A 50-year-old diplomatic row between Malawi and Tanzania over the ownership of resource rich Lake Nyasa/Malawi has flared again. Malawi is planning to take Tanzania to the International Court of Justice in the Hague. Malawi claims the entire northern half of the lake while Tanzania says it owns half of the northern area. The southern half is shared between Malawi and Mozambique. Gas finds in the region have made the row more intense.
Dilemmas over borders are commonplace in Africa, a continent that was bequeathed 103 border disputes by its former colonial rulers in 1884 and 1885. A diplomatic row over maritime territory has seen Somalia take Kenya to the International Court of Justice. A dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria over the Bakassi peninsula caused a lot of upheavals in the region. In the Great Lakes area, massive hydrocarbon finds in Lake Albert have caused unease. From the Gulf of Guinea to the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Rift valley, African maritime boundary disputes are expected to rise dramatically, potentially curbing ongoing and impending oil and gas explorations as countries seek to extend their continental shelf beyond the 200 mile economic exclusion zone. Over 90 billion barrels of oil have already been discovered, with potential for another 70-80 billion barrels.
It is urgent that Africa comes up with mechanisms that will address these disputes before they flare up and get out of hand, posing a threat to regional security. Meanwhile, 50 years of dispute over territory brings to question the region’s diplomatic and dispute settling mechanisms.