Malawi’s Mutharika rules out war with Tanzania over disputed lake but insists ‘lake issue is non-negotiable’
“Yes, I did say that the lake is not negotiable, I never said that I was going to go war; I am a very peaceful person, I don’t fight unless someone attacks me,” he told a press conference in the capital, Lilongwe, Tuesday afternoon.
But Mutharika, while saying the possibility of war is off the table, insisted the entire lake belongs to Malawi.
“We are not going to go to war but the lake has been ours for 104 years; the law is very clear, I think there is room for negotiations on the issue of the lake, but I think we will find a way to settle this out with Tanzania,” he said.
The dispute has been on and off since Tanzania and Malawi became independent from European colonialists in 1963 and 1964 respectively. Malawi’s founding
president Hastings Kamuzu Banda reportedly warned his Tanzanian counterpart Mwalimu Julius Nyerere to clear off the lake or risk armed conflict.
But the issue resurfaced when the administration of the current President’s brother, the late Bingu wa Mutharika, contracted Surestream, a British company, to explore for the possibility of oil deposits on the northern reaches of the late.
Tanzania warned that it will shoot down any exploration plane flying over what it claims to be its part of the lake.
But Malawi backs its claim over the entire lake on what is called the Heligoland Treaty of July 1, 1890, an arrangement between Great Britain and Germany that defined the two colonial powers’ respective spheres of influence in eastern Africa that gave Germany control over Tanzania and Britain over Malawi, including the entire lake.
Currently, a committee of former Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) leaders, led by former Mozambican president Joachim Chissano, are mediating into the dispute.
Meanwhile, Mutharika, 74 – who came to power following the May 20 disputed elections, disclosed that he met Tanzanian President Jokaya Kikwete on the sidelines of last week’s US-Africa summit in Washington.
“I invited him to come and fish at the lake,” he said.
Malawians and Tanzanians living in the two country’s border districts have co-existed peacefully with fishermen and transporters from both countries sharing the lake until the dispute. Since the resurrection of the decades-old dispute over the lake former president Joyce Banda disclosed that there was a build up of Tanzanian soldiers on the lake and that Malawian fishermen were being harassed.
Banda, too – Africa’s second woman president, also met Kikwete over the lake on the sidelines of a SADC meeting in Maputo, Mozambique, and at the United Nations in New York.-AGV