16.08.12 Menas Borders
Malawi rejects war but refuses to budge on lake dispute
President Joyce Banda has said that Malawi will not go to war with neighbouring Tanzania over their
border dispute in Lake Malawi, despite rising tensions. Banda insisted that
if the diplomatic route fails, it does not necessarily mean we will go to war
with our brothers and sisters in Tanzania”.
The statement was her first public comment on the dispute which has been
simmering since last year, when her predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika awarded an exploration licence to Britain's Surestream Petroleum. Malawi claims sovereignty over all of the Lake (called Nyasa by Tanzania) which
does not belong to Mozambique, all the way up to the Tanzanian shoreline, based
on colonial-era documents.
The dispute has previously led to tensions between fishermen and occasional
arrests by Malawian vessels, but the search for hydrocarbons – which takes
a wider context of increased attention to East African gas and oil – has upped
the stakes dramatically.
Last month Tanzania insisted that a solution must be negotiated over the status
of the Lake before any oil and gas exploration was undertaken. There were
rumours of a military build-up in the area.
Banda is set to meet her Tanzanian counterpart Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete on August 18 at a meeting of the Southern African Development Community, and her
conciliatory tone suggests that she is seeking to defuse tensions.
However Malawi's Foreign Minister Empraim Mganda Chiume said that Malawi would not halt exploration even if Tanzania threatened war,
insisting that the entirety of the Lake was Malawian territory. This indicates
Malawi is still standing firm on the issue and is unwilling to compromise.
Tanzania has few options in response.