The basis of the conflict between Malawi and Tanzania is Malawi’s claim to the waters of the whole lake whose very name they dispute. Malawi calls it Lake Malawi as opposed to the more traditional name of Lake Nyasa.
Many ethnic groups, among them the Yao,Manganya, Konde, Matengo, Tonga and Nyakyusa reside harmoniously along the shores of Niassa/ Nyassa, which means any large body of water. The tribes livelihood depends mainly on the resources from the Lake and the surrounding countryside. Prior to the demarcation of Africa, the people coexisted peacefully and permitted free migration and trade in the general area; in fact they are kinfolk. The arbitrary creation of the African boundaries determined in Berlin from 1884 to 1885,forced families to reside in two neighboring states.Some lived in the Germany colony of Tanganyika and others in Nyasaland, ruled by the United Kingdom. At the time of independence for both countries, Tanganyika in 1961, which later become the United Republic of Tanzania in 1964, and Malawi inherited the counterfeit boundary. The Anglo-German Treaty of 1890, which sealed the fate of the two states, is the basis for the conflict.
“To the south by the line thats tarts on the coast of the northern border of Mozambique Province and follows the course of the Ruvuma River to the point where the Messinge flows into the Ruvuma. 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 River
Tanzania recognizes the potential threat of the border described above, and they have officially requested that their Malawian counterparts share the lakes resources. In addition,Tanzania proposed that the official boundary between the countries should follow the median line in Lake Nyasa. Malawi President Kamuzu Banda did not respond favorably to these requests:
“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 ethnically 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.”
However, the founder of Tanganyika, and the first Tanganyika Prime Minister the Julius Nyerere, having known the boundaries of his country were set on colonial interests and other boundaries were still questionable; And having also recognized the riparian rights of the country and prepared a policy document for implementation after independence. He wrote to the UN as follows:
The Secretary General of the United Nations was informed:
“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 did recognize the ambiguous treaties when Malawi attained its independence on 7 July 1964.
Scope during colonial legacy
Britain and Germany made some administrative amendments along the Malawi Tanzania border before 1914, and both realms shared the lake prior to the First World War (WWI). Colonial powers deployed gunboats in Lake Nyasa before the war. On August 13, 1914, the British gunboat Guendolen destroyed the German gun boat Hermann Von Wissmann at Sphinx haven in Lake Nyasa. For no apparent reason, the British colonial administration placed the lakes entire water surface under the authority of the territory of Nyasaland. This is the origin of the post WWI disagreement.Germany lost its colony in East Africa after its defeat in the WWI. The United Kingdom (UK)held on to Malawi and, at the same time, the League of Nations Mandate,entrusted Britain with the management of Tanganyika Territory, the former German East Africa colony. Britain could have solved the border dispute between Malawi and Tanzania like it did the dispute between Malawi and Mozambique;however, Britain did not pay suitable attention to the issue on the Tanzanian side. Furthermore the British maps used while ruling both countries were ambiguous. Even today, maps are not reliable; some of them designate the boundary at the Eastern side of Lake Nyasa whit leathers designate it at the lakes mid line as depicted in the 1937
In addition, the problem between Malawi and Mozambique over the boundary in Lake Nyasa was resolved in November 1954 by an agreement endorsed by Britain and Portugal. The consequent border skirmishes subsided after Malawi failed to impose its claim. However, in the 1990s Tanzanians residing along the shores of Lake Nyasa were occasionally accused of fishing in Malawian waters, which prompted outcries from the Malawian Government. Furthermore, Belgium, Germany,Great Britain, Italy, and Portugal drew the East African boundaries to further their strategic colonial interests. Ironically, about a century ago, rival colonial powers, Britain and Germany, shared the lake. Today, two independent states are failing to do the same.
by:Leutnant. Eng A. I Massawe