The Queen of Sheba
The Sudanese army has made major incursions in the Ethiopian territory, as deep as 40 kms. It has killed several farmers, displaced over two hundred, and burnt crops, tractors and equipment estimated at one billion birr. And more. The cowardly—and disgraceful—betrayal took place just a week after Ethiopia got fully preoccupied in the conflict triggered by the Tigrayan cabal.
In my earlier piece “Somalia’s Miscalculation: A Reading for the Sudan” I lamented that “It is with deep regret—and wrath—that we are witnessing the invasion of Ethiopian territories by curiously aggressive Sudanese army at a time when Ethiopia has been preoccupied in a major endeavor to bring the rebellious TPLF cabal to justice—an effort hailed by many, including the African Union Commission.”
Now that the Tigray operation is effectively over, one would expect the Sudan to de-escalate the situation. But to the contrary, it is pushing with a new offensive while declaring a propaganda war play-acting as a victim of the Ethiopian army and air forces.
Earlier on a Sudanese army general bombastically pronounced that “We have re-taken 80 percent of our land that was occupied by Ethiopia 26 years ago…”. It appeared that the renewed offensive is to complete the remaining 20 percent. What is however perplexing is that the Sudanese incursion is happening far and beyond the disputed borders.
When one examines another debacle on the current GERD negotiations, where the Sudan is dangerously wobbling, it shows a country with multiple—and powerful—players in the region—and within the country. The struggle within the two power structures—of the civilian and the military—in the country is manifested in these incoherent pronouncements—and actions. It makes it all the more difficult for Ethiopia to deal with these provocations—and thus any action requires extreme care, a big dose of wisdom—and immense patience.
It is, of course, imperative that Ethiopia pushes on multiple diplomatic fronts—primarily with IGAD and the African Union to resolve this matter amicably—and peacefully. In doing so, it should not also overlook friendly Arab countries, though the Arab League, as a body, has been historically hostile.
The Nose Versus the Head
In a press conference on 12 January 2021, the spokesperson of the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry, Ambassador Dina Mufti, in reaction to the aggressive attack stated that the Sudanese “force is seizing more lands in violation of the agreement reached between the two countries. Ethiopia has been working patiently to resolve the issue peacefully and through dialogue, realizing that war will not be an option for the problem. Any type of unilateral exercise is not helpful in finding a lasting solution and what Sudan is doing at the moment is unprecedented and it did not reflect the interest of its people.”
In a charming and simple, but powerful, analogy using key body parts, he underscored the virtue of patience. He proclaimed: “You may not promptly opt to punch back someone on the nose in a self-defence, as you may chop off his head later.” (Author’s translation from Amharic.)
One would remain hopeful that neither the nose nor the head would be a victim of this miscalculated provocation. If, however the nose or the head is to be appropriately dealt with, it should be executed methodically, patiently and vigorously.
I wonder why Ethiopia should go for the head when the Sudan has gone for the nose. While the chopping of the head may remain as a last resort, Ethiopia could go for arms, fingers or other critical body parts. For instance, Ethiopia should leave all its options on the table including a measured incursion to any part of the Sudanese territory along the long stretch of their common borders. Who said, it should be an eye for an eye? A head for an eye is equally, if not more, mortal as an effective deterrent.
Ethiopia may consider bringing the conflict to a different level by overstretching the Sudanese army to defend its long borders. This would be a colossal task for the Sudan as the UN peacekeeping forces are leaving its troubled regions.
Well, many vulnerable spots in the Sudan are public secret.
Consolidating the National Forces
Time and again, Ethiopia has confronted invasion and betrayal by neighbors—and others beyond. It has witnessed provocation and outright wars when they felt that the country is at its most vulnerable—as in now. This leaves the country with no option but to defend itself by all means necessary—regardless of the cost.
The first important action should be rallying the country behind the government similar to the operation in Tigray. And more so, when the invader is a foreign force, galvanizing the country, history shows, may not be that difficult a task. Victory is inevitable when an army is fully endorsed and supported by its people.
The second critical action should be consolidating all the national and regional forces under one central command. In this case, all the special forces of the regions—whose constitutionality has been a subject of conversation for a while now—could be strategically and systematically integrated into the force—in the process building a massive, well-organized and formidable force.
It is important to recall the history of the Ethio-Somalia war of the 1970s, when the country trained and equipped 300,000 militias in three months to defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country. With an already trained, equipped and armed special forces, the task this time should be much easier, notwithstanding the political wind that this may cause. But, this could be successfully defended in the interest of the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Third, all political parties, specially the more prominent ones, should speak in one loud voice—and send unequivocal message denouncing the invasion and mobilizing citizens to stand behind the government. Squabbling over zonal infractions and internal political matters must give way to national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Countries which are feeding, drinking and living off of Ethiopia continue to be aggressive, deceitful, ungrateful—and greedy towards it. Ethiopians should stand shoulder-to-shoulder to thwart the Sudanese aggression—backed by known historical enemies whose undying wish has been a weak—and divided—Ethiopia.
No amount of resources and energy is big enough to defend the invasion of the country.
But patience is a virtue. And yes, a head is more rewarding than a nose—and thus worth the wait.