Currently, the partition of Lake Malawi’s surface area between Malawi and Tanzania is under dispute.
The Daily Times recently reported that Tanzania has started promoting its new map which shows the lake as belonging to the former Germany colony.
Tanzania claims that the international border runs through the middle of the lake.
Malawi claims the whole of the surface of this lake that is not in Mozambique, including the waters that are next to the shoreline of Tanzania.
The dispute came to a head in 1967 when Tanzania officially protested to Malawi, however, nothing was settled.
But since 2012 when Malawi started flirting with the idea of oil exploration, the dispute has been brought to the fore, with Tanzania demanding that exploration cease until the dispute is settled.
There, however, have never been recorded flare-ups to the southern part of the lake as, in 1954, an agreement was signed between the British and the Portuguese– respective former Malawi and Mozambique colonial masters–making the middle of the lake their boundary with the exception of Chizumulu Island and Likoma Island.
Does that mean Malawi and Mozambique always go along?
Tension is brewing between Malawians and Mozambicans living along Makanjira and Mozambique Border following incidences of ill-treatment of Malawians by Mozambican security forces.
The development follows an alleged extension of boundaries by the Mozambique government during an exercise conducted in 2008.
Malawi and Mozambique were, between 2008 and 2009, involved in a World Bank-funded boundary retracing exercise, which according to locals in Makanjira resulted in swallowing of six Malawian villages, (about 12,000 people) by Mozambican Government.
Most of the locals interviewed expressed concern about the way Malawi Government conducted this exercise as it is reported that the country’s representatives during the exercise did not consult local authorities when retracing the boundaries, contrary to their counterparts, who had representation from their chiefs.
“We were not told that our Government and the Mozambican government would be involved in this exercise. We were later surprised to see Mozambican soldiers coming into our villages in 2011 to erect new beacons,” says Adam Awasi, Traditional Authority (T/A) Makanjira’s senior counsel.
Instead of following the original boundaries, Awasi says Mozambique have erected new beacons, about 10 Kilometres into Malawi and since then, their security forces have been demanding affected Malawians to leave the area or denounce their nationality to become Mozambicans.
In some cases, according to the senior counsel, the Mozambican police are demanding Malawians to pay half of their annual farm produce or pay a fee of K1,000 for each bag of maize which is harvested from the fields which were initially in Malawi but are now in Mozambique following the 2009 new boundaries.
Additionally, locals from the six villages have, in some instances, had their livestock and other property, snatched by the Mozambicans law enforcers for allegedly failing to live according to the Mozambican laws.
“They [Mozambican police] are raping our women when they go into our fields to fetch firewood. Malawian men are also being victimised for their resistance to denounce their nationality. The people are angry and they want to start destroying the beacons because they are suffering a lot from abuse by the Mozambicans,” says T/A Makanjira, whose house has also been affected by the new boundaries.
Among other things, the Mozambicans are also demanding that Malawi moves backwards its Chala Police and border posts situated at Lukono in the area, despite the two structures being there before the 2008 retracing exercise.
Meanwhile, the locals and their Member of Parliament, Benedicto Chambo, have asked government to reinforce security within the area, saying the situation is likely to worsen considering that the government is taking time to act on their concern.
But government, through Mangochi District Commissioner, James Manyetera, says people should keep calm as it continues engaging with its Mozambican counterpart on the issue.
“Issues about boundaries are best discussed by governments on the higher side. But as district officials, we recently visited the area to make sure that our people are safe…we advised them to continue living the way they were living before the new boundaries were drawn,” Manyetera says.
At the moment, Manyetera says his office is liaising with officials from the Ministry of Lands and Urban Development because from the retracing exercise, he says, there are some losses and gains which the countries involved registered.
“The tricky part is that we are not sure as to what the Mozambican government is telling its law enforcers about the same issue,” he says.
Reacting to the development, Ministry of Lands Spokesperson, Charles Vintula, says the ministry is aware of the development but asked for more time to enquire from the Surveyor General about the recent developments on the border demarcation between the two countries.
Perhaps this will not be a new long-standing border dispute in the making.