Mapping out borders could help to stem unnecessary disputes

21Aug 2019
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Mapping out borders could help to stem unnecessary disputes

REPORTS from Arusha confirm that Tanzania and Kenya mapping  out the common border with new beacons, an initiative that has started on the northern parts of the border from the lakeside district of Tarime to the eastern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro.

So far officials are only talking about this exercise, which is given as phase one up to Lake Natron and phase two up to eastern Kilimanjaro territory. The next phase would involve going all the way down to the seashore on the northern reaches of Tanga.

What the current exercise involves is placing beacons to show precisely where the border passes, and it appears this is a region-wide exercise as most countries bordering Tanzania are doing the same or in cooperation with Tanzania for that matter and their other neighbors. This may also involve an exception of Burundi and Rwanda which were not mentioned in an interview with a top official of the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Human Settlements. Needless to add the same exercise would finally apply to these countries too and despite border disputes between Uganda and DRC in relation to Lake Albert waterline.

A senior official of the Kenya International Boundaries Department said that the exercise follows a United Nations resolution which directs the countries to formalize boundaries drawn up at the Berlin Conference of 1884. This directive by the UN Secretariat or its associated agencies is a reflection of boundary disputes which have no reason to be there, on the basis of international law or specifically the succession of treaties convention. The Geneva Convention on treaties in international law provides for indefinite succession of treaties by governments irrespective of the manner government changes hands.

Two current border conflicts come to mind, and they may have contributed to a greater or lesser extent in the move by the UN agency to expedite the mapping out of boundaries, both by installing more effective boundary marks (beacons) as well as reaffirming treaties in that connection. One is a lesser and now tamed dispute, that between Malawi and Tanzania on where to demarcate the border, and the hotter dispute rages between Kenya and Somalia, as the latter is demanding prolonging the land border line into the sea, for an unclear reason. It is as if Somalis also live in the sea by similar numbers as well.

When the UN tells African countries to demarcate their borders, install new or better markers and promulgate, officiate or formalize the same under the terms of the Berlin Conference border making exercise, this comes as a bit of a surprise to those who are familiar with a bit of history. For the Berlin Conference treaty was enshrined in the statutes of the League of Nations along with amendments thereto, for instance in the Heligoland Treaty of 1890 - which Malawi has been using as an excuse to demand sovereignty on all the lake portion on its eastern border with Tanzania. What Malawi pretends to forget is that after World War I Britain corrected that anomaly, rectifying the border to Berlin terms.

The point however is that this act of revision was not just conducted in due and proper form in the UK legislature in 1924 but also deposited with the League of Nations in 1925. It means that by the time the United Nations was formed, this rectification was part of the statutes it inherited, so under existing norms of international law neither Malawi nor Tanzania can go back on that amendment. It is this act of recognition that the UN is demanding, and hopefully Africa will comprehend, to stop useless quarrels. 

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