Tanzania: 2012, July: “We don’t want Tanzanians to ask for permission from Malawi to fetch water or fish from Lake Nyasa. If we don’t reach a consensus, we will take recourse in international law.” Tanzania‘s Attorney General Judge Frederick Werema, responding to a concern from the Member of Parliament for Mbeya Region (special seats), Hilda Ngoye.
Ms Ngoye had charged that the Malawian tourists and fishing boats have been trespassing on Tanzanian territorial waters at will, escalating tensions.
“Tanzanians around Lake Nyasa’s shores have the right to fish or engage in other productive activities on the lake, without being intimidated,” she had told the Tanzanian parliament, demanding an explanation from the government on the status of the border between Tanzania and Malawi.
The gist of the dispute:
The dispute is about who owns what is, as far as Malawians are concerned, Lake Malawi and as far as Tanzanians are concerned, Lake Nyasa.
According to Malawi, this isn’t even a subject for debate. Malawi owns 100% of Lake Malawi and if we are to go by the vision of Malawi’s founding president, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Malawi just like its predecessor the Maravi Kingdom (no relationship with Maravi Post) should in fact extend to some parts of present day Tanzania and even Mozambique.
According to Tanzania on the other hand, the lake is shared and the boundary of these two neighbouring countries should follow the median line in Lake Nyasa. This is the official stance of the Tanzanian Government hence any Malawian activity beyond this line are deemed “trespassing”.
The Historical Context:
This dispute traces its origin to the Berlin Conference, and trouble is rooted in the Berlin Act of 1885, that was signed by the 13 European powers that attended the conference that formalised the Scramble for Africa.
According to documents on the demarcation of the border around Lake Nyasa encapsulated by the Anglo-Germany Treaty of July 1, 1890 – verbatim – the border runs as below:
“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.”
Tanzania, of course, doesn’t agree with this, with Tanzanian scholars calling this demarcation “spurious”.
Put to Kamuzu Banda by Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere that the map between independent Malawi and Tanzania should follow the median line, in his unique blunt style Dr. Banda responded as below:
“We will never recognize or accept this claim: we will never agree to the suggestion or proposal. The Lake has always belonged to Malawi….Everyone knew Nyerere as a coward and communist inspired jellyfish: We know while pretending to be a staunch supporter of the OAU, Nyerere is the worst agitator and betrayer of the cause for which the Organization was formulated. History, geography or even ethnical knowledge will convince Nyerere that four districts to the South of Tanganyika belong to us by nature. It is only that we respect the feasible unification of Mother Africa that we do not claim these districts. All that we are doing is setting [sic] historical truth.”
Dr. Banda in 1962 reinforced his claim in addition to the authority of the Anglo-Germany Treaty of July 1, 1890 with some maps from thenational archives.
He even went as far as suggesting to Mwalimu Julius Nyerere that a part of Mozambique was supposed to be part of Malawi – then still Nyasaland.
But as is usually case in any dispute, Tanzania is equally able to produce maps that show the median as the boundary, but such maps have never disputed the contents and spirit of the Anglo-Germany Treaty of July 1, 1890.
Pre-Independence Treaties and the Lake Malawi /Nyasa dispute:
The reason this dispute will not disappear any day soon is rooted in Malawi’s and Tanzania’s divergent views vis-à-vis pre-independence treaties including the Anglo-Germany Treaty.
Julius Nyerere, as the first Tanganyika Prime Minister, prepared a policy document for implementation after independence in which the Secretary—General of the United Nations was informed thus:
“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 2 years from the date of independence [i.e. until 8 December 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.”
As a result, Tanzania refused to recognize the treaties that naturally gave the lake to Malawi on independence on 6 July 1964 since its allegiance to such expires on December 8, 1963.
And this was the major recipe for this dispute because, it meant that in practice; Malawi and Tanzania now had different points of reference, which explains the continued stand-off.
Parties that have different points of reference in any argument are as good as parallel lines. They can never meet. In the least, it explains where Malawi and Tanzania are at, with respect to Lake Malawi a.k.a Lake Nyasa.
In all likelihood, Dr. Banda would have viewed such a policy, which was supposed to be outward looking but designed in a way that only serves internal interests, with utter contempt.
Any merit in Tanzania’s claim to half the lake?
Having said all this one then wonders if Tanzanians are mad to be claiming half the lake and on what basis some map makers show the median line as the boundary. There are several International Conventions that deal with rights associated with water.
Rights associated with water that is not flowing are called littoral. Generally land beneath non-sovereign lakes are owned by the surrounding upland owners. When all the deeds call to the lake, each owner has title to a centre point. This principle is referred to riparian rights and is the basis for Tanzania’s claim.
Should Malawi buy this?
From the statement of Patrick Kabambe, Malawi’s Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, this seems like a far-fetched idea and one is tempted to subscribe to this thought.
“Indeed, we went for discussion on the border issue and we categorically put it to them that as far we are concerned, the entire lake belongs to Malawi.”
The point is: if one person unilaterally decides to annul existing international treaties (like the Anglo-Germany Treaty - which by the way is all there is on this – and both Tanzanians and Malawians were not represented which makes them both victims); why should another person suffer from subscribing to the treaty?
Advice to Malawi: Let’s by all means meet, eat, drink together, and talk with Tanzania. But the talking will not undo the Anglo-Germany Treaty.
As Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda used to say, we are all brothers and sisters – the maps and divisions were imposed on us by the colonialists; therefore, let us all (Malawians and Tanzanians) fish and swim in the beautiful Lake Malawi.
But please, our brothers and sisters from across the border shouldn’t stop us from exploring ventures that can lift our livelihood and economy.
Just as the learned Tanzanian scholar, Fulgence S Msafiri, quoted William Shakespeare - Merchant of Venice, we will go a step further and paraphrase the same: Tanzania will be taking our lives, if Tanzania takes away the means by which we want to prosper and live