Malawi Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, Bright Msaka pledged this week that the country would proceed with oil and gas exploration on Lake Malawi (also known as Lake Nyasa).
Msaka dismissed the July 29 request by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) World Heritage Center that the Malawi government suspend oil exploration in Lake Malawi National Park, which was designated a World Heritage Site in 1984, and re-affirm the country’s commitment to preserve the site.
Speaking to Malawian radio on August 9th, Msaka said “Our concerns is not about environmentalist(s). We care about Lake Malawi and we would not want (the lake) to be polluted…Technology today makes it possible that we drill on the land not on the lake.”
Environmentalists insist that exploration concessions are a play for sub-lake oil and gas that will inevitably involve drilling on the lake.
Oil exploration is viewed as a threat to the lake’s population of cichlids, a species of fish which is a key source of protein to many Malawians, as well as to drinking water quality, at a time when the country is grappling with scarcity and quality issues.
A complication is that, while Malawi claims the entire northern part of the lake based on colonial-era treaties between Great Britain and Germany, neighboring Tanzania claims that its border with Malawi runs through the middle of the lake, and that the water body is a shared resource.
The long-running territorial dispute resurfaced in 2011, when Malawi granted UK-based Surestream Petroleum permission to explore for oil and gas in the lake. Tanzania said it should have been consulted before the permits were issued.
The countries opted two years ago for mediation by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) forum of former heads of state to settle the issue.
In 2015 SADC mediators proposed a resource-sharing agreement between the two countries, suggesting that economic integration was the solution to the problem. The Malawi and Tanzania governments have insisted they will not change their stance on ownership of the lake.