Oil and Water Don’t Mix in Lake Malawi Border Dispute

In the search for oil and natural gas, Africa’s third largest lake has become a political battlefield.

Circle of Blue Lake Malawi satellite

ESA via Flickr Creative Commons
Lake Malawi, also known as Lake Nyasa, is one of the African Great Lakes that lies in the Eastern Rift Valley. It is more than 700 meters (2,300 feet) deep at its deepest point.

It’s not so much the water that Tanzania and Malawi are quarreling about, but rather, what lies beneath it. That’s because the sediments beneath Lake Malawi, or Lake Nyasa as it is known in Tanzania, are rumored to hold large reserves of oil and natural gas—reserves that both countries hope to exploit.

But there is a significant snag. While the lake borders Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania, a colonial-era document gives ownership of the entire lake to Malawi. Tanzania, however, claims that 50 percent of the lake lies within its territory, and has requested that Malawi halt exploration for oil. Malawi has so far refused.

The countries’ presidents are expected to meet within the next week to discuss the issue, and Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has said her country will avoid war. But even if the two leaders can come to an agreement, other challenges could arise. As local media outlet the Tanzania Daily News wrote: “[The lake] is home to over 2,000 different fish species and oil exploration on the freshwater lake will likely rile environmentalists who fear it will disturb its ecosystem.”

With growing water scarcity, which has been linked to global security issues, the large volume of freshwater contained in Lake Malawi may soon become more valuable than any hydrocarbons hidden in its depths.

What are your thoughts on the Lake Malawi border dispute? Have any opinions on oil exploration in one of the world’s largest freshwater lakes? CContact Codi Yeager

–Codi Yeager-Kozacek
Circle of Blue Reporter

1 reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply