Malawian government authorities are denying reports that they expelled Tanzania’s High Commissioner to Malawi, Patrick Tsere, for remarks he made about the ongoing border dispute between the two countries over Lake Malawi.
“What we know as a government is that the Tanzanian government has responded on the issues that were raised by [Malawian] President Joyce Banda, which also led to the suspension of talks on the lake dispute with our counterparts on the other side,” Malawi’s Foreign Affairs Minister Ephraim Mganda Chiume said on October 13.
Chiume was commenting on a report carried by online newspaper Malawi Voice, which claimed that Tsere had been declared persona non grata and ordered to leave the country within 48 hours.
Tsere has also denied this, saying: “The reports have no substance and are aimed at disrupting the relations between Tanzania and Malawi.”
“So far, nobody has contacted me … and I am carrying on with my duties as usual,” he said.
He said he was in fact hosting a dinner for a group of Tanzanian Members of Parliament attending a Southern African Development Corporation (SADC) MPs Conference in Malawi.
Tsere said the reports of his expulsion stemmed from an interview he did with a Malawian journalist on October 12.
“During the course of that interview, the issue of the ongoing Tanzania-Malawi border dispute emerged and I duly responded in line with my [Tanzanian] government’s stand. To the best of my knowledge I did not say anything wrong against the Malawi government to warrant such action,” he explained.
He added that referring to the water body as “Lake Malawi” was incorrect.
“This is not Lake Malawi, it’s Lake Nyasa and it’s owned by all of us: [Tanzania], Malawi and even Mozambique has a share in it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chiume told reporters on October 11 that Malawian President Joyce Banda was courting US petroleum giant Chevron to invest in oil exploration on the lake.
He said Banda had held talks with Chevron’s exploration chief for the Africa region, Ali Moshiri, on September 28, when she was in New York for the UN General Assembly meeting.
He said she “met a lot of potential investors and Chevron was just one of them.”
“The meeting had nothing to do with UK’s Surestream Petroleum, which was given a license by our government to explore for hydrocarbons in Lake Malawi,” Chiume added.
Surestream announced recently announced that it was bringing its equipment and experts to Malawi to start exploration activities by the end of the year.
Malawi’s decision to grant the company a license for oil exploration last year rekindled tensions with Tanzania over the lake.
Malawi claims the entire lake as its own on the basis of a 1890 treaty between former colonial powers Great Britain and Germany, which it says was later reaffirmed by the Organization of Africa Unity (now the African Union).
But Tanzania charges that the Anglo-Germany Treaty that gave Malawi sole ownership of the whole lake was flawed.
Chiume told reporters last week that Malawi is ready to go back to the negotiating table with Tanzania on condition that the UN Secretary General’s office be the mediator and that Tanzania commit itself to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) determinations.
“By engaging the United Nations, Malawi feels the matter would easily
fall into the ICJ machinery as its a UN organ,” said Chiume.
However, he added: “We will be asking Tanzania what value will [the SADC or AU] mediation add to the legal dispute. We will also look at the legal opinions of the two countries’ attorney generals.”
Malawi pulled out of the talks over the disputed lake with neighboring Tanzania following reports that Tanzanian authorities had issued a new map showing half of the lake in its territory, and that Tanzanian security personnel were patrolling the territory and harassing Malawians, a charge Tanzania denies this.
Meanwhile, the Malawi Defense Force "is ready to protect citizens and the interests of the country," the Sunday Times newspaper quoted Army Commander General Henry Odillo as saying.
"Peace in Malawi will be there, and we can assure Malawians that they are safe," he said.
He added that it was "critical that the country should remain peaceful and stable to move forward...the society and individuals should use combined effort to ensure that this is sustained."
Great Britain, Malawi's former colonial power, has urged both Malawi and Tanzania to resolve the ongoing border dispute peacefully.
British High Commission spokesman Kirk Hollingsworth said: "We are encouraged by the commitment of both governments to a peaceful resolution of the dispute.”