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Border complexity may badly affect fishing rights on Lake Nyasa
Friday, August 22, 2003

Business Times (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania). Opinion. By Aristariko Konga

It won't surprise to hear that the Republic of Malawi has banned Tanzanians to fish in Lake Nyasa, which, according to Malawians is called Lake Malawi. Until now, Malawians view Lake Nyasa waters as wholly belonging to their land, and not otherwise.

They have their right to so, and they have a good reason for their position. One reason is that the borderline between the two countries is marred by a lot of complexities.But, to the worst situation, Tanzania has remained apparently silent on the issue since late 1960s, a thing which makes Malawians on the west more entitled to fishing on Lake Nyasa than their counterparts on the eastern side of it.

Documents at the National Museums of Tanzania indicate that some members of parliament in 1962 had tried to quarry on whether Tanzanians were legally entitled to fishing on Lake Nyasa or not.

"It was in the National Assembly on 11 June, 1962, that Chief Mhaiki raised a question whether Tanganyika, as far as its boundary with Nyasaland (now Malawi) is concerned, was bound by the peace treaty between England and Germany of 1919, asking which steps the government intended to remove the disadvantages affecting the people living on the shore of Lake Nyasa," Paper No. 11 of the National Museums of Tanzania says.

However, according to the paper, the then Prime Minister Rashid Kawawa, in his written reply to the question he stated:

"No part of the Lake Nyasa fell within the boundaries of German East Africa and, accordingly, no part of the lake is within the boundaries of Tanganyika.Definitely, the statement is counterproductive as far as fishing and navigation are concerned.

The then Consul General of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), Dr. Gottfried Lessing writes on 18 June 1965 that Vice President Kawawa had shown him on a map of Tanzania that Tanzania's boundaries with Malawi run in such a way that all the waters of Lake Nyasa were part of Malawian territory, with the consequence that the inhabitants of Tanzania were prevented from fishing in Lake Nyasa.

However it is understood that, in his contacts with Dr. Lessing, Kawawa knew and emphasized that the question of the boundary between the two countries was of great economical, political and social importance for Tanzania.

According to records at the National Museums, in 1967, the Tanzanian government took up the matter again, by adopting a position which differed from that of 1962.

"In a note to the Malawian Ministry for Foreign Affairs dated 3 January, 1967, the Tanzanian government drew the Malawian government's attention to the fact that in recent years maps had created the impression that the international boundary between Tanzania and Malawi ran on the eastern and northern shores of the Lake," says the document.

In a complicated way in trying to oppose the borderline on the eastern shore, Tanzania said: "Tanzania has no claim over the water of Lake Nyasa beyond a line running through the medium of the lake, and it is this line alone which is recognized by the government of Tanzania as both the legal and just delineation between Malawi and Tanzania."

Records show that on January 12, 1967, the Malawian Foreign Ministry confirmed the reception of the note, stating that the matter raised in the note would from then receive the consideration of the Malawi government and a further reply would follow.

Despite of all those efforts, the solution to the problem is still pending. Tanzanians continue to fish on Lake Nyasa simply because of friendly relations that exist between the two countries."If at all Malawi gets a tyrant, Tanzanians will be the losers. They won't be able to fish on the lake any more.

They are of the disadvantaged side. The international law favours Malawi more than Tanzania," says Ebehard Haule, a resident of Liuli, a town on the shore of Lake Nyasa.

Bakili Mluzi, the President of Malawi, has already welcomed Tanzanian businessmen to invest in Malawi. This can be the only official chance for Tanzanians to continue benefiting from fishing on Lake Nyasa.

Also the establishment of the joint commission on cooperation between the two countries has brought some hopes to continue enjoying on Lake Nyasa fishing.

The question of border complexity between Malawi and Tanzania has, since Tanganyika's independence, brought heated debates in the National Assembly.

The Member of Parliament for Muhambwe, Arcardo Ntagazwa ones warned that if Tanzania is not careful enough about the matter it will lose all waters on Lake Nyasa, and deny its people access to fishing.

According to Ntagazwa, Tanzania had made a grave mistake by printing atlases that bore maps with Lake Nyasa bearing a name 'Lake Malawi.'

"I am sure if the issue goes to international court of law in The Hague, Tanzania will be the loser, definitely. By having these atlases with this name of the Lake we are supporting Malawi.

We will lose."British documents, contemporary German maps and publications are not consistent.

While most official maps mark the eastern shore as boundary other maps, sometimes in the same publication, show a median line of the lake. It seems that nobody among the German colonial masters felt an urge to get at the crux of the matter as nobody was sensing a problem with that.

German did not pay too much attention to their shoreline boundary at Lake Nyasa as the Berlin Conference, which partitioned Africa, guaranteed them of freedom of navigation and trade on the lake.

It is a fact that the international law and colonial treaties give Malawi a legal starting-point.

On the other hand, Tanzania's argument cannot be ignored. This is based on the presumption of international customary law that "boundary at lakes are divided by the median line," even though the are some exceptions.

Tanzania and Malawi can learn from the experience by the two Western African state-Nigeria and Cameroon.

The two were engaged in a similar controversy, over who was the right owner of Bakasi peninsular.

The International Court at The Hague ruled in favour of Cameroon, thus making it enjoy all the wealth of the peninsular.

The situation on Lake Nyasa remain normal today simply because of wisdom of its rulers at the apex.

Otherwise, the complexity of boundary between the two developing nations remain a timed-bomb.

It is up to Tanzanian government to decide whether this dormant issue is worth being revived.

To continue remaining silent on this it indicates that Tanzania agrees with the present setting of affairs, which is wrong!


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