New Malawi president stakes claim to lake

Blantyre (Malawi) (AFP)

Malawian President Peter Mutharika has affirmed his country’s claim to Lake Malawi as a feud simmers with neighbouring Tanzania over the vast territory where both sides are hoping to find oil.

“We are not going to go to war but the lake has been ours for 104 years,” Mutharika told a news conference in the capital Lilongwe late Tuesday, broadcast on public television.

“The law is very clear, I think there is very little room for negotiations on the issue of the lake, but I think we will find a way to settle this out with Tanzania,” he said, the first time he has spoken out on issue since taking power on May 31.

Based on an 1890 colonial agreement, Malawi claims ownership of the whole of Lake Malawi, which is believed to hold both oil and gas reserves.

Tanzania insists that half falls within its borders and is already eyeing it for natural gas exploration.

Mutharika said he met his Tanzanian counterpart Jakaya Kikwete during the US-Africa summit in Washington last week and invited him “to come and fish at the lake”.

Former president Joyce Banda, defeated by Mutharika in the May poll, had often threatened to take the dispute to the International Court of Justice.

The contentious part is a largely undeveloped swathe of the lake in the northeastern waters near Tanzania, where late president Bingu wa Mutharika, the incumbent’s elder brother, allowed a British firm to explore for oil.

The 29,600-square-kilometre (11,400-square-mile) mass is Africa’s third-largest fresh water body and lies in the Great Lakes system stretching along the East African Rift.

It is a major tourism attraction in Malawi and straddles one third of the country’s territory.

Tanzania calls it Lake Nyasa, taken from Malawi’s colonial name.

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