Malawi, Tanzania Plan Talks on Lake Dispute Amid Oil Search

Malawian President Joyce Banda will meet her Tanzanian counterpart, Jakaya Kikwete, in the next two days to discuss a dispute over Lake Malawi, where a British-based company is exploring for oil.

The two leaders will meet at the Southern African Development Community summit that begins today in Maputo, the Mozambican capital, Banda’s spokesman Steven Nhlane said in a phone interview from Lilongwe yesterday. SADC, as the community is known, groups 15 southern African nations.

“The president wants to resolve the issue diplomatically,” said Nhlane. “We know Malawi owns 100 percent of the lake but that does not stop us from engaging with our brothers in Tanzania in dialog to resolve this issue amicably.”

Malawi’s Energy Ministry announced in October it awarded Surestream Petroleum Ltd., based in Reading, England, a license to search for oil in blocks 2 and 3 on Lake Malawi covering 20,000 square kilometers (7,724 square miles). Tanzania’s government says exploration has extended into its half of the lake, which it calls Lake Nyasa, and wants exploration halted until ownership of the water body is determined.

Colonial Boundaries

The Anglo-German Treaty of July 1, 1890, signed between Britain and Germany, the former colonial rulers of Malawi and Tanzania, gave ownership of the lake to Malawi. Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe told parliament on Aug. 5 that Tanzania owns 50 percent of the lake and that his government had asked Malawi to stop crude oil and natural-gas exploration on the lake until the dispute over ownership was resolved, according to the Citizen newspaper based in Dar es Salaam, the commercial capital.

“Our position is not to do any exploration activities on the lake, because there is a process of resolving the dispute under way,” Salvator Rweyemamu, director of presidential communications in Tanzania, said in an interview on Aug. 8 from Dar es Salaam. “It is what we agreed, and it’s the logical thing to do. We should not do things that will instead aggravate the dispute.”

Banda and Kikwete plan to hold further discussions on the issue on Aug. 20 in Malawi, Nhlane said. Banda said the country was exploring many avenues to resolve the dispute and doesn’t expect conflict to erupt between the two nations.

Diplomatic Route

“Even if the diplomatic route fails it does not necessarily mean we will go to war with our brothers and sisters in Tanzania, because we can resort to other channels to solve the matter,” Banda was quoted as saying by the Daily Times, a Blantyre-based newspaper, yesterday.

No one was available for comment when Bloomberg called Surestream’s head office. The closely held company didn’t immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

Tanzania already holds the second-largest natural-gas reserves in eastern Africa after Mozambique, having discovered about 30 trillion cubic feet of the resource so far.

Malawi is one of the world’s 20 poorest countries, with more than 40 percent of the population living on less than $1 a day and an average life expectancy of 40 years, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development. The southern African nation relies on aid for about 40 percent of its budget, according to the government.

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