Malawi maps are of international acceptance, reliability


The cover story “Burying mother tongue, burying literature’s soul” in Malawi News of January 28–February 3 2017 was very intriguing. The inclusion of a map of Malawi to go with the text was quite commendable. Patriotic Malawians like to see such a map printed in the country’s newspapers. They show to the world that Malawi continuously defines and protects the limits of its authority and defends its frontiers against annexation, invasion and conquest through the practice of consulting treaties that defines its territory.

Indeed, the demarcation on the north-eastern shores of Lake Malawi is based on requirements with static documentation as an output, which for securing information about its boundary, is attached to the Heligoland Treaty of 1890. The boundary demarcation is based on data for Geographic Information System (GIS) which may be used by future boundary administration. The emphasis is that the treaty constitutes only one document which is used in establishing the history of the boundary and cannot be used in isolation. Its use is backed by a map.

Drawing maps by relating to the treaty


The practice to demarcate and draw the country’s maps by relating to a treaty is derived from the British whose surveying expertise and political impartiality were universally respected during the 18th and 19th centuries. That practice is notable among Malawians working in the Department of Surveys. To ensure international acceptance and reliability, Malawi draws its boundaries by meeting the requirements of the International Standards Organisation (ISO), which considers the qualification of the producers of the maps under such standards to be certified for quality. By doing so, Malawi provides confidence not only to ISO as an organisation but also to the international community.

No need to devalue the role of the treaty

The most remarkable feature of that treaty is that it was never changed. But there is perception that a boundary established by treaty could be modified by subsequent conduct even if such conduct did not result in subsequent practice in the application of the treaty or in a new factual agreement between two parties. To some extent, this analysis by experts is that it reflects a vision of “living” or “moving” boundaries, depending on the conduct of the parties. According to expert advice, if this rationale is followed, a treaty establishing a boundary is no more than a simple starting point of the analysis leading to the determination of the boundary. However, a boundary treaty is not the starting point of a border delimitation rather it is the delimitation itself.


The 1890 treaty, as a formal agreement which is the product of lengthy reflections, contain important abstract provisions to which Great Britain not only had direct interest but also carefully nurtured and jealously guarded its colonial interest. It is through its application that the 1890 treaty “lives”. By applying it, Malawi as a state party is applying its content and scope in good faith. That implies that there is no need to introduce uncertainty and to devalue the role of the 1890 treaty by assigning to subsequent practice other functions beyond those established by it.

Deficiencies in maps showing a median line

But some quarters elsewhere have overlooked at the significance of that treaty. They are, under a formidable group of eggheads, drawing maps indicating a median line boundary that could not be derived from an interpretation of the 1890 agreement. The maps are full of deficiencies. Firstly, they are drawn without any reference to a treaty to which no party had any exchange of explanatory memoranda, cabinet reports by United Kingdom (UK) prime ministers to Her Majesty’s government, diplomatic despatches and copies of specification. Yet use of these related authoritative documents helps to explain and supplement maps. Besides, they help to identify deficiencies in the maps. Secondly, there are no official administrative reports of the boundary commissioners detailing that a survey was conducted from the alleged median line on Lake Malawi to the northern bank of the mouth of Songwe River. Such survey data does not exist. Thirdly, in absence of such information, the median line that is crudely drawn on the map looks very amateurish and is a crude forgery. By virtue solely of its existence, it cannot constitute a territorial title. It is just a physical expression of the will of the country concerned. Wisdom suggests that it is more sensible to seek consensus within inherited boundaries, for it is the only basis for stability and economic development.

It is not disputed that there are maps drawn from 1916 to 1934 showing a median line. At the same time, there is also much more evidence indicating a boundary on the north-eastern shore line. Examples include an 1896 map of German East Africa produced on a scale of 1: 5,000,000 created with information from Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft and published by the Geographisch Verlagshandlung Dietrich Reiner; Max Moisel’s map published in 1910 depicting the German colony in detail, with a scale of 1: 200,000; and a map published in March 1916 by Stanford’s Geographical Establishment, with a scale of 1: 400,000. But the existence of sources indicating a median line raises a point that the administration that took over the administration of German East Africa after the defeat of the Germans in the First World War had such a boundary at the beginning of 1919. All that evidence does not certainly point in one direction. However, in the arguments of seasoned legal experts, the 1890 treaty exhausts all the law and facts.

