TANZANIA and Malawi have jointly agreed to forward the protracted territorial dispute between the two countries concerning the border in Lake Nyasa to the African Forum of former Heads of States within the Southern African Development Community (SADC), for mediation.
The decision to involve an independent third party to solve the crisis comes after Dar es Salaam and Lilongwe agreed to disagree on fundamental differences, following a series of meetings between the ministers responsible for foreign affairs as well as experts from the two countries. With headquarters in Pretoria, South Africa, the forum is made up of former and retired presidents within the SADC region and it deals with conflict management and resolution.
At a joint news conference in Dar es Salaam yesterday, Tanzania Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Minister, Mr Bernard Membe, and his Malawian counterpart, Mr Ephraim Chiume, said the two countries have also proposed that African experts in law in the region should work hand in hand with the forum.
"Should our presidents allow us to move forward, then we will file a joint application before the forum led by former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano on November 24, this year," Mr Membe said. The resolution was reached at the end of a three-day meeting of team of experts from the countries which was climaxed by a ministerial meeting.
If the forum fails to arbitrate the border dispute by March next year then the only option for the two countries it to take up the matter to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Experts from both countries, particularly Attorney Generals from Malawi and Tanzania disagreed on interpretation of international laws through which each country bases its arguments, according to Minister Membe.
At the heart of contention is a claim by the Malawian government that it owns all of the northern part of Lake Nyasa, in accordance to the Heligoland Treaty of 1890 between former colonial masters German and Britain. On the other hand, Tanzania argues that in accordance to the International Customary Law, the border between the two countries is the median of the Lake.
Mr Chiume said Malawi's earlier position was taking the matter to the SADC Tribunal but could not do so since it had been suspended. The SADC tribunal was suspended last August pending proper reconstitution this year. "Nonetheless, I would like to congratulate President Jakaya Kikwete for reiterating during the just ended CCM congress that the matter will be solved peacefully and amicably.
"President Joyce Banda also wants the dispute to be solved peacefully. It is heartening that the two presidents are speaking the same language of peace," the Malawian Minister of Foreign Affairs said. He said the two countries cannot afford to go to war over the dispute, noting that; "We should use our resources for economic development and not to buy arms, it will be wastage of time."
For his part, Mr Membe reiterated that Tanzania will not use a single bullet in the disagreement since it was a diplomatic crisis. "We have agreed to disagree at this juncture but this matter will still be solved diplomatically. We hope that our fundamental differences will be solved amicably," the minister said.
The border dispute, which dates back half a century, threatened to sour relations between the two countries. Last month Malawi pulled out of talks after it accused Tanzania of intimidating Malawi fishermen, an accusation denied by the Tanzanian government.