Malawian President Joyce Banda threatened to cancel talks with Tanzanian leader Jakaya Kikwete over their disputed boundary on Lake Malawi, where a British company is exploring for oil.
Banda plans to call off the negotiations after Tanzania published a map claiming half of the lake as its own, she told reporters yesterday in Lilongwe, the capital. Banda was returning from a trip to the United Nations General Assembly, where she briefed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about the impasse and told him her country plans to seek arbitration by the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
“When I left the country I thought the matter will be resolved, but now the matter looks bigger than I thought,” Banda said. “I have written them that there is no point to go on with the dialogue until they explain the new map.”
Malawi’s Energy Ministry announced in October 2011 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.
The dispute is a “sovereign issue,” Keith Robinson, Surestream’s country manager for Malawi, said in a phone interview today from Reading.
“We are leaving it to the two nations to resolve their own dispute,” he said. “We will cooperate and allow the process to proceed at its own pace.”
Tanzanian Lands Minister Anna Tibaijuka didn’t answer two calls to her mobile phone seeking comment. On Sept. 5, Tibaijuka said the two countries would agree on a third party to help end the dispute if they fail to resolve it on their own.
Banda plans to visit Tanzania to seek clarification on the new map, Steven Nhlane, the president’s press secretary, said in a phone interview today from Lilongwe.
“The launch of the new map means Tanzania has bypassed the outcome of the talks between the two countries and therefore the president sees no need to proceed,” Nhlane said. “However, before the issue is taken to ICJ for example, she still wants to meet President Kikwete and there are plans she will visit that country.”
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.
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.