Will new Malawi President change stance on L. Nyasa?

Wednesday June 4 2014

Children play at the Lake Nyasa beach at Mbamba

Children play at the Lake Nyasa beach at Mbamba Bay. The election of the new Malawian President ushers fresh hopes of amicable resolution of the border dispute between Tanzania and Malawi. PHOTO I FILE 

By Mkinga Mkinga and Agencies Political Platform Reporter

 Dar es Salaam. Now after Arthur Peter Mutharika has been declared winner in the Malawian presidential election, the question among many Tanzanians especially those living close to Lake Nyasa is what next for the border row?

Experts expressed hopes that the new President would be more forthcoming despite his pronouncements during the campaings that negotiations with Tanzania over the dispute was a waste of time.

A Political and Development Consultant with expertise in Elections and Conflicts Resolution in the Great Lakes region Mr Victor Mlunde said he hopes that Mutharika would have the same approach as that of his deceased brother Bingu-wa-Mutharika over Lake Nyasa. Mr Mutharika was an unofficial adviser of his brother.

“The problem is that since the lake was used for fishing there were no problems but now it seems that there is something extra which can boost economy and that’s where the issue arise from…I think the matter will be solved amicably,” Mr Mlunde said

He said that it’s wise for both countries who are involved in the border dispute to use the lake to improve living standards of their people.

It is clear that Tanzania was eagerly waiting to learn the winner of recently Malawi elections and his/her foreign policy priorities, so that to prepare for a revival of the negotiation process, currently in shambles


Former president Bingu-wa-Mutharika is considered as the soft-spoken initiator of the Dbilateral negotiations on the border dispute who could not achieve any milestones during his almost decade-long tenure.

Faraja Kristomus from the University of Dar es Salaam said Lake Nyasa dispute should be resolved by diplomatic means. The two parties need to understand that these borders were created by those who partitioned Africa geographically, he noted, but not socially. Leaders have the duty to understand that the lakes are the gifts of God the creator to the humanity. So, all people along the lakes have the natural rights to enjoy such a God’s gift he said.

“Politicians should not make themselves above the rules of creation. While we pursue the policy of stronger regional economic integration in Africa, others are thinking of embarking people into conflicts as if they cannot learn from other countries that are devastated by war. Mutahrika should learn from most French colonies like Mali, Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Algeria, DR Congo, etc. They are divided because of resource curse. Politicians should refrain from instigating conflicts among Africans as a tactic of attracting more votes,” he said.

The dispute over Lake Nyasa’s ownership which started in the early 1960s and cooled off soon after, resurfaced immediately in 2000s after geological surveys discovered a possibility of oil and gas reserves in the lake.

Although the eighth largest lake in the world is also endowed with huge fish resources able to sustain more than 600,000 people per year, yet the most pressing issue underlining the tension now clearly seems to be the scramble for possible oil and gas finds in the lake.

To make the matters even worse, both parties have been trading accusations of foul play against each other, with Tanzania ordering Malawi to suspend private exploration for oil and gas in the lake.

The outcome of the general elections in Malawi could be a potential game changer expected to determine which policy Lilongwe is likely to adopt towards the border dispute with Tanzania.

During the times of Presidents Julius Nyerere and Kamuzu Banda, history recalls that relations between the people of Tanzania and Malawi were good, but official relations were strained.

This is attributed to the fact that Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda supported apartheid whereas Mwalimu Nyerere supported the ANC; tensions were further heightened when Banda suspected Tanzania was aiding and abetting the attempts by prominent Malawi exiles to subvert his regime.

Located at the junction of Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania, Lake Nyasa the eighth largest in the world contains an estimated 168,000 tonnes of fish of nearly 1000 species, and is able to provide sustenance for nearly 600,000 people.

In the early 1960s, Malawi’s first President, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, claimed that Lake Nyasa was part of Malawi referring to 1890 Helgoland Agreement between Britain and Germany which stipulated that the border between the countries lay along the Tanzanian side of the lake. This treaty was reaffirmed at the 1963 Organisation of African Unity summit where it was accepted reluctantly by Tanzania although disputes reignited in 1967-8.

Malawi also alleges that the 2002 and 2007 African Union resolutions upheld the colonial agreement because of the emphasis on member states upholding the borders inherited upon independence.

Some, however, argue that it is necessary to correct the errors of the colonial powers, and Tanzania has sought recourse to international law, which indicates that borders are generally in the middle of a body of water, claiming Tanzania should therefore own half the lake. Tanzania is seeking 50 per cent of the ownership of the lake while Malawi claims 100 percent ostensibly that the whole part of the lake under dispute belonged to Malawi.

Meanwhile, Malawi former President Joyce Banda snubbed the inauguration ceremony of her successor President Peter Mutharika despite her name appearing on the protocol list of dignitaries that were to grace the ceremony held in Blantyre.

Also missing at the auspicious occasion was Malawi Congress Party (MCP) President Lazarus Chakwera, who comes second in the elections. Chakwera, who scored 27 percent of the national votes, believes he was the ultimate winner of the elections.

The inauguration of the Malawi’s fifth president was also attended by Botswana President Khama Ian Khama, Tanzania vice President, Zimbabwe’s Minister of foreign affairs and Mozambique’s Minister of Internal Affairs among other representatives of different governments represented in Malawi.

Despite conceding defeat in the elections, former President Banda and other major contender Chakwera seems very bitter with the outcome of the results which was characterized with irregularities and the two believe the opposition Democratic Progressive Party that Mutharika leads rigged the election.

Former President Bakili Muluzi and two former Vice Presidents Justine Malewezi and Khumbo Kachale attended the ceremony.

At the ceremony Malawi Defence Force (MDF) Commander Henry Odillo presented the sword of authority to the President symbolizing the transfer of power. He later inspected guard of honour mounted by the MDF and was treated to military displays.

In his inaugural address President Mutharika expressed regret that President Bands declined to hand over the power to him.

Mutharika said he comes to President Banda with an olive branch in his hands and said he hope he will not drop the olive branch.

“I have no intention of revenging and vengeance. However I took an oath to defend the constitution, and who ever breaks the constitution will face a full course of justice,” he said, he highlighted some of the victimization activities that he went through under President Banda’s time.

Mutharika then invited all presidential candidates that competed with him to help in building the country and said he is going to call each one of them individually to share with him the ideas they had to develop the country together.

He condemned the Cashgate scandal and say it was unfortunate that it happened but assured Malawians that it would never happen again under his leadership. He blamed the Cashgate of politicians that: “move from one party to another to another.”

He said his focus was to move the country out the the economic quagmire that is was in and said there was no honey moon saying he is going to implement the promises of the party.

“We will take a bottom up approach in the economic recovery. We will be prudent,” he said.

On foreign policy, Mutharika said his government policy will be based on what is good for Malawians. He invited all foreign government to be free in Malawi.

“But our foreign policy will be extended to new friends including China and new new friends including Brazil and other countries that form Brics,” he said.