ELDERS in Kyela have turned the heat on Malawi saying it is Tanzania that historically owns a big chunk of that country's territory, rather than for the central African nation to claim 100 per cent ownership of Lake Nyasa, which it shares with Tanzania.
The flip back on territorial demands was set in motion by former Mbeya Regional Commissioner, Mr John Mwakipesile, when he narrated the recent history of Kyela to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mr Bernard Membe, who was on a visit to the district on Monday to collect views of the elders there, meant to be part of the evidence to finally resolve the border dispute with Malawi peacefully.
"We the Nyakyusa were not lowlands people but highland dwellers. This place where we now stand was formerly settled by the Konde people. In 1840, there was war between the Nyakyusa and the Konde in which the Konde were defeated and sent across the lake to Malawi where they still live to date. But we are basically the same people and claims that we on this side have no right to the lake because of an 1890 Treaty between the Germans and the British are extremely alien to us," said the retired politician, well known for self-confidence.
That argument was harped upon almost by every elder who spoke thereafter, with many opting to air their views in Kinyakyusa (the local dialect) and their message translated to the minister and his delegation. Speaking in Kinyakyusa, several elders captured their anger and expressed their emotions and indignation better over claims by Malawi for 100 per cent ownership of the lake, central to life for their generations at least from the 17th century.
"If the government doesn't have guns, we are ready to attack Malawi by means and ways we know and teach President Joyce Banda, who has brought up this senseless claim," said a fuming and saliva spitting Anyosisye Mwankenja (80) of Matema Beach who, like many elders was speaking in Kinyakyusa. It was a highly emotional outpouring of anger that Mr Membe had to continually torn down with the words:
"No, no, no. Don't do that. Your government is stable and determined to resolve this matter through dialogue. It is my prayer that you shall all be around to see the final solution to the problem. I am quite confident that we shall win this case wherever we go," said Mr Membe amid chants and ululation from the women.
Obas Mwansasu (72) also of Matema Beach said specifically addressing the minister: "Our forefathers never told us that this lake was dug by the Malawians. Malawians have never extended their jurisdiction to our side. This problem should not give you any headache." Philip Mwandemele (70) also of Matema Beach said simply: "The Malawians are indulging themselves in dangerous daydreaming."
At some point, the dramatic moments of the visit were quite exhilarating. Mbile Mwakasekele (79) of Katumba Songwe said the original boundary of the then Dutch East Africa or Tanganyika which is today Tanzania started at Ngara in Malawi and ran south to join the border line with Zambia at Tunduma.
"If the Malawians so want, then let us go back to the original boundaries and not the treachery the British played on the Germans," a catch-22 situation that meant Malawi would actually lose the entire lake.Katumba Songwe is where River Songwe, which forms the overland boundary with Malawi waters into Lake Nyasa. The river was once entirely Tanzanian but the Malawians pleaded for a median line border, a request Tanzania readily agreed to.
Another extremely fuming elder, Anywelise Mwaifiga (84) of Matema Beach, also speaking in Kinyakyusa said the whole of Malawi was made up of Wanyakyusa people and that German rule extended to Ngara, about four kilometres from Karonga in Malawi but with influence extending more than 20 kilometres.
"It is not a question of hearsay for me. I saw the sign that the Germans nailed on a baobab tree at Ngara, which clearly stated that it was the starting point of the German sphere of influence in East Africa (a colonial term for Tanganyika)," said Amos Mwakyusa (86). He said they used to rest at the place on their way to South Africa where they were recruited to work in gold mines.
Adison Kajula said the British favoured Nyasaland (Malawi) in the 1890 treaty but the actual boundary ran from the mouth of Songwe River to River Shire in the south, making the lake equally shared by the two countries.
Michael Mwang'onda (70) of Katumba Songwe, who said his father, who died aged 116, was the founder of the village. "When the chips are down," he said, "Tanzania actually owns two thirds of the lake and the Malawians just one third." The original settlement of the village, which was called Milambo, he said, is now located more than two kilometres in water as many places have since been swallowed by the waxing coastline of the lake.
Tanzania and Malawi have agreed to resume talks for peaceful resolution of the problem at a date yet to be fixed after Malawi initially pulled out protesting Tanzania's release of a new administrative map that showed the boundary between the two countries as being in the middle, which Malawi disputes claiming it was along the shoreline as indicated in the July 1, 1890 Heligoland Treaty.
The trip to Kyela was Mr Membe's second to communities on the shores of Lake Nyasa in two months after the one he made to newly created Nyasa district last August. Observers have said the treaty never specifically bounded Malawi's borders and they fail to see how the country could justify its case by claiming what defines another entity.
Mr Membe also visited the Kasumulu Border Post and saw people from both sides going on with their daily activities without any threat of hostilities, despite rumours that Tanzania was gearing up for a military showdown, claims that Mr Membe has repeatedly denied, insisting the country was committed to peaceful resolution of the lake border crisis.