People living in the Tanzanian district of Kyela have pressed their government to get back a portion of Lake Malawi they claim belongs to them, arguing that it is Tanzania that historically owns a big part of the lake.
According to online publication, Daily News of Tanzania, the people, who live along the shores of the lake on the Tanzanian side, made the demand on Monday when Tanzanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Bernard Membe visited the area to seek their input into efforts aimed at resolving the conflict that has pitted Tanzania and Malawi over ownership of the lake.
While Malawi says it owns the whole lake, Tanzania contends that it is entitled to half of the water body.
“We, the Nyakyusa, were not lowlands people, but highland dwellers. This place where we now stand was formerly settled by the Konde people. In 1840, there was war between the Nyakyusa and the Konde in which the Konde were defeated and sent across the lake to Malawi where they still live to date.
“But we are basically the same people and claims that we on this side have no right to the lake because of an 1890 treaty between the Germans and the British are extremely alien to us,” said one of the elders at the meeting.
The Nyakyusas are also found in the northern part of Karonga.
The highly charged meeting was characterised by emotional language which Membe tried to calm down, according to the publication.
Some speakers, feeling that their government was not doing enough to tackle the dispute quickly, threatened to intervene.
But Membe called for calm, telling the meeting that the two governments are engaged in dialogue to resolve their differences.
“No, no, no. Don’t do that. Your government is stable and determined to resolve this matter through dialogue. It is my prayer that you shall all be around to see the final solution to the problem. I am quite confident that we shall win this case wherever we go,” he said.
He said a solution will be found before 2015.
The dispute over the world’s premier fresh water body began during the 1960s when former president Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda was in power. At the time, Banda threatened to wage war on Tanzania.
The issue assumed a more urgent tone after President Joyce Banda took over from the late Bingu wa Mutharika in April, 2012.
The two countries have been engaged in talks to resolve the matter, but the dialogue broke down after Tanzania drew up a new map which captured half of the lake as part of the country.
This angered President Banda who ordered Malawi out of the talks. In October, Tanzania reportedly wrote Malawi seeking a resumption of the talks, but Minister of Information Moses Kunkuyu said at the time government had not received the letter.
While Malawi wants the United Nations to mediate the conflict, Tanzania prefers to engage the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) or the African Union.
At the heart of the conflict is the Anglo-German Treaty, also known as the Heligoland Treaty, of 1890 which gave Malawi ownership of the lake.
In terms of the treaty, the boundary between the two countries lies along the Tanzanian shores of the lake.
However, Tanzania argues that the treaty is flawed, saying Tanzania deserves half of the lake in keeping with international law on proximate water bodies.