Malawi, Tanzania spar over oil riches
MALAWI and Tanzania yesterday started five days of diplomatic talks over their border, a long ignored dispute that has taken on new importance as oil exploration gets under way.
The row stems from colonial-era borders around Lake Malawi. At issue is a north-eastern swath of the lake, near Tanzania, where Lilongwe has awarded a licence to British firm Surestream to explore for oil.
Analysts say there is enough at stake in the boundary dispute to spark a war.
Tanzania is relying on international law, which states that where two countries are separated by a body of water, the boundary will be in the middle of the body.
Malawi argues that different treaties — upheld by the Organisation of African Unity in 1963 and the African Union in 2003 and again in 2007 — state that Lake Malawi belongs to Malawi.
Malawian analyst Ananiya Alick Ponje condemned Tanzania’s "lack of diplomacy" last week after its defence force threatened to attack Malawi if the exploration continued.
The Tanzanian government mentioned its victorious war with Uganda, apparently as a warning to President Joyce Banda.
Malawian Foreign Minister Ephraim Mganda Chiume said yesterday that the two countries "are full of expectation that an amicable solution can be found out of these discussions". "The people of Tanzania and Malawi have every confidence that the meeting will clear the misunderstanding on the border once and for all."
Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe did not attend the opening ceremony of the talks, but is expected at the final meeting of ministers in Lilongwe on Saturday.
Malawi has been carefully watching developments in Uganda around Lake Albert, where oil firms are pouring in billions of dollars to exploit oil reserves estimated at 2.5-billion barrels.
Malawi is hoping for a similarly large payout — which could transform the fortunes of a country whose economy depends on small farmers and foreign aid.
But Tanzania wants oil exploration in Lake Malawi, which covers 29,600km², to come to a halt to pave the way for talks, in the hope of getting a slice of any discoveries.
Surestream is carrying out an environmental assessment.
Malawi bases its claim to the lake on a colonial-era agreement from 1890 that stipulates that the border between the two countries lies along the Tanzanian shore of the lake.
Both nations said they could turn to international arbitration to settle the dispute if their talks failed.