By: Merhatsidk MekonnenAbayneh
Having enjoyed for long the status of good neighbors sharing much in common due to geographical proximity and socio-cultural interaction, Sudanese and Ethiopians know each other quite well when it comes to border skermishes for quite a while. It is not that strange for both neighboring countries to test each other’s muscles and war machines since the international border they do share in hundreds of k.ms has not been drawn properly almost for 118 years now.
Sudan was still under colonial occupation when the UK Empire commissioned Major Charles Gwynn, the British Royal ingineer to draw a line defining the common border with neighboring Ethiopia in 1902 without the participation of Ethiopian representatives. In fact, that one-sided demarcation has never been accepted since then by Emperor MenilikII and the subsequent rulers of Ethiopia still generating and refreshing border-driven disputes and conflicts to date.
Taking note of this perpetual uncertainty, therefore, the two nations luckily convened in Addis Ababa on February 17 1972 to exchange notes in relation to their controversial boundary disputes. However, that mere exchange of notes between the two disputing nations could not suffice to settle the controversy or as well as make arrangements in a bid to stop banditry and establish peaceful coexistence among their respective communities. In other words, it did not produce a viable long-term solution inasmuch as it had not succeeded to redefine where the boundary should run over the Baro salient.
In fact, it is that sole framework accord having been reached in Addis Ababa between them that still serves as acredible instrument in an effort to maintain the existing status-quo and confine them with the existing territorial portions controlled by their respective forces on both sides of the common border.
On this account, one could have observed on the ground only minor clashes and small-scale exchanges of fire between and among their armed militia elements and local communities usually vying for the temporary capture of fertile agricultural farmlands ssuch as the Al-Fashga in the area.
- The Law-Enforcement Operation and its Fallout
Following the recent law-enforcement operation launched in Tigray by the Federal Government of Ethiopia against the TPLF rebels amid the latter’s sudden and devastating attack on the Northern Command of the National Defense Force of the country on November 4 2021, however, it is a piety that the Government of a sisterly-looking nation in the position of Sudan took advantage of the gap created by the incident and was irresponsibly emboldened to launch another invasion on Ethiopia from aback using its regular and mechanized army 40 through 50 k.ms deep into the country ruthlessly killing innocent civilians and looting or destroying massive property in clear violation to and gross defiance of the Ethiopian sovereignty ever challenging our tolerance as a friendly and peace-loving neighbor.
- What Triggers Sudan to Invade Ethiopia this time around?
Given the fairly modest track record of our longstanding relationships, this writer is not pretty sure if the present-day administration of the Sudan stood for a while and ever thought of its instinctual action against Ethiopia this time, primarily from a broader national interest perspective. Having been bitterly divided between the civilian administration led by Dr. Abdalla Hamdok and the military faction headed by Gen. Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, it is fair to say that the country virtually lacks a legitimate and competent constitutional authority capable of making high-level and extra ordinary decisions both on crucial political and military matters.
Although there has been established a, sort of, Transitional Civilian vs. Military authority in the form of a Transitional Sovereign Council on August 20 2019 for a 39-month transitional period until the upcoming election shall have taken place in November 2022 , it is the military wing of the poorly unified, (if not a fractured regime), that appears to dictatorially command the upper hand in the overall direction and manipulation of the nation’s public affairs in that polarized East African State at present having deliberately sidelined its civilian ally contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitutional Declaration.
Unfortunately, the latest incursion of the Sudanese army deep into Ethiopia’s territory on several directions follows our undesired pre-occupation with another front in an effort to neutralize and remove the domestic threat posed on the country by the TPLF trouble makers on the run.In what it amounts to an open betrayal of a good friend at the moment of distress, the Sudanese provocation came at the time when Ethiopia had to mobilize much of its resources and fully concentrate on its large-scale law-enforcement operation against the blatant and treasonous attack by its domestic destabilizer.
In a futile attempt to eronneously justify his territorial annexation, Lieuftenant- General Abdelfattah Al Burhan, Chief of the Sudanese Transitional Sovereign Council was not shy to tell the press that he had already been advised by Dr. Abiy Ahmed, the Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to watch and take care of their common border region until such time that the National Defense Force will have finalized its Tigrean operation and returned to its garrisons. Yet, this rather improbable utterance has not so far been confirmed on the part of his Ethiopian counterpart.
