Tanzania has now started talking. The statement by its High Commissioner to Malawi, Mrs. Victoria Mwakasege, that her country wants to benefit from the oil resources in Lake Malawi should prod Malawian authorities to do two things: one to expedite the mediation talks on the dispute between the two countries, and two, to bring on board Mozambique which also shares the lake.
Mwakasege in an interview with this paper this week wasted little time to state the reasons why her country has been demanding ownership of half of the lake. She said that it is an open secret that Malawi has started exploring for oil on the lake and Tanzania would also like to benefit from the same resources.
“That is the way things should be. But we need to find a solution to deal with these matters and the talks will give us a direction on the way forward on the matter.
“Our position on the lake has never changed because we have always maintained that our common border is in the middle of that lake.”
Mwakasege was commenting on her country’s latest position on the lake after Tanzania published a new map in September last year which shows that the border between Malawi and Tanzania on the lake side is in the middle.
The government of Malawi claims it owns the whole lake, according to the Anglo-Heligoland Treaty of 1884. To this end, when Tanzania published the map the Malawi government advised its controlling officers not to recognize the new map which it described as propaganda by Tanzania.
This is the first time since the Lake Malawi ownership dispute started in 2012 that Tanzania has openly stated the reason for its interest in the lake.
Of course, it has been an open secret that Tanzania’s renewed interest in the border with Malawi is the oil exploration on the Lake Malawi. But it is only now that Tanzania has come into the open to say so. This is both interesting and intriguing. This openness is important because it shows how determined Tanzania is to ensure there is an agreeable way forward on the mediation under the leadership of the troika—former Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) leaders. In short, Tanzania is not beating about the bush.
It is intriguing because the same lake is also shared with Mozambique which has so far been quiet about the oil exploration in the lake. I reckon one of Mozambique’s main interests will be more technical, and this is how the exploration will be conducted. Other questions one would want to know from Mozambique are: Will Mozambique also start exploring for oil on its side of the lake? Whatever the answers to these questions, my gut feeling is that Mozambique will not be a by-stander on this issue.
For one thing, Mozambique will surely be concerned with the technical processes Malawi will engage in with the oil exploring firms in the event of environmental damage. In that case, it will also want to be party to the exploration activities from an early stage.
Mwakasege has said there is need to find a solution to deal with these matters and the talks will give a direction on the way forward on the matter. This statement is loaded. It envisages that the mediation will not wish Tanzania away.
For one thing, we already know for a fact that Lake Malawi is an economic lifeline for hundreds of thousands of Tanzanian fishermen. In the event of a possible environmental damage that the exploration entails, what will happen to these Tanzanians? But even if it was agreed that the border was on the shoreline, Malawi would still be required to be talking to Tanzania about the oil exploration on the lake for the sake of good neighbouriness. But now more than the environmental concerns, it is about the oil resources themselves which does not make the work of the mediation group easier.
Although the current dispute is between Malawi and Tanzania, my take is that from this early stage of the exploration, it is important to bring Mozambique on board since a possible environmental damage that would emanate from the oil exploration would equally affect that country. This problem should be solved once and for all. Some will say let sleeping dogs lie, but mark my word, Malawi must do the needful from the word go.