The Berlin Conference on Africa held in 1884-1885 was initiated by the German Chancellor Bismarck and convened by Belgian King Leopold II, and effectively cut the African continent into arbitrary pieces on the basis of colonial spheres of interest, allocating resources between the European powers. The geopolitical impact of these colonial divisions as an indirect source for regional conflict has been evident in the continent’s post-independence phase. Intrastate conflicts in Saharan Africa, the Congo Basin, the Gulf of Guinea and the African Great Lakes have been influenced by the entrenched colonial legacies left behind. Regional divisions and related territorial disputes have re-emerged as flashpoints of instability and conflict in the East African Great Lakes.
In this case Surestream Petroleum, have re-ignited sparks causing diplomatic uncertainty between Malawi and Tanzania. Lake Malawi/Nyasa is Africa’s third largest lake, with its Western and Southern shore lines in Malawi and Northern and Eastern shoreline across Tanzania and Mozambique. The disputed waters lie north of the Mozambique-Tanzania borderline, between Malawi and Tanzania. While Tanzania officially claims fifty per cent of the lake waters along the Tanzanian shoreline, Malawi vehemently opposes these claims, citing full ownership of the questioned waters under the principles of the Heligoland-Zanzibar treaty signed between the United Kingdom and the German Empire, also known as the Anglo-German Agreement of 1890. Both sides refer to different provisions of the same treaty to back their national claims over the lake waters.
The prospect of hydrocarbon wealth has created an optimistic mood around Malawi, an economy primarily dependent on small-scale agriculture and foreign aid. The lake emerges as the only prospective hydrocarbon deposit in Malawi. Malawi awarded Surestream Petroleum licenses for oil and gas exploration in the eastern section of the lake. Tanzania demanded a halt in exploration activities until the dispute over lake ownership was settled. Negotiations have not resulted in any sort of consensus, even with regards to arbitration.
East Africa is emerging as the next hydrocarbon frontier in Africa, and a majority of the nations are conducting extensive exploration-related operations. Oil and natural gas resources, in a majority of the region, have not been commercially exploited. The region encompasses some of the most sensitive ecosystems in the world and there is a need for a strong and thorough legal framework in order to avoid the infamous impacts of an ‘oil curse’ on society, economy, politics and inter-state relations.
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