- Published on Saturday, 11 August 2012 03:16
- Written by MBONEKO MUNYAGA
- Hits: 2355
IT is very clear that Tanzania and Malawi hold extremely divergent views about the demarcation of the border between them on what is Lake Nyasa for the Tanzanians and Lake Malawi for the Malawians. However, it is very encouraging also that no side talks about war in order to solve the dispute.
In fact, war will not solve anything apart from turning the two neighbours into another African laughing stock.
The gist of the dispute lies in Malawi's one hundred per cent claim of the lake's ownership while Tanzania claims median line ownership of the lake's part that falls on its territory. The lake is shared by three countries, Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique. In the past, Malawi also made light claims for Mozambican territory but the country is not as pressing there as it is in the case of Tanzania.
That scenario alone raises questions as to the true intensions of Malawi's claim and position about its historical and ethnic total ownership of the lake based on the territory of the ancient Maravi Kingdom. Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Malawi's Founding President, once said Tanzania's four districts, including Mbeya and Ruangwa as well as parts of Mozambique belonged to his country.
Or, is it that the Malawians have a litmus test approach, meaning if they succeed to wrestle the lake from Tanzania, they will then turn to Mozambique with similar claims? That, however, is very unlikely but nevertheless one possible outcome that should unsettle nerves in Maputo as well. In other words, the Tanzania and Malawi border standoff embodies all the potential for turning into a sub-regional crisis. The question is: Why now?
Malawi bases its 'one hundred' per cent ownership of the lake on the text of the July 1, 1890, Anglo-Germany Treaty, which described the border as running: "To the south by the line that starts on the coast of the northern border of Mozambique Province and follows the course of the Rovuma River to the point where the Messinge flows into the Rovuma.
From here the line runs westward on the parallel of latitude to the shore of Lake Nyasa. Turning north, it continues along the eastern, northern, and western shores of the lake until it reaches the northern bank of the mouth of the Songwe."
On modern maps, there is no Messinge River but rather the line runs parallel to the latitude where River Lunyere empties into the Ruvuma or Rovuma River of 1890. Tanzania, of course, disagrees with that description of the border, with scholars describing the demarcation as 'spurious' or bogus, which is actually what it is.
That description of the border technically makes the famous Mbamba Bay, Liuli and Lituhi in Mbinga district, Manda and Lupingu in Ludewa district and Kyela and Itungi Port in Kyela district part of Malawi. There is no record to the effect that part of Tanzania has ever been administered as part of Malawi either under the Germans or during the British rule of Tanganyika as a mandated territory of the United Nations.
When Tanganyika gained internal rule in 1960, the government prepared a policy document to guide foreign relations after independence on December 9, 1961, which was deposited at the United Nations with the Secretary General informed as follows:
"As regards bilateral treaties validly concluded by the United Kingdom on behalf of the territory of Tanganyika, or validly applied or extended by the former to the territory latter, the Government of Tanganyika is willing to continue to apply within the territory, on a basis of reciprocity, the terms of all such treaties for a period of two years from the date of independence (i.e. until December 8, 1963) unless abrogated or modified by mutual consent.
At the expiry of that period, the government of Tanganyika will regard such of these treaties, which could not by the application of the customary international law be regarded as otherwise surviving, as having terminated."
Malawi gained independence on July 6, 1964, roughly seven months after Tanganyika no longer regarded as valid "treaties, which could not by the application of the customary international law be regarded as otherwise surviving." I believe such is Tanzania's official position unless Malawi levels another claim that disputes also the validity of the independence of Tanganyika, which became Tanzania some two months before Malawi gained independence.
Judge Joseph Warioba is the more competent person on the Law of the Sea but there are several International Conventions that deal with rights associated with water. Rights associated with non-flowing water are called littoral, with land beneath non-sovereign lakes generally owned by the surrounding upland nations. Where all the nations have a right to the lake, each owner has the right to a centre point.
In international law, that principle is called riparian rights and is perhaps a piece of international law and order that Malawi does not want to hear about for reasons best known to the country at this point in time and history of Africa, which should no longer be fettered to the unfortunate events of colonialism and what happened in Berlin in 1885 regarding the scramble for the continent.
Malawi should not disguise its true intentions, which is territorial expansion. Recent geological exploration originating in Malawi has pointed to massive oil and gas reserves in the areas around Lake Nyasa, especially on Hongwe Island near Lituhi. Also, there are other huge mineral deposits in several upland areas, which Malawi now wants to grab from Tanzania. It is an old story about the 'curse of resources,' usually fanned in Africa by foreign interests for which Malawi now wants to be the springboard in our part of the world.
There are murmurs that Malawi actually wants the border between it and Tanzania to shift to the Livingstone Mountain Ranges so that it can have all the Lake Nyasa lowlands to itself. Nothing can be more imperialistic than that. Actually what Malawi wants is to reverse the riparian rights principle by laying claim on upland territory through 'one hundred per cent' ownership of non-flowing water because there is no way one can have total ownership of such water without a shoreline, which is not your territory!
The only question is: Is Malawi acting alone or is being instigated by other behind-the-scenes actors and why? Malawi has been independent now for nearly 50 years. True, Dr Banda had made similar claims before but many in Tanzania thought the matter had long been sent to bed. Unfortunately, it has resurfaced in the days of President Joyce Banda. Apparently, it is a ghost that refuses to die but this time around, Tanzania would better settle this matter once and for all.