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Of Ethiopia-Sudan Border Dispute and Why Abiy Ahmed is Suddenly a 'Peace Lover'



I haven’t kept the count of the number of times Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed has used very conciliatory words as regards the ongoing border dispute between Ethiopia and Sudan. The point of contention is a piece of land in the Fashga region along the two countries’ borders and which also borders both Ahmara and Tigray regions of Ethiopia. This is a fertile piece of land which legally belongs to Sudan under the 1902 colonial protocols but largely inhabited by Ahmara (Ethiopian) farmers. Now. It is actually the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) regime which ruled Ethiopia for the last three decades and which Abiy is currently waging war against, that formerly accepted to “return” the said disputed land to Sudan in the mid-90s after years of occupation partly sparked by alleged Sudan’s plan to assassinate then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarrak in Addis Ababa. There seems to have been some sort of consensus between Addis Ababa and Cairo to emasculate Sudan and part of that was through annexation of Sudan’s territories by Ethiopia and Egypt. That is how Egypt occupied the disputed Hayaleb.


Today the dynamics have significantly shifted. The TPLF is out of power in Addis Ababa. Egypt and Ethiopia are locked in a bitter quarrel over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) that has since pushed the two countries to the very edge of war. Sudan happens to be extremely important to Ethiopia right now because it has issues over GERD too and Ethiopia cannot lose Sudan to Egypt at this point in time. There are a number of reasons why PM Abiy needs Sudan much closer more than ever at this point in time. Abiy is currently busy waging a very controversial internal war against the TPLF which formerly allowed Sudan to have its rightful territory back. Tens of thousands of Ethiopians who have since freed the fighting in Tigray are currently refugees in Sudan. If TPLF were to evolve into an insurgence – which is highly likely – it will most likely wage its anti-Addis Ababa armed campaign from Sudan’s territory, particularly Kassala because the region’s remoteness and proximity makes it strategic for this purpose. Arguably, the last thing Abiy would want to imagine is the TPLF aligning with the Sudan and getting support from Sudan against Addis Ababa. Furthermore, the disputed land is occupied by Ahmara farmers and Abiy has been – which is a terrible strategic error, in my view – using Ahmara militias alongside the federal army, and allegedly Eritrean forces, to fight TPLF in Tigray. These dynamics makes it complicated for Abiy and he just must take a conciliatory stance as regards Sudan.


On the other hand, Abiy is faced with many other internal political problems including a possible internal armed conflict (war) against another of Ethiopia’s internal anti-Addis Ababa faction; the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Abiy is on record declaring that the OLF should be eliminated. Having illustrated his willingness to jump into a military option, through the case of Tigray, there is reason to believe that he might actually seek to use federal forces to ‘eliminate’ the OLF in Oromia region, which has been waging a struggle against Addis Ababa for decades. Recently, an assassination of a prominent Oromo activist musician, Hachalu Hundessa, exposed the volatility of relations between Oromia and Addis Ababa. Additionally, Abiy has to closely check the Gambela region especially because of the region’s likelihood to engage in an irredentist war, like the Kenya-Somali Shifta war of the 70-80s, especially should a Nuer-led regime were to emerge in South Sudan. This is because, basically the people who occupy the Gambela region of Ethiopia are national (ethnic) Nuers, who have been waging an armed conflict against a Dinka-led Juba regime since South Sudan’s independence nearly a decade ago.


Furthermore, Abiy has, unfortunately so, to keep massaging Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki’s huge ego, including his known desire for revenge against TPLF and his unending quest to meddle in Somalia and so on. This, Abiy may do for whatever reasons, ranging from keeping their newfound friendship with Afwerki, to guarding his (Abiy’s) clandestine dealings with Asmara. Lastly, Abiy has to carefully “manage” the Somalia transition especially at this point in time when Mogadishu and Nairobi are at loggerheads. So. Abiy’s is a full plate and it does not look great. Partly due to his recent strategic mistakes such as waging war against the TPLF whose real impact and cost is yet to be felt by a larger part of Ethiopia and the region. With all these, I would therefore think, that one of the things that Abiy cannot afford at this point in time is enter into an active confrontation with Sudan over a border dispute yet what is actually happening over there is a more legitimate cause for war than, for example, the reasons he gave for his ‘law enforcement operation’ in in Ethiopia’ ‘breakaway’ region of Tigray. That is why Abiy’s tone as regards the matter with Sudan is totally unlike his. In the last few days, he has probably mentioned brotherhood and dialogue than all regional leaders combined.

Of Ethiopia-Sudan Border Dispute and Why Abiy Ahmed is Suddenly a 'Peace Lover' Of Ethiopia-Sudan Border Dispute and Why Abiy Ahmed is Suddenly a 'Peace Lover' Reviewed by Ibrahim Magara on December 22, 2020 Rating: 5

1 comment:

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