Malawians in border districts with Tanzania have expressed fear over reports that Tanzania is ready for war if Lilongwe continues exploring oil on Lake Malawi which Dodoma claims half of it belongs to them.
Tanzania is basing her argument on common international law which stipulates that when two countries are separated by a body of water, the border is along the middle of that body of water.
Newspapers in Tanzania this week quoted Minister of Foreign Affairs Bernard Membe telling parliament that they had spoken to Malawi to stop the exploration with immediate effect and that any disregard would be an act of aggression.
People in Chitipa district, which is close to Tanzania, have been calling Zodiak Online to find out if they are safe with such threats.
“We are listening to radio stations in Tanzania that they are ready for war if Malawi will go ahead exploring oil on the lake. What does this mean? Are we safe? What is the position of our government,” queried one caller from Chitipa.
In an exclusive interview with Zodiak Online on the safety of Malawians in such border districts, Minister of Home Affairs Uladi Mussa said people should remain calm.
“I should assure all the people in this country to remain calm. We are talking to the Tanzanian government and all will be fine. If push comes to shove we will take the matter to International Court of Justice,” said Mussa in the interview which will be aired on radio this Sunday.
He however stressed that the whole Lake Malawi belongs to Malawi.
“There is no issue here. We all know the lake belongs to us. In fact if such a claim came from Mozambique at least it would have made sense to some extent but not Tanzania. We have all the evidence and treaties are there to support that Lake Malawi belongs to Malawi,” said the Home Affairs Minister.
Will Malawi government accept to stop exploring oil on the lake as per demands from the Tanzanians?
“They don’t have powers to stop us exploring oil on our lake,” said Mussa.
Last week Malawi’s Foreign Affairs Minister Ephraim Chiume also said Malawi government’s conviction is that the lake still remains in Malawi’s territory.
“Tanzania believes that the border should be in the middle of Lake Malawi. They base their argument on common international law whereby situations where two countries are separated by a body of water, the border is along the middle of that body of water,” said Chiume adding.
“It is Malawi’s position that the principle which Tanzania depends upon applies only where there is no treaty. It does not apply in this case because the border was clearly and specifically defined in a treaty.”
In 2011 Malawi awarded gas and oil exploration contract to Surestream to conduct Environmental Impact Assessment on the lake but Tanzania wants this to stop.
The border between the two countries was defined in the Heligoland Treaty in signed 1890 by Germany and Britain – colonial masters of Tanzania and Malawi respectively.
Furthermore the Heads of State of OAU made a resolution in 1963 that member states should recognize and accept the borders that were inherited at the time of independence.
The African Union made similar resolutions in 2002 and 2007.