Collaboration melted away

Though the treaty defined their areas of control and that it signalled a new era in Anglo–German relations enabling them to become closer allies, the need for intensive collaboration melted away. The existence of sources from 1916 to 1934 showing a median line was as a result of the absence of collaboration between them which enabled the Germans to encroach and establish settlements such as Langenburgh and Wieldfen along the shoreline. The settlements shaped their own mind with no need for exchange of information or ideas with the British since both nationals seemed destined to become closer allies but the opposite occurred. Great Britain was involved in the naval race with Germany. In turn, Germany saw Great Britain as an aggressive colonial power. The sinking of a German ship on Lake Malawi by the British in August 1914 so that Germans should not claim part of the lake they were allowed for navigation in fulfillment of the “free trade zone” shows how they jealously guarded their colonial interest. With the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in which First World War victors blamed the Germans for starting it, the settlements increased. The British, with Queen Victoria’s uneasiness over Heligoland Island issue imbedded in their mind, were not prepared to give up any territory of Nyasaland they got through negotiations that culminated into a treaty and which got ratified by the House of Commons on July 31, 1890 by a vote of 209 to 61.

Information assumes a shoreline boundary

Most tellingly, when the joint commission was working in 1907 on a section of the Mozambique and Tanzania boundary from Txiunde River or Kwinde going eastwards to the M’sinje–Ruvuma confluence in order to place pillars, the commission was not concerned to fix a tripoint with the British–German frontier on Lake Malawi.

The alignment only considered the basis of a terminus on the lakeshore as an indication that this was the tripoint with a frontier along the eastern shoreline of Lake Malawi. The conclusion of the United States International Boundary Study is that the tripoint resulting from the demarcation of 1907 is at the mouth of Txiunde River at the median line of the latitude 11̊ 34ʹ 30ʺ.

In the wisdom of the experts, this piece of information assumes a shoreline boundary between Malawi and Tanzania. Besides, the Malawi–Mozambique–Tanzania tripoint is located at the mouth of Txiunde River at the median line of the river. That goes to indicate that the only median line on Lake Malawi is the one which was agreed upon under the Anglo–Portuguese agreement of November 18, 1954 as described in the exchange of notes of May 6, 1920. Thus, a treaty delineating borders is considered permanent.

Even if the treaty expires or the countries change governments, the border remains the same unless a new treaty moves the border. Now, the only thing that is standing between Malawi and what it is legally entitled to is Tanzania’s long decades of hard–nosed greed to change the boundary based on maps drawn in absence of a treaty which was neither agreed upon by the colonial powers.

Kamuzu’s assertiveness

As a neighbourhood bully due to its size, Tanzania’s foreign policy on treaties and adherence to the United Nations resolutions is shrouded in doubts. The country exhibits a distorted view of diplomacy and conveys a misleading sense of friendliness. During the Hastings Kamuzu Banda era, there was genuine suspicion which influenced not only Kamuzu’s but also the country’s assertiveness.

Kamuzu perceived the lake to be an issue of national security due to its potential as an infiltration route into the country. Malawi was not only cautious but also careful to open up to that nation. The suspicion still lingers on and is reinforced by the attitude of Tanzanians towards Malawians. To a certain extent, that has put Malawi on alert. But gaining the trust of a country that belittles it is futile, more in particular when it continues to claim part of its territory on the guise that the boundary shifted to the middle of Lake Malawi and drawing maps on the same.

Drawing attention of the international community

But printed media’s zeal to carry printed maps showing the shoreline is an indication of the commitment to blow the whistle on the false claim on the median line. Such coverage go a long way in drawing the attention of the international community of the need to accept maps that are drawn only with reference to, among others, a treaty, diplomatic despatches, copies of specification, survey data and official reports of boundary commissioners. Map with shoreline boundary in the country’s newspapers derived from an interpretation of the 1890 agreement. It is an inherited boundary.

Facebook Notice for EU! You need to login to view and post FB Comments!
Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker