Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation minister Bernard Membe
Dar es Salaam. Border dispute talks between Tanzania and Malawi have failed, and the matter will be taken before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for consideration.
Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation minister Bernard Membe told reporters after a closed-door meeting with European Union (EU) envoys in Dar es Salaam yesterday that the two countries had agreed to disagree, adding that they would now turn to the ICJ for an amicable solution to the long-running dispute.
Malawi maintains that the entire northern portion of Lake Nyasa (known in the southern African nation as Lake Malawi) is within its borders, in line with the Anglo-Germany Treaty of 1890 between former colonial powers Britain and Germany. Malawi considers the lake’s eastern shoreline as the border between the two countries.
However, Tanzania’s position is that the border runs in the middle of the lake, splitting the northern part of the water body roughly equally between the neighbours.
Mr Membe said yesterday that there was an impasse in the talks in Dar es Salaam after both countries stuck to their official positions, adding that the ICJ was now the best option to resolve the dispute.
The Malawian delegation was in the country for discussions that began on Thursday and were scheduled to end tomorrow. The talks were to have been followed by a ministerial meeting.
Mr Membe earlier told the EU envoys that Tanzania was preparing for a legal battle at the ICJ.
“I will hold a news conference with my Malawian counterpart on Sunday during which I will reiterate our decision to take the matter to the ICJ. There is now a need for this issue to be handled at the highest levels of international arbitration,” he said.
It also emerged yesterday that Attorney General Frederick Werema and Constitutional and Legal Affairs minister Mathias Chikawe took part in the talks for the first time.Mr Membe said Tanzania was compiling documentary evidence before the matter was taken to the ICJ.
He said a special team would travel to the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa and Germany to compile facts that Tanzania would use to support its case, adding that Tanzania was striving for a diplomatic solution.
“I have told them we are not at all interested in going to war with our neighbours Malawi…we are going to resolve the matter diplomatically,” Mr Membe said.
The first round of talks between the two countries was held in the Malawian border town of Mzuzu from late August, but the discussions collapsed in early September after Malawi said it was aggrieved by “Tanzania’s aggressive behaviour”.
This was after Tanzania published a new map, which, among other features, showed the boundary between the two countries running in the middle of Lake Nyasa.
But Tanzania said the new map was published following the establishment of new regions and other administrative areas, and was not meant to provoke Malawi.
Tanzanian officials reminded their Malawi counterparts that Tanzanian maps have always reflected the country’s official position as far as the border between the two countries was concerned.
Malawian President Joyce Banda said early last month she had asked the ministry of Foreign Affairs to officially call off the talks between the two countries.
“When I was leaving the country for the UN, I thought the issue with Tanzania was sorted out and that we were going to pursue dialogue,” she added. “However, in the period I have been away, Tanzania launched a new map. They are harassing our fishermen and sailing boats in our lake.”
The matter would have to be taken to another level, President Banda said, especially since Tanzania has reportedly threatened to blow up any Malawian boat that sails on the lake.
According to President Banda, she discussed the matter with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and informed him of Malawi’s intention to refer the matter to the ICJ.
For decades the issue of who has the right to Lake Nyasa lay dormant in diplomatic binders until last year when the late Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika granted British company Surestream Petroleum the right to explore the lake for oil and gas.
Surestream moved in to conduct environmental impact assessment, infuriating Tanzania, which said it had not been consulted.