Lake Malawi Exploration Fuels Ownership Debate

Courtesy of The Financial Times, an example of the watergy nexus straining relations between two nations in Africa:

A 50-year-old border dispute has reignited between Malawi and Tanzania over ownership of Lake Malawi, Africa’s third largest lake. The reason? Oil and gas.

Malawi’s late president, Bingu wa Mutharika, awarded an exploration contract to UK company Surestream Petroleum during mounting tension over entitlement to the lake last October. Surestream was one of seven companies to bid for hydrocarbon exploration licenses in the Lake Malawi basin.

The fresh-water lake has been a frequent source of strained relations between the two countries. Until now, the consensus has given ownership of the lake to Malawi, despite Tanzania and Mozambique also being positioned along its shore.

Scientists that have studied the geology of the lake for the last 30 years say that its conditions are ideal for harbouring hydrocarbons which could herald a turning point for the Malawian economy.

“There is enough geological evidence suggesting the existence of thick sedimentary rock sequences and structures capable of trapping oil under Lake Malawi,” said Ibibia Worik, legal advisor at the Commonwealth Secretariat which is currently involved in legal procedures.

“A discovery would transform the Malawian economy from its current struggles into a multi-billion dollar one in an instant. Oil revenues, if properly managed, can transform not just Malawi’s economy, but the livelihoods of Malawians dramatically.”

Tanzania intends to officially claim part ownership of the lake, demanding that Malawi cease all oil and gas exploration activity until the issue is resolved. Tanzanian officials say the clash between the two governments could escalate and jeopardise stable relations if the lake’s exploration produces significant oil and gas discoveries.

Samuel Sitta, East African cooperation minister and former acting prime minister for Tanzania, recently said Tanzania was ready to respond to military confrontation.

Mganda Chiume, Malawi’s minister of foreign affairs, told beyondbrics, “As far as Malawi is concerned, the situation is legally very clear.” Surestream were contacted by beyondbrics but declined to comment.

The age-old dispute dates back to Malawi’s Kamuzu Banda regime which claimed full ownership of the lake based on the 1980 Anglo-German Heligoland Treaty, which puts the full body of water within Malawi’s boundaries.

Neighbouring Tanzania, however, argues that residents living along the lakeshores on the country’s southern border depend on it for their livelihoods.

The two governments are in talks to try to resolve the matter diplomatically. In a press conference last Friday, Chiume attempted to ease the tension, saying, “The fact that our two countries are engaged in open and cordial discussions over the issue is a very good sign and there should be no reason for any anxiety.”

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 9th, 2012 at 8:26 am and is filed under Tanzania.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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