Tanzania war threats on Lake Malawi: The folly of human wisdom

War is often fought with guns, blades and explosives; and sometimes with hands and fists. There even is war that is fought with words, and for the time being, that is the war the Republic of Tanzania is engaging Malawi in. For a body of water that is called Lake Malawi, Tanzanians are persuading the world to believe part of it is Lake Tanzania – or anything near that. They could be right.

Now they are on a far-reaching campaign to send shivers down the spines of Malawians. Within the twinkling of some divine eye, the Tanzanian government has engaged its defence force, and the soldiers seem perfectly ready to wage physical war on us. That really seems unimaginable, but that is the news in the media.

And in The Warm Heart of Africa, rumours of war are strife. The elderly are caught up in a web of fear and disillusionment; the younger generation seems to take everything for granted. Nevertheless, the writing is clear on the wall and our northern neighbours are willing to strike us at an opportune time which they call an eventuality.

L-R: Benard Membe (Tanzania, Minister) - Ephraim Chiume (Malawi, Minister) enjoy a cup of tea at the Kilimanjaro Hyatt Regency in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in August 2012, before the lake Malawi/Nyasa discussion.

The idea of waging physical war against your neighbour can never be a viable option in the modern world; neither can the rushed declaration of such an idea be applauded. At least, war in other countries has taught the world how ugly it is to lack peace. Yet, there are those who think otherwise.

Well, the Tanzanian government is relying on an international provision that states that where two countries are separated by a body of water, then the boundary will be in the middle of the body of water such that the two countries automatically share the body of water in two equal halves.

On the other hand, Malawi is arguing that according to different treaties some which were even upheld by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963 and the African Union in 2002 and 2007, the ownership of the lake is clearly on Malawi. I am not qualified to judge who is right or wrong; but I am qualified to express my opinion on the threats and rumours of war.

I am not intended to deride the Tanzanian government for arguing they have a share of the coveted lake – even though I would be clearly justified to do so; but I am shocked at such stark lack of diplomacy in Tanzanian authorities. I am puzzled with how within a few days, the Tanzanian Defence Force (they call it the Tanzanian People’s Defence Force) supported by Tanzanian government authorities, have gone to town telling their citizens – and, of course, the whole world – that they are ready to attack Malawi should the oil and gas exploration project continue.

It really beats any sound mind why government authorities who are supposed to be the first to advocate for peace and tranquillity should rush to issue war threats on their neighbours. This should automatically question their character and potential. I am not a Tanzanian myself, but I believe such utterances of war by Tanzanian authorities smack of lack of diplomacy and sheer carelessness.

War is not something that you go around town proclaiming you will start at any opportune time. And the most pathetic thing about war is that the masses – the people who are most affected – are never given a chance to decide if their country should engage in it or not. Even some very Tanzanian writers have condemned their government’s war threats, arguing such acts lack maturity and diplomacy.

At any cost, countries must prevent wars, and in no way can one be striving to prevent war and be preparing for it at the same time. Yet, this is what the Tanzanian government through its military base is doing. They are ready to strike, and one really should be justified to wonder whether what they want is diplomatic talks or war.


Some Tanzanian high-ranking military officer said something about the war Tanzania fought with Uganda, perhaps to implicitly inform Malawi that the Tanzanian Defence Force is far beyond them when it comes to war. We know that Tanzania won the war – whatever that means – but we will forever state that Malawi is not ready to go to war with any country, let alone our northern neighbours.

We will not let our peace be shattered by anyone because as a country and as a people, we have never thought or believed war would solve world problems at any time. We have always reminded ourselves that the cost of war is much greater than its victory. In fact, there is no victory in war, unless it never starts at all. You can never be a victor when your hands are stained with human blood. What shameless victory!

I am not writing this as Malawi government’s spokesperson; rather, I am doing so as a peace-loving Malawian who would like my countrymen to live in peace. I have not physically experienced any war, but for times without number, I have seen the agony of war on countries like Sudan, Angola, Somalia and even Mozambique where the aftermaths of the civil war continue ravaging people’s lives.

It takes decades if not centuries for countries to recover from war; but above everything, war creates scars that will never be healed. War has borne terrible enmity between or among countries and war has always resulted in unnecessary losses of human lives. That is why Tanzanian government authorities should have tamed their tongues when they tackled the thorny border issue.

Others before me have said it before, but I will also add my weight behind it: let diplomacy prevail. And as authorities from the two countries are exploring means of ending the border row, they should avoid making provocative utterances. They should accept that in matters of diplomacy, war should never be thought of as an alternative. War shall never be fully justified, but peace will forever be justified.

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