzania wants a dividing line drawn through the middle of the lake.

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