The cat has been let out of the bag. Tanzania, which has since 2012 been claiming that it owns half of the eastern part of Lake Malawi, has said it wants a share of the oil resources in the lake.
Tanzania’s High Commissioner Victoria Mwakasege said in an exclusive interview on Tuesday that her country wants to benefit from the oil resources in the lake.
Said Mwakasege: “It is not a secret that Malawi has started exploring oil on the lake. In as far as we are concerned, we would also want 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.”
This is the first time, since the Lake Malawi the boundary ownership wrangle between Malawi and Tanzania erupted in 2012, that Tanzania has openly stated the reason for its interest in the lake.
The dispute is being mediated by a troika of former Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) leaders under Mozambique’s former president Joachim Chissano. Other members of the mediation team are Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Botswana’s Festus Mogae.
The talks were scheduled to resume in April after a long break, but were postponed following the death of Chisano’s mother in April, according to Mwakasege and Malawi’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Francis Kasaila.
Mwakasege was commenting on her country’s latest position on the lake, after Tanzania published a new map last September, which shows that half of the northern part of Lake Malawi belongs to it.
“The issue about Tanzania publishing a new map was heavily misinterpreted.
“Our position on the lake has never changed because we have always maintained that our common border is in the middle of that lake.
“The issue is that we always demarcate new districts and regions and, therefore, time and again we publish new maps to highlight those changes,” she said.
Mwakasege said the maps do not touch on international borders. She said her government released the maps because new regions and districts had been created and it was, therefore, necessary to show the boundaries.
Following the publication of the map, the Malawi government informed all controlling officers to be on alert, describing the new map as propaganda by the government of Tanzania.
Malawi awarded oil exploration licences to foreign companies to search for oil in the lake, which Tanzania calls Lake Nyasa.
The government of Malawi claims it owns the whole lake, according to the Anglo-Heligoland Treaty of 1890. The Lake Malawi boundary dispute is a long standing issue dating to the days of the country’s first president Kamuzu Banda and his Tanzanian counterpart, Julius Nyerere. Kamuzu is on record as saying claiming a part of the lake was playing with fire. But the dispute resurfaced in 2012 when Malawi awarded oil exploration licences to some foreign firms.
Kasaila on Tuesday said the government was still waiting for a determination from the Sadc-led mediation team to chart the way forward over the matter.
“We vehemently protested the publication of that map. But what we were told by the government of Tanzania is that it was a mistake by a certain overzealous official. They, however, said that did not represent the official position of their government. We hope that the mediation will bear fruits. The second-round of talks should take place in the coming month, after it was rescheduled due to other commitments by the mediation team members,” he said.
According to Kasaila, the mediation is part of the Sadc initiative on the matter, which was also referred to the African Union (AU).
When asked how the mediation team is dealing with the issues at hand, Sadc senior public relations officer Barbara Lopi in an e-mailed response on Friday said the two governments were in a good position to comment on the matter.
“In response to your press query, the Sadc secretariat hereby confirms that the issues between Malawi and Tanzania on the lake which forms boundaries between the two nations is being addressed on a bilateral arrangement. You may get more information from the respective offices in the foreign affairs ministries of the two countries regarding the update on the mediation process,” she said.