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IBRU: Centre for Borders Research

Boundary news

Boundary news Headlines

Dispute resurfaces between Malawi and Tanzania over Lake Malawi oil exploration

(23 August 2012)

An existing border dispute between Malawi and Tanzania was revived on 30 July 2012, when the Tanzanian government requested its neighbour stop oil and gas exploration activities in Lake Malawi (Nyasa: Tanzania), following talks in Dar es Salaam on 28-29 July. British Surestream Petroleum was awarded an exploration license for the lake by the late president of Malawi, Bingu wa Mutharika, who died in April 2012. The company was awarded Blocks 2 and 3 in September 2011, totalling 20 000 sq km, reigniting concerns over the disputed border.

Drawing on the 1890 Anglo-German agreement, the Malawian government claims that its border with Tanzania is on the Tanzanian shores of the lake, while Tanzania asserts the border runs through the middle of the lake (excluding the section that lies in Mozambique). While the border dispute has remained unresolved, it has typically remained largely dormant – the last notable dispute was in 1967-68. The most recent tension is reported to have arisen from claims by Tanzania that Malawi’s fishing and tourism activities were entering in to its territorial waters, affecting local Tanzanian fishing and access to water, combined with the claims of oil and gas exploration by Malawi. Tanzania says any exploration for oil and gas could jeopardise talks between the two countries. It has also claimed that planes have been spotted in Tanzanian airspace, believed to be conducting oil and gas seismic exploration activities without their permission.

It was reported that the Tanzanian Attorney General had stated that if the talks could not produce a resolution then his government may seek to take the dispute to the International Court of Justice. The Principle Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Malawi, Patrick Kabambe was quoted as saying, "We categorically put it to them (Tanzania) that as far as we are concerned, the entire lake belongs to Malawi," however that they would “continue to engage with Tanzania as a good neighbour."

In efforts to reach a memorandum of understanding relating to gas and oil exploration efforts, the two governments planned talks for 20 August 2012 in Malawi. In the opening statements of the planned 5-day talks on 20 August, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ephraim Mganda Chiume stated that “it is very easy for the discussion to break down and lead to a stalemate because of careless statements. Let us avoid making statements that can undermine the process.” He continued that, “We cannot keep on talking about the same issue for over 40 years. The two countries are full of expectation that an amicable solution can be found out of these discussions.” A ministerial meeting is planned for 24 August 2012 in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, where it is expected that both countries will share documents to reach a consensus on the dispute.

Sources: ‘Malawi, Tanzania border talks: minister urges restraint’, Karen Msiska, The Daily Times, 21 August 2012; ‘Dar for amicable resolution on Malawi border dispute’, Pius Rugonzibwa, All Africa, 1 August 2012; ‘Malawi: old border dispute with Tanzania over Lake Malawi flares up again’, Naomi Kok, The CPRA Daily Briefings, 8 August 2012; ‘Tanzania accuses Malawi of illicit oil exploration in Tanzanian waters of Lake Malawi’, Marné Beukes, IHS Global Insight Daily Analysis, 31 July 2012; ‘Tanzania asks Malawi to halt oil search in disputed lake’, Reuters News, 30 July 2012.