TANZANIA and Malawi submitted letters of application to the Chairperson of the Forum of Former African Heads of State and Governments, Mr Joaquim Chissano, requesting the Forum to mediate the Lake Nyasa border dispute, after the two countries failed to reach a consensus.
Mr Chissano, who is also former President of Mozambique, received the letters from foreign affairs ministers of the two countries in Maputo on Friday.
The ministers were accompanied by their Attorneys General. The African forum is made up of retired democratically-elected presidents from Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries.
The Tanzanian Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, Mr Bernard Membe, told reporters that the forum was expected to work on the dispute within four months from the day of submission. "Former presidents from countries in the dispute (Tanzania, Malawi and Zanzibar) will not be involved in the mediation process," he said.
Mr Membe who was accompanied by Attorney General, Judge Frederick Werema stressed that Tanzania was confident that the matter would be ruled in its favour. "History speaks itself in such disputes.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has always ruled in favour of the median line border, as guided by the Customary International Law which states that when water bodies lie between two or three countries, the median line forms the boundary," he said.
He also said Tanzania has a firm trust in the SADC, saying its leaders are well informed about the nature of the dispute. "We are not worried at all. Even Mr Chissano himself comes from a country which had a similar problem, but was solved amicably in 1953.
The 1890 treaty which gives opportunity for two countries to meet and decide on the suitable borderline was cited," he said. Unfortunately, by the time Mozambique was negotiating the matter, Tanganyika which was Trustee under the British government, could not, as Malawi was also under the same colonial ruler, whereas the agreement provides for negotiation between two states with a different leadership, he said.
Malawi was represented by its Foreign Minister Ephraim Chiume and its Attorney General, Judge Anthony Kamanga. Neighbouring Malawi is claiming all of the northern part of Lake Nyasa, citing the Heligoland Treaty of 1890 between Britain and Germany.
Malawi was then under British rule while Tanganyika was a German colony. On her part, Tanzania wants a partition drawn in the middle of the lake, stressing that this is the practice among countries which share water bodies. Malawi's decision to give whole exploration rights to a British company, Surestream, ignited the current dispute.
Receiving the applications, Mr Chissano said he was humbled by the trust the two countries have put in the forum, and that he would make sure a solution would be worked out. "We (the forum) have happily accepted the task. We know that it is not easy but we will make sure we find a solution," he said.
He added that members of the forum will meet after the holidays to determine the date to start discussing the matter. "We will be guided by the interests of both countries when seeking a lasting solution to the dispute," he said. Mr Membe and Chiume thanked Mr Chissano for receiving the applications, adding they were confident the forum would come up with a permanent solution.