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Foreign Ministry should `go easy` on boundary issue with Malawi

17th November 2012
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Editorial Cartoon

Finally it was announced this week that the collapsed talks on Lake Nyasa dispute will soon start between Tanzania and Malawi on what is supposed to be a border dispute between the two countries, which if not properly handled on our side, it can start to be a source of unnecessary wastage of public funds.

As it is often the case in the government, top officials thrive on emergencies, to make trips to foreign countries or large delegations to conferences, at first class travel rates and hefty per diems tied to the business class of where they are going, etc. In addition, paying frenetic attention to the dispute only serves to reactivate the issue when it had gone dormant.

One aspect of the issue that needs to be considered so that we don’t waste unnecessary public funds on the issue, or activate sentiments and position taking that is basically unhealthy as they elicit public responses from the other side, is an apparent exclusivity principle. It is to affirm that it is Malawi that seems to have things to talk to Tanzania so that its plans or intentions can be realized, and not the other way round, because it is Malawi, which wants all of the lake, not us. It was reported recently that the Malawian leader, President Joyce Banda, vowed to stand by her country’s claims until the very end. The advice we make to the Foreign Ministry is to keep the door open for her emissaries, if she will send any.

It will be recalled that when they met at the margin of a Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) summit, the two Heads of State agreed that the matter would be resolved amicably. So that we don’t excessively waste public funds on the issue, or engage in harmful sabre rattling and logistical exercises of a futile nature, it is important we are clear about what ‘the matter’ indeed is, since it now appears as if we are stakeholders in ‘the matter’ as much as Malawi. The Foreign Ministry has been sending notes and representations to the Malawi Government on the issue of when the next meeting will be convened, and at some point we heard that they other wise refused to attend any such talks ‘because Tanzania has produced a new map which shows the border to pass in the middle of the lake.’

The point here is that Tanzanian initiatives on ‘the matter’ are pointless because there is nothing in substance that we are seeking from the Malawian side, save the fact that we are psychologically affected by pointless claims in Malawi that they own the lake, by virtue of a Helgoland Treaty of 1890. So if President Banda was firm that her government will pursue the country’s claims only by peaceful means, it follows that she will be sending emissaries to Dar es Salaam or Dodoma to discuss the matter from time to time, and then also seek out the position of the Helgoland treaty makers, or their law courts to give an opinion on the matter, or the International Court of Justice to arbitrate. But it should be Malawi wasting public funds to chase a mirage of owning the whole lake; we shouldn’t collaborate.

Wasting time and funds to get Malawi to talk sounds as if we are afraid Malawi might win her case if we don’t actively dissuade it with talks, and then also preempt arbitration from international law bodies, which would have an interest in the issue. Is it an affront to human rights if we ignore Malawian talk? Talk they will, so long as they are absolutely aware that no boats not carrying regular passengers should be crossing into the other side of the lake without due permission, and no small aircraft should land on the other side, but at the risk of being impounded for violation of international borders and espionage. That is all we are seeking from Malawi and is just a matter of law enforcement; it needs no round tables.

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN