Since Monday, Jean-Philippe and I have not talked to each other. We parted ways acrimoniously following a friendly disagreement.
Last Sunday, some patriotic Malawians resident in Tanzania alerted us that Tanzanian media had reported that politicians there were furious about rumours that foreign private jets were flying over the portion of Lake Malawi that Tanzanians prefer to call Lake Nyasa and that they had allegedly ordered their military to shoot down any unidentified flying object found in â€˜theirâ€™ airspace without the knowledge and authorisation of their aviation authorities.
â€œDo you know what nyasa means?â€ I asked Jean-Philippe as we chatted over goat mangâ€™ina at Gogo Rumphiâ€™s place, some 35 kilometres on the Blantyre-Zomba Road, which, in his executive exuberance, president Mutharika renamed the Chilembwe Highway. We had gone out there to escape from Blantyreâ€™s dusty skies.
â€œWhat does it mean?â€
â€œNyasa or Niassa means Lake.â€
â€œSo, for Tanzanians and Mozambicans, Lake Malawi is Lake Lake?â€ Jean-Philippe joked.
â€œThey donâ€™t have a name for it because it is not theirs. But, on a serious note, if Tanzanians really want half of the lake, they must be prepared to fight both Mozambique and Malawi who officially already share the lake.â€
Jean-Philippe explained that according to international law, there should be no cause for dispute over the lake because most African countriesâ€™ borders were cartographied following the colonisation of Africa. Article 15 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) says where nation states share a body of water, that water body should be shared equally amongst those states. However, he said, this obligation does not apply to demarcations dating to the European portioning of Africa.
â€œIf I were a Malawian, I would take this as an act of aggression or the Tanzanian government is testing your Presidentâ€™s resolve to defend Malawiâ€™s territorial integrity. If you donâ€™t defend your territory now, next time Zambians will claim the entire Chewaland because the Chewa Paramount Chief lives in Zambia. Then Mozambique will annex all Yaoland, Lhomweland, and Senaland. Malawi might even stop existing,â€ Jean-Philippe warned.
â€œDonâ€™t scare me. Things are not that bad. Our governments are discussing the so-called dispute,â€ I said and asked Gogo Rumphi to give us two drinks to wash down the goat mangâ€™ina.
â€œWell. Tanzania is negotiating with a machete in its hands. Learn to take military threats seriously. Show the Tanzanians that you too, as a country, are serious about defending yourselves.â€
Â â€œMy honest opinion is that Malawi should suspend the oil and gas exploration because the entire project is shrouded in controversy,â€ I went on.
â€œYou are a rusty coward.â€
â€œNo. The oil exploration contract was allegedly awarded corruptly. Details of the environmental impact assessment have not been publicised. How safe will the water and marine life be for Malawians and Tanzanians whose livelihoods depend on the 20 000 square kilometres spared for pollution? There is bauxite on Mount Mulanje. Do you know why it is not being mined?â€
â€œYour countryâ€™s very existence is being challenged. Whatâ€™s wrong with you?â€Â Jean-Philippe said, standing up to walk out.
â€œCool down. You sound like a shareholder in this oil exploration project.â€