Malawi and Zambia struggle to mark their border | NRS-Import | DW | 09.07.2009
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Malawi and Zambia struggle to mark their border

Malawi and Zambia are in a race against time to beat an African Union 2010 deadline to have their boundaries marked amid one of the oldest resolutions of a conference held in Berlin in 1884.

AU delegations attend the opening session of the 13th African Union summit

The African Union wants countries to pay themselves for border posts

The two countries have already covered 200 kilometers using their own resources and are now seeking financial assistance from cooperating partners such as the African Union to fund the remaining 604.5 km-stretch that they share.

But AU Commission spokesperson Habib Medricheikh said the countries are responsible to finance the project through their own funds. "We agreed that countries with border disputes must raise own resources for the exercise. We have no funds for that."

The Zambia-Malawi frontier, which spans from the south of Malawi to the north of Zambia, is the longest frontier that Zambia shares with its eight neighbours, covering a distance of just over 800 km.

"It is imperative that our commitment should transfer into action on the ground so that our assignment can be concluded before 2010. I am hopeful that the AU will source enough funds to support us in achieving our commitment," said Khumbo Chirwa Malawi's former Minister of Lands and Physical Planning.

"Our two governments recognize the need to demarcate the boundary between our two countries in order to safeguard our peaceful co-existence and development," said Zambia's Minister of Lands Peter Daka.

The Scramble for Africa

The boundary dispute between Zambia and Malawi traces its origins indirectly to events that happened in 1855. During that year Leopold II, the King of Belgium, took the Congo as his personal fiefdom and become one of the most despised men in the period of African colonization. Leopold wanted on of the Congo's main resources, rubber, and did not care how he got it.

Picture of Otto von Bismarck

Otto von Bismarck convened the conference at which Africa was divided up

This prompted then German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck to call for a conference of 14 nations in Berlin in November 1884 to find a peaceful way to settle the dispute over the Congo. The conference, in what has become to be known as the Scramble for Africa, decided who should have what, curving up such states as Belgian Congo, British East Africa, French Equatorial Africa and German South West Africa. Malawi and Zambia ended up under British East Africa rule.

AU directive on boundary demarcation

In 2004, the AU Commission directed African countries to demarcate their boundaries to avoid future disputes. The demarcation is also to ensure that both people and governments should know the extent of their countries and come up with their developmental programmes in the right places such as houses, gardens, farms, schools, clinics and roads.

They are also expected to place proper beacons along their boundaries. In addition to the survey instruments maps are supposed to be handed over to the AU by 2010 and later be forwarded to the United Nations to avert future dispute on borders, the directive says. It is the same directive that has seen Nigeria and Cameroon, Namibia and Botswana and Eritrea and Ethiopia sort out their border disputes.

Communities living along the frontiers

"The British Colonial administration did not put physical beacons because they thought it was not necessary since they were ruling both countries," Zambia's Surveyor General Danny Mubanga said.

Malawi government officials said they consider the stability of communities living along the international boundary as basis for socio-economic growth saying that will add to the economic growth of the two countries.

There have been protracted land disputes between people living along the frontier and both countries have had to intervene to settle the disputes. Mubanga said communities living along the boundary, including chiefs have been sensitized to lessen misunderstandings and unnecessary problems for the field survey parties.

Logo of the United Nations

The results of the border survey will be handed over to the United Nations

Malawi's Surveyor General Daniel Gondwe said the Joint Survey Team had already conducted a series of sensitization meetings with District Commissioners and local communities from both countries.

"We emphasized to people that they should continue using their houses or farmland even if it will be found in another country until the two governments come up with a final solution."

"But they must not build new houses or extend their farm land. They must also continue with cultural activities including burial sites," Gondwe said. Mubanga also said communities living along the border should realize that this exercise is not intended to divide the people of the two countries saying that they share common cultural values.

Author: Collins Mtika

Editor: Michael Knigge

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