Tanzania yesterday called on Malawi and companies carrying out oil and gas exploration in the eastern part of Lake Nyasa to stop, until the issue of the border between the two countries is resolved.
Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation minister Bernard Membe gave the government stand in the National Assembly, when tabling his ministry’s budget estimates for the 2012/13 financial year.
“From today, nobody is allowed to carry out any exploration or research activities in the lake to allow the on-going discussions to resolve the stand-off,” Membe stated, adding: “Let’s give diplomacy a chance.”
He stressed that the Tanzanian government was committed to ensuring that its people are protected “at any cost”.
Membe explained that going on with those activities in the disputed lake would jeopardise the current negotiations and pose a security threat.
Lives of more than 600,000 people rely on the lake, which borders Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi.
He assured Tanzanians living along the lake shores to continue with their daily activities, without fear as the government was working on the crisis.
The minister also said that Tanzania’s security authorities have also spotted some aircraft alleged to belong to the oil and gas exploration companies from Malawi flying in the Tanzanian airspace without clearance from the Tanzania Aviation Authority.
Membe said the conflict on the lake was not new, having started in the early 1960s, when the first Malawian president, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, claimed that Lake Nyasa and the whole of Mbeya in Tanzania were part of Malawi. Banda was using the 1890-Heligoland treaty signed between the former colonial powers stipulating the border between the two countries as lying along the Tanzanian shore of the lake.
“But, talks about the matter stopped somewhere as Dr Kamuzu Banda had a relationship with South Africa and Tanzania was in support of South African freedom fighters,” Membe said.
He said serious talks on the matter were revived in 2005, between President Jakaya Kikwete and the late Dr Bingu wa Mutharika, whereby a ministerial committee was appointed by both countries to solve the dispute over the border and the lake’s name.
“The committee met in 2010 and 2012, whereby a number of issues were discussed including some of the aircraft claimed to belong to the oil and gas researching companies from Malawi flying in the Tanzania airspace,” he said.
He told the house that Tanzania was interested to end the conflict through round-table discussions and to find a long-term solution.
He said on July 27, this year, delegations of the two countries met in Dar es Salaam to revive the stalled negotiations on the delineation, demarcation, delimitation and re-affirmation of the boundaries between Tanzania and Malawi on the lake and setting up a roadmap and programme of implementation for the boundary programme.
Membe also revealed that another meeting at the level of Joint Committee of Experts, Joint Committee of Officials and the Council of Ministers on Malawi/Tanzania Boundary is scheduled to take place on August 20, this year, in Mzuzu — the northern city of Malawi.
In her contribution, Special Seats MP, Stella Manyanya called upon the two parties to resolve the matter diplomatically, saying the lake acts as a cultural heritage for people living along its shores.
Special Seats MP, Hilda Ngoye, asked the government to speed up the negotiation process on the matter as people in Kyela, Ludewa and Nyasa are living in fear.
She also asked the government to improve road and communication infrastructures so that people are able to report all incidents committed by the neighboring country.
Ngoye said most people living on the lake shores have no access to mobile phones and in some areas there are no roads. “It’s time, Tanzanians along the lake shores started enjoying the right to fish and engage in other productive activities on the lake, without being intimidated,” she said.
Meanwhile a delegation of members of Malawi parliament arrived in Dodoma yesterday and were received by the Clerk of the National Assembly, Dr Thomas Kashillilah in the company of the Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (Policy, Coordination and National Assembly), William Lukuvi.
The delegation was led by the Second Deputy Speaker of the Parliament of Malawi, Juliana Mphande.
Mphande led the delegation of Members of the Parliamentary Service Commission from Malawi for an official visit to Parliament of Tanzania. No details were given but the visit came as Malawi claimed that the entire Lake Nyasa falls in it’s territory.
Clerk of the National Assembly of Tanzania Dr. Thomas Kashilliah held a brief meeting with the members of the Parliamentary Service Commission when they visited him yesterday in Dodoma.