Assuming that such an assertion is said to be genuine, though, the Sudanese General can convince nobody else, except himself, of the fact that he had been issued with a free and extended license to invade a neighboring country under the guise of a friendly request for a smooth collaboration with respect to the management of their porous boundary. Of course, it is ridiculous,though, to believe that a country invites an external military force to come and occupy its territory and keep on digging massive trenches for a rather prolonged stay.
What matters most to the latest Sudanese ill-advised provocation has to do with Egyptian assignment extended to it with a view to embarrassing Ethiopia engaging both downstream countries as far as the equitable utilization and exploitation of the Nile Waters is concerned.
Let us not have a false impression here that Sudan is more a friend for Egypt, its another neighbor than it is for Ethiopia. Undeniably, both are Arabic speaking neighbors and by extention pioneering members of the Arab League. Yet, Sudan and Egypt are, by far, not good friends as such eying each other with love and harmony. In actual fact, Egypt tends to give an impression to the outside world that Sudan is one of its key provinces instead of a sovereign state whom to treat and interact with in an equal manner.
More over, it is interesting to note that Sudan has more than enough squabbles and long-running wrangles with the Arab Republic of Egypt over a dozen of matters which cut across their multiple relations. Of paramount importance amid the chain of their outstanding controversies is the profound issue of the Halaib triangle, a huge territorial chunk which Egypt has forcefully annexed and continues to occupy as of 1990, although it happens to be strongly claimed by the successive Sudanese regimes as initially belonging to them ever since the liberation of their country from the British colonial Rule in 1956.
On several occasions, Khartoum tends to cast doubt in the quality of its relations with Egypt as its mild enemy due to this discouraging record. Thus, the ill-advised encroachment which the Sudanese Government has been taking against Ethiopia as of mid December 2020 ought to be viewed more as an aggression by proxy inspired by the “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” than a self-ingineered action.
In real terms, Egypt is a misguided and perplexed nation from the very outset which persistently presents itself as number. one hydro-hegemonic power in the entire sub-region. Particularly, the country is enemical to the multi-faceted development and transformation of Ethiopia using its own natural resources including the Nile tributaries from the time immemorial. That is the wicked wish which the present Sudanese Government would like to desperately promote as an evil intruder by having committed unexpected aggression against Ethiopia on behalf of Egypt, its another formidable foe.
In connection with this, a fresh military cooperation pact had to follow suit and be signed in Khartoum between Sudan and Egypt on March 4 2021 in what appears to look like a concerted alliance against Ethiopia over the 2nd stage water filling of the Great Ethiopian renaissance Dam under construction. On top of this, President Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, the Chief of the Sudanese Transitional Sovereign Council persuaded his Egyption counterpart to come and visit him in Khartoum on March 4 2021, ever to happen for the very first time since the overthrow of Omar Al Bashir, the former dictator of the Sudan. Amid tight security, El Sisi, on his part, did not help, but proclaim out to the world that he will, for whatever reason, stand by the side of the Sudan in any of its engagements with neighboring Ethiopia.
Whether this kind of irresponsible rhetoric will, indeed, be in the lasting interest of our Sudanese friends at large drinking from one and the same water body remains to be seen on the ground as time progresses.
- Signing off
By and large, Ethiopia prefers diplomacy to be used and exploited at best for an amicable resolution of its standoff with the Sudan. Nevertheless, that low appetite for military solution to any emerging hostility in favor of peaceful co-existence should not be misinterpreted for a weakness in terms of defending our sovereign unity and territorial integrity, if and when so required under the circumstances.
As far as we know, Sudan itself is a terribly polarized nation with its own immediate and outstanding priorities to tackle rather than plunge itself into another bloody confrontation having created another external foe. Hence, Al Burhan must show remorse and withdraw his aggressive troops from our territories they have occupied without any precondition.
Being a trusted agent of a third party master, what he has been doing for and on behalf of Egypt, a strategic enemy of the Sudan to his own full comprehension, with little mental processing of his instinctual actions beyond the border won’t pay him much apart from ultimately harming his country already ravaged by its own internal friction and instabilities.