Malawi has returned to talks with Tanzania aimed at resolving a border dispute over Lake Malawi that has soured relations between the two countries and delayed exploration for oil and gas.
A Reuters report on Saturday quoted Tanzania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Bernard Membe as having confirmed to Dodoma’s parliament that Malawi had returned to the negotiations.
“If the mediators advise us to move forward to the ICJ [International Court of Justice] for a permanent solution, Tanzania will not hesitate to do that,” Membe said. “We have all kinds of evidence to ensure that we win this case.”
Malawi’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ephraim Chiume on Sunday refused to grant an interview on the matter, saying the issue is sensitive and that the media has previously misquoted him in the recent past.
The Malawi-Tanzania border dispute talks are being mediated by Mozambique’s former president Joachim Chissano who is chairperson of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) forum of retired heads of State.
East Africa has become hot property for the oil industry since huge gas finds off the shores of Tanzania and Mozambique and oil strikes in Uganda and Kenya. Rich hydrocarbon deposits are also believed to lie below Lake Malawi.
Malawi, which sits to the west of Africa’s third-largest lake, claims the entire northern half of the lake whereas Tanzania, to the east, says it owns half of the northern area. The southern half is shared between Malawi and Mozambique.
Malawi irked Tanzania in 2011 when it awarded exploration licences to UK-based Surestream Petroleum to search for oil in the disputed northern area.
Lilongwe pulled out of talks in October after it accused its neighbour of intimidating Malawi fishers, an accusation denied by the Tanzanian government.
In April this year, President Joyce Banda indicated that the Sadc forum’s intervention was a waste of time and Malawi was opting for the ICJ.
However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation later released a statement, saying Malawi had trust and confidence in the integrity of the forum and believes that the matter would be handled with professionalism and objectivity.