It might be the Christmas spirit or indeed just trying to help, but the church in Malawi and Tanzania has also offered to mediate in the Lake Malawi border dispute between their two countries.
This comes against the background of former Mozambican president Joachim Chissano who has been approached by the two countries to help with mediation on behalf of former Sadc Heads of State and Government.
The move by Malawi Council of Churches (MCC) and the Christian Council of Tanzania (CCT) to intervene comes after the two councils engaged in discussions on how best they can play their pastoral role to find a peaceful end to the matter.
In an interview on Sunday, MCC general secretary (GS) the Reverend Dr. Osborne Joda-Mbewe confirmed to have approached CCT. He said so far, there has been a positive response to the initiative.
He said the idea came after observing failures of two meetings held in Mzuzu and Dar es Salaam where Malawi and Tanzania failed to agree.
Said Joda-Mbewe: “We heard that now they have approached the Southern African Development Community [Sadc] and we are concerned that if they fail to agree again, the church will be left behind. As a church, we said for how long should we be watching as spectators?”
Joda-Mbewe said so far the two councils have agreed to also involve the Fellowship for Christian Councils in Southern Africa (FCCSA), the All Africa Council of Churches (AACC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC). Both councils are members of the three bodies.
The MCC GS said he has already talked to the general secretary of the Christian Church of Zambia (CCZ), the current chairperson of the FCCSA, who he said has also agreed to assist. Joda-Mbewe said he is just waiting for written communication.
“We want first of all to have the churches meet and find a way forward and then approach the two governments. All along, we did not want to make it public because we wanted to see if our colleagues in Tanzania would agree and we are happy that they have agreed,” he said.
In a letter dated November 29 2012 to CCT general secretary the Reverend Dr. Leonard Mtaita, Joda-Mbewe said the council is mindful that both governments have committed to resolve the matter peacefully, but feel disturbed about the seeming loggerhead that has started to characterise the discussions.
Reads part of the letter: “Our worry and concern is that should the Sadc ex-heads of State fail to resolve the matter, [the] issue may blow out of proportion and lives of innocent people in the two neighbouring countries may be brought to danger.”
Joda-Mbewe suggested that as the church, both in Malawi and Tanzania, it should commit and offer to “partake in the negotiations so that we reach an amicable and peaceful end”.
MCC is an ecumenical body whose membership includes 24 main Christian protestant churches and 20 para-church affiliates.
On Friday, Malawi and Tanzania made joint submissions to Chissano, who is chairperson of the Africa Forum for Former Heads of State and Governments. Chissano has formally agreed to mediate in the boundary dispute.
While Lilongwe claims ownership of the entire northern part of Lake Malawi based on the July 1 1890 Anglo-German Treaty (Heligoland Treaty), Tanzania argues the border between the two countries passes in the middle of the lake as per international law. In October, Tanzania heightened the tension when it released a new map that shows part of the lake to belong to Dodoma.