On Monday December 24 2012, there appeared on the front page of The Nation a news item headed ‘Church intervenes in border dispute’ in which we learned that the Malawi Council of Churches (MCC) has contacted its counterpart in Tanzania on the Lake Malawi border issue. This is highly commendable, whichever country loses in the dispute, there should be no loss of life. Since the end of World War I, the people of Malawi and Tanzania have mingled peacefully whether in Tanzania or Malawi.
It is the duty of all of us who comment on this border dispute to make proper use of our tongues and pens. We must avoid sensational language or articles just for the sake of attracting attention.
An example of what should be avoided is an article that someone wrote recently based on the trial of seven Malawian dissidents who, having stayed as refugees in Tanzania during the second half of the 1960’s, entered Malawi with arms apparently to topple Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda and his government. Those men travelled through Zambia and infiltrated into Malawi through Mozambique. If the commentator believes those Malawian dissidents were sponsored by the Tanzanian government, I doubt if even Dr Banda himself believed that.
In Swahili, there is a saying ‘Kitu kinacho kuuma kiko nguoni mwako’, meaning the thing that is biting you is there in your garment. The infiltration of dissidents was purely a Malawi problem; it arose out of disagreement between the then prime minister and his Cabinet.
Following the end of World War I, Malawians, both educated and uneducated, started going to Tanganyika as it was then called in thousands. They went there as clerks, medical assistants, teachers and labourers.
The Tanganyikans received them with complete friendliness. I was there myself from 1952 to 1964, first working for a shipping company and then the government. I was one of the thousands of Malawians or foreigners from surrounding countries. We all worked and lived in Tanganyika with a peace of mind, as if we were in our own country.
Those of us who joined trade unions and took part in politics were elevated on the same terms as the wananchi, native Tanganyikans. My friend Michael Kamalaiza from Likoma, having taken a prominent part in trade unionism, got elevated to Minister of Labour by Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.
The late Austin Shaba, who like me was from Mzimba, was a friend of the Mwalimu who appointed him Minister of Health where the principal secretary was Mr Charles Mtawali from Karonga or Rumphi, I am not sure which.
When Tanganyika gained independence in 1961, a soldier was selected to go and hoist a flag on top of Mount Kilimanjaro. The name of that soldier was Gwebe Nyirenda, also from Karonga.
In his posthumous autobiography, Henry Masauko Chipembere, a key figure in the history of Malawi’s struggle for independence, says that in 1958, the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) decided to send two men, a commoner and a chief, to go to London to see the secretary of State for the colonies and to accompany Dr H. Kamuzu Banda who was to return home after 43 years’ absence. The NAC managed to raise money for only one air ticket. It appealed to the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) for assistance. At once, Nyerere sent the money for the second delegate. Hence, Chipembere was able to take with him Chief Kuntaja of Blantyre.
During the 1959 Nyasaland State of Emergency, some Malawians fled to Tanzania. They were well-received there.
The border dispute was there even during the colonial days. British rulers of Tanganyika were telling those Tanganyikans who wanted to put fishing boats on Lake Nyasa to go and get licences from the Nyasaland government because Lake Nyasa wholly belonged to Nyasaland, as they stated categorically.
In 1968 or so, Banda ordered that the Ilala should not call at Tanzania ports in case Malawian dissidents infiltrated it to come and cause trouble here. The Tanzania government decided to put its own ship there. Banda objected, saying: “You cannot do so on our lake!”
Nasty words were exchanged between Banda and Nyerere, but the two great men resumed their friendship.
When our access to the sea through Mozambique ports was hampered by a civil war there, Tanzania offered us facilities at the Dar es Salaam port which are still available. President Ali Hassan Mwinyi successor of Tanzania paid a visit to Malawi. Banda reciprocated and was received by Nyerere who was now in retirement.
Tanzania and Malawi have never been enemies, let not the border issue be the beginning of enmity.