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Malawi, Tanzania and lake boundary

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… from last week

Has Malawi got sufficient grounds for claiming the whole lake?

On the basis of historical facts Malawi’s claim is beyond question. The facts are as follows:

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Treaty on the basis of sphere of influence

At the Berlin Conference of 1884-85, European nations interested in Africa agreed that each of them should colonise that part where its nationals were already active as traders or missionaries. Though the Portuguese had seen Lake Malawi as far back as the 17th century, they had never put a ship on it. Dr David Livingstone who first saw Lake Malawi in 1859 and called it Lake Nyasa was the first European to sell from Mangochi up to Nkhata Bay. Later, Livingstonia missionaries sailed from the southern tip to the north. Indeed, by the end of the 19th century, the only ships sailing on Lake Nyasa were those owned by the African Lakes Corporation (Mandala) and the Universities Mission to Central Africa. Clearly, the whole lake became a British sphere of influence and part of what was to become Nyasaland.

Treaty between Germany and Britain

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In 1890, Britain and Germany signed the Heligoland Treaty which lay the formation of Deutsh Ostafrika (German East Africa) and Nyasaland Protectorate. The maps they drew indicated that the boundary between the two colonies was outside the shore of Lake Nyasa not in the middle and, therefore, Lake Nyasa was never part of German East Africa.

Ships sailing on Lake Malawi during the colonial days

With the end of German rule in what came to be called Tanganyika territory, the only ships operating on Lake Nyasa were those belonging to Nyasaland. First was SS Ilala then Mpasa followed by Chauncy Mapples, the Ill-fated Viphya and lastly Ilala II. Neither Tanganyika nor Mozambique plied its ship on Lake Nyasa, an obvious admission that the lake belonged to Nyasaland except for a path in the southeast which belongs to Mozambique.

Clarification by the Tanganyika government

In 1952 or 1953, one day I read in the Tanganyika Standard deliberations which had taken place in the Legislative council. A member from Tukuyu had complained that whenever fishers in his district asked the district commissioner (DC) to issue them licence to engage in commercial fishing on Lake Nyasa, the DC refused. The head of department, British colonial officials, replied that those people should apply to the Nyasaland government since Lake Nyasa was part of Nyasaland.

The brochure of Tanganyika attractions

I was working in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in 1961 distributing pamphlets on opportunities for investment in Tanganyika. One of these was on tourist resorts, purple in colour. After detailing that Tanganyika owned part of lakes Victoria and Tanganyika, it went on to say that the whole of Lake Nyasa belonged to Nyasaland.

Maps issued by Britain

The British drew a map of Nyasaland which showed that no part of Nyasaland belonged to Tanganyika. After the end of World War I Britain was administering Tanganyika. The maps that British officials drew of Tanganyika did not show any part of Lake Nyasa as belonging to Tanganyika.

He map of Nyasaland that the British used is the one we are using for Malawi but apparently Tanzanians have disregarded the British model.

Tanzania’s stand

Despite these historical facts, the Tanzania Government states that according to international law, the boundary between Malawi and Tanzania should pass in the middle of Lake Nyasa as they still call it.

Malawi’s reply is that the Organisation of African Unity – now African Union – resolved that boundaries left behind by colonial powers should be respected, hence Malawi respects that which German and Britain made.

Is an appeal to International Court of Justice the solution?

No, it is not if winning a case means losing valuable friends. Besides, the former president of Botswana has told us that it is very expensive.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) insists that before the matter is taken to it, every effort should be made to resolve it bilaterally. Both parties in the dispute should uphold the common good for their countries.

When Botswana and Namibia took their dispute to ICJ, Botswana won the case but the court directed that Namibia should have access to the water. What is the use of us taking the matter to the ICJ and being told that though the lake belongs to Malawi, Tanzania should have the usufruct, which according to Romam law, is the right to use and enjoy another person’s property short of destructions and waste. We can grant this right to Tanzania as a qui pro que to Tanzania for continuing to allow us access to its roads and Dar es Salaam port.

Germany acquired from Britain the right to keep its on ship the Von Wissr on Lake Nyasa. Tanzania should have the right to keep its on ship on the lake as a matter of course. The two countries should agree on the turfs. As for oil drilling, the two countries and Mozambique should consult each other on every aspect that matters.

Let us preserve our friendship with Tanzania because it is a matter of life or death. Those who comment on the lake dispute should avoid defiant and jingoistic rhetoric. Tunataka Imani sis, we want peace.

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