- May 10, 2012
minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mr Bernard Membe
By Mkinga Mkinga
The Citizen Reporter
Dar es Salaam. Tanzania is currently finalising a joint letter and terms of reference to send to former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano for mediation of the Lake Nyasa border dispute.The decision to involve an independent third party to solve the issue comes after Dar es Salaam and Lilongwe failed to reach an agreement at a meeting held in the city on November 16 and 17.
While Malawi claims ownership of the whole Lake Nyasa basing its argument on the 1890 Anglo-German Treaty (Heligoland Treaty), Tanzania says the border between the two countries passes in the middle of the lake.
Dar es Salaam says the Heligoland Treaty is flawed as international laws say borders involving water bodies of countries should be in the middle.
The dispute between the two countries first surfaced in the 1960s after the two countries gained independence.
It resurfaced this year after Malawi gave a British firm, Surestream, exploration rights for oil in the lake. In an exclusive interview yesterday, the minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mr Bernard Membe, said last week he received a letter from his Malawi counterpart before joining their ideas together.
Tanzania and Malawi agreed that by November 24 they would submit a letter to President Chissano who chairs the African Forum of former Heads of State within the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
But neither have managed to submit the matter since it needs extra care in its presentation.
Mr Membe said basically the letter needs to written in a diplomatic language and should send implications to the mediator that it is from Malawi or Tanzania because of the language used. He said the letter should also be neutral by avoiding presenting interests of any nation between the two.
I think after everything is done, then we will review terms of reference and send that letter to President Chissano....I hope that work will officially start early next year, said Mr Membe
During their three-day meeting in Dar es Salaam both ministers for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation from Malawi and Tanzania agreed that the Africa Forum of Former Heads of State (Africa Forum) is the right organisation to mediate the Lake Nyasa border dispute.
In a joint statement recently, both Mr Membe and his Malawian counterpart, Mr Ephraim Chiume, said they plan to ask the Heads of State Forum chairman, Mr Chissano, to step in and help avert a looming diplomatic crisis.
At the heart of the issue is a claim by the Malawi government that it owns all of the northern part of Lake Nyasa, in accordance with the Heligoland Treaty of 1890 between former colonial masters German and Britain.
However, Tanzania argues that in accordance with the International Customary Law, the border between the two countries is in the middle of the lake.
For his part, Mr Membe reiterated that Tanzania will not use a single bullet in the disagreement since it was a diplomatic crisis.
We have agreed to disagree at this juncture, but this matter will still be solved diplomatically. We hope that our fundamental differences will be solved amicably, he said.
The border dispute, which dates back half a century, threatened to sour relations between the two countries.
Last month Malawi pulled out of talks after it accused Tanzania of intimidating Malawi fishermen, an accusation denied by the Tanzania government.