Over two million Africans depend on the waters and shores of Lake Malawi for their livelihoods. The lake, which borders Malawi, Tanzania, and Mozambique, has historically belonged 100 percent to Malawi. However, Tanzania has now laid claim to 50 percent of the lake. The dispute between the two countries has been ongoing for the last fifty years, and has only recently come to a head as the result of oil exploration within the lake.
Malawi and Tanzania have submitted their position papers in preparation for the conflict mediation that will take place between March and May of this year, overseen by the African Forum.
The lives of two million Africans hang in the balance. About 1.5 million Malawians and 600,000 Tanzanians depend on Lake Malawi for their daily needs, including food, income, and transportation. As tension between the countries has heightened, Malawian fishermen have experienced abuse at the hands of Tanzanian security forces. One Malawian fisherman, while fishing on the Tanzanian side of the lake, reported being detained, beaten, and told never to fish on that side again. Tanzanian officials denied the harassment charges, and expressed concern over Malawian aircraft flying over Tanzania without permission.
Even as tensions over Lake Malawi have increased, residents continue to depend on the lake’s vast resources for their survival. For years, fishermen of both countries have been crossing the invisible border between the countries to fish the entire lake. Local residents depend on the lake’s 2,000 different fish species to support themselves and their families. As a result of being unable to fish the Tanzanian side of the lake, the Malawian fisherman has seen his income reduced from $286 per month to just $142.
The fishermen, as well as national authorities and NGO officials, express concern over what may come to pass if oil is discovered in Lake Malawi. The lake’s ecological diversity would most likely suffer as a result of oil exploration and drilling. Lake Malawi’s fish stocks have already declined from 30,000 to 2,000 tons per year over the last twenty years. The decline further endangers the livelihoods of local fishermen.
– Kat Henrichs
Source: All Africa