Aklog Birara (Dr)
I have always argued that Egypt’s relentless proxy wars will undermine Ethiopian territorial integrity, sovereignty, and the unity of its diverse population. Egypt’s ultra nationalist and militaristic approach to the resolution of conflicts in Africa threatens peace and stability in the entire region.
It is not in the interest of the Sudanese and the Ethiopian peoples to follow Egypt’s edicts. The most sensible and rationale way out of the border conflict between the Sudan and Ethiopia is to arrive at a negotiated settlement. The two nations share a long history of mutual coexistence, culture, trade and a huge 1,600 KMs of border that has potential for more regional economic transformation. Egypt’s national interest is therefore not the same as that of the Sudan or Ethiopia.
Egypt’s historical track record with respect to Ethiopia confirms its constant perception that Ethiopia is a threat. Today, in encouraging a faction of the Sudanese transitional Government to go to war and annex Ethiopian territory, Egypt has demonstrated once again this misguided perception.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Arab world, the CIA and others encouraged, supported, trained, and financed Ethiopian liberation fronts. These mushrooming national liberation fronts had commonalities and a few differences. By and large, they embraced the common ideology of anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism, and anti-feudalism. The central tenet was and still is “national oppression,” where each front wishes to overthrow the perceived oppressor. Left unchallenged, this ideology has far reaching implications. It undermines Ethiopia’s territorial integrity, national security, sovereignty; and the unity of Ethiopia’ s diverse population.
As national liberation fronts, elites, most of them ethnic, believe that their primary obligation is to fight and gain independence from the “fictional” oppressor. A strong central Ethiopian Government is not in their interests. This is amply demonstrated by behaviors and actions of the quarrelsome, corrupt and anti-democratic TPLF junta.
At the forefront of these emerging fronts were the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). The latter led Eritrea’s 30-year war against Ethiopia that ended up in an independent state in 1993. The new state split from Ethiopia. As a result, Ethiopia became landlocked.
I recall the organized chorus in the Arab world led by Egypt, Iraq, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Syria, etc. to make the Red Sea entirely Arab. So, Egypt’s primary motive for supporting the ELF and the EPLF then was to severe Ethiopia from the Red Sea. This strategy worked as planned. Egypt, with support from the EPLF and TPLF achieved its strategic geopolitical goal.
Egypt calculated then that Ethiopia will someday construct hydroelectric and irrigation dams on the Blue Nile. Egypt believed that the best remedy is to frustrate and diminish Ethiopia’s agenda, for example, by preventing multilateral lenders such as the World Bank from financing such projects.
Egypt’s intransigence, diplomatic interventions against Ethiopia, its recurrent sponsorship of proxy and cyber security wars, etc. has cost Ethiopia hundreds of billions of investment dollars. It is true that Egypt has tried; but has not succeeded in conquering Ethiopia. But it continues to use its second-best option for which there is market demand in Ethiopia. This takes the the form of encouraging, sponsoring, training, financing, and arming national liberation fronts, and neighboring counties, especially Sudan.
After Eritrea became independent, the front that gained prominence is the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). During the time of President Clinton, TPLF Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister at the time and one of Ethiopia’s wealthiest men, was identified as among “Africa’s Renaissance Men.” The West overlooked that he was a Marxist and anti-imperialist during his formative age. He served the strategic purposes of external powers. Meles became a champion of anti-terrorism. A Marxist turned himself into a capitalist. He played a lead role in privatizing Ethiopian state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Privatized assets were literally turned over to a selected few Tigreans; and to other TPLF loyalists at huge costs to Ethiopian society.
It is important not to ignore the machination behind Meles’ decision to construct the GERD close to the Sudanese border; and his agreement with Egypt not to cause any harm in the process.
More relevant to my commentary, Meles was also among the “African Renaissance Men” who was minted and coveted by Egypt and the Sudan. The reader would remember the frequency of Meles’ participation in high level world forums, including the World Economic Forum in Davos.
I recognize the fact that Meles and the TPLF core leadership are no more. The junta is hidden in its foxhole somewhere in the Ethiopian highlands. There are still numerous TPLF look alike supported by Egypt. Although the TPLF junta is hiding in fox holes, the ideology and the worldwide the infrastructure that Meles’ front created; and the ethnic and language-based Constitution the TPLF crafted and institutionalized are still intact.
On the plus side of the equation, relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia have improved dramatically. With the demise of the TPLF, trade, people to people interactions and physical mobility will improve for the better. With each improvement, the peoples of these two brotherly/sisterly countries will benefit enormously. Sudan will also benefit hugely from this rapprochement.
