Lake Malawi (Lake Nyasa, or Lago Niassa in Mozambique), is an African Great Lake and the southernmost lake in the East African Rift system, located between Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania. The third largest and second deepest lake in Africa, it is also the ninth largest in the world. It is reportedly the habitat of more species of fish than any other body of freshwater, including more than 1000 species of cichlids, and was officially declared a reserve by the Government of Mozambique on June 10, 2011
Lake Malawi is between 560 kilometres (350 mi) and 580 kilometres (360 mi) long, and about 75 kilometres (47 mi) wide at its widest point. The total surface area of the lake is about 29,600 square kilometres (11,400 sq mi). The lake has shorelines on western Mozambique, eastern Malawi, and southern Tanzania. The largest river flowing into it is the Ruhuhu River, and there is an outlet at its southern end, the Shire River, a tributary that flows into the very large Zambezi River in Mozambique.
The lake lies in a valley formed by the opening of the East African Rift, where the African tectonic plate is being split into two pieces. This is called a divergent plate tectonics boundary. It is variously estimated at about 40,000 years old or about one to two million years. The lake is about 350 kilometres (220 mi) southeast of Lake Tanganyika, another of the great lakes of the East African Rift.
European discovery and colonization
The Portuguese trader Candido José da Costa Cardoso was the first European to visit the lake in 1846. David Livingstone reached the lake in 1859, and naming it "Lake Nyasa". Much of the African region surrounding this lake was soon claimed by the British Empire and formed into the colony of Nyasaland. Although the Portuguese took control of the eastern shore of this lake, the island of Likoma was used as a mission station by the Universities' Mission to Central Africa, and as a result, Likoma and the nearby islet of Chizumulu were incorporated into Nyasaland rather than to Mozambique. Today, these islets form lacustrine exclaves: Malawian land surrounded by Mozambiquian waters.
On August 16, 1914, Lake Malawi was the scene of a brief naval battle when the British gunboat SS Gwendolen, commanded by a Captain Rhoades, heard that World War I had broken out, and he received orders from the British Empire's high command to "sink, burn, or destroy" the German Empire's only gunboat on the lake, the Hermann von Wissmann, commanded by a Captain Berndt. Rhoades's crew found the Hermann von Wissmann in a bay near "Sphinxhaven", in German East African territorial waters. Gwendolen disabled the German boat with a single cannon shot from a range of about 1,800 metres (2,000 yd). This very brief gunboat conflict was hailed by The Times in England as the British Empire's first naval victory of World War I. Up until that time, the lakeshore that is now in Tanzania had been a part of German East Africa.
The largest portion of the area of the lake is in Malawi. However, about a quarter of the area belongs to Mozambique. This area includes the waters surrounding the Malawian islets of Likoma and Chizumulu, which are this lake's only two inhabited islets. The islet of Likoma is dominated by a large stone and brick Anglican cathedral that was built by missionaries in the early 20th century. A notable feature of both islets is their significant number of baobab trees. The islets support a population of several thousand people, who in addition to being fishermen, grow plants such as cassavas, bananas, and mangoes for food.
The geographic name of the lake is disputed. Malawi claims that it is named "Lake Malawi", whereas other countries bordering on the lake, such as Mozambique and Tanzania, claim that the name is "Lake Nyasa". The origin of the dispute over the name has its background in geopolitical disputes that began before the independence of Malawi was achieved in 1964, when the territory had been known as "Nyasaland".
Further complications emerged for political reasons during the 1960s, when President Hastings Banda of Malawi became the only African leader to establish diplomatic relations with the white-ruled country of South Africa. This recognition of the South African regime was fiercely repudiated by almost all other African leaders, including President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania. This contrasting in policies toward South Africa gave some more impetus to disputes between Malawi and Tanzania, especially concerning the name of the lake itself — the water boundary between the two countries.
For this same lake, the name "Lac Maravi" had been used on the map of "Afrique sud" by J.B.B. d'Anville, which was published in France in 1749. David Livingstone's name for the lake was based on his colleague's misunderstanding of African languages of the area. When Livingstone asked his staff members, who were not from the area of the lake, to state its name for him, they said the word "nyasa", not realizing that this was the local word for any large body of water (such as a lake). In effect, "Lake Nyasa" literally means "Lake Lake". This name could also be spelled "niassa", "nyanja", or "nyanza", based on the other languages of the region.
Presently, the dispute between the two governments over the lake's name is mostly dormant. Diplomatic relations between Malawi and Tanzania, and the relationships between their wildlife police forces and other associations, are largely cordial..