Internally, the biggest obstacle for a healthy and beneficial restoration of relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia was the TPLF. This barrier is largely gone; though there are remnants of resistance among Tigrean-Ethiopians, most of them in the Diaspora.
It is worth repeating that the ideological legacy that the TPLF implanted in Ethiopian society is still intact. I have identified this harmful legacy as more dangerous than cancer and the current Pandemic. In its manifesto that it never changed, the TPLF identified another dimension to its anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism rhetoric. This is anti-national oppression. More specifically, the TPLF falsely stated that the Amhara nationality is an oppressor of not only Tigreans; but also, of other, nations, nationalities, and peoples. This in a concerted and calculated attempt to frame the false Amhara oppression on par with European colonialism and American imperialism.
Given this sensational, destructive, and false edict of national oppression of Tigrean-Ethiopians and other peoples in Ethiopia by the Amhara nationality, it goes without saying that, for copy-cat ethnic elites, the oppressed are morally and ethically justified to revolt, murder and ethnically cleanse, maim, subdue, and evict forcibly from lands Amhara wherever they live. It is also vital to remember that the Amhara believe in one, multiethnic and multifaith and unified and democratic Ethiopia in which each Ethiopian should have the right to live and work in any part of Ethiopia.
Further, the same group believes that the Amhara must not hold national policy and decision-making positions. This false narrative suits Egypt.
The Oromo National Liberation Front (OLF/Shine) and the Beni-Shangul Gumuz National Liberation Front adhere to the above edict. They continue to believe that the Amhara are colonizers and oppressors. More troubling, with documented evidence of financial support of external powers including Egypt, they commit genocide (example, in the town of Shashemene, in Beni Shangul Gumuz). We should always remember that the TPLF was among the leading agents of genocide and instability also fueled by external powers including Egypt.
The exception to this animosity towards Amhara and Ethiopian nationalism that took roots over more than 40 years of propagation by the TPLF is the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). This front has made a healthy transformation towards the ultimate objective of establishing an all-inclusive multinational, multiparty, democratic, and prosperous Ethiopian society.
This ultimate objective is possible. It requires more work. It requires sustained change in political culture. It requires a dramatic shift in the paradigm of thinking among all elites, intellectuals, and civil society.
How do fronts support themselves?
Fronts drum up popular support within by accusing the Amhara and other Pan-Ethiopian nationalist groups of being inimical to their financial, economic, natural resources and political interests. Among these variables, hegemony over lands features prominent. Given the agrarian and pastoral characteristic of the Ethiopian economy, conflict over lands is understandable. It is the primary source of livelihood.
However, ethnic cleansing, murders, wholesale massacres of innocent civilians and displacements based on ethnic and or religious affiliation are criminal acts. In addition to the untold human costs, these criminal acts undermine Ethiopia’s territorial integrity, national security, and sovereignty.
There is no plausible excuse not to hold regional authorities in Benishangul Gumuz accountable for crimes against humanity and for genocide. The same standards of accountability that the Federal Government of Ethiopia is applying about the TPLF junta must apply in this case, and every similar case.
Further, given the recurrent nature of ethnic atrocities in Benishangul Gumuz, Ethiopia needs to explore optimal solutions. This is because, Benishangul Gumuz is porous and serves as a hotbed of terrorist conflict.
Many observers genuinely believe that Egypt and extremists in the Sudan are channeling arms, training, financing, and encouraging the Benishangul Gumuz Liberation Front, jihadists, the OLF/Shine, and remnants of the TPLF.
Fortunately, the Government of Ethiopia, Ethiopia’s Defense Forces and Ethiopian society are fully cognizant of the machinations of internal fronts in concert with external powers.
What is the motive?
I will put this as bluntly as I can. Egypt is determined to scuttle or thwart Ethiopia’s national resolve to complete the GERD, one of Africa’s largest infrastructure. Egypt still believes that its colonial hegemony over the Nile is sacrosanct. Egypt emboldened a faction of the Sudanese Government in general and its military in particular because of this objective. Egyptian continued hegemony over the Nile is no longer viable. It is not in the interest of riparian nations, including Egyptian society.
Ethiopia and the Sudan share a huge border. They have a great deal in common. The unexpected military invasion by the Sudan and its annexation of large tracts of Ethiopian lands was timed opportunistically. The power behind this reckless adventure is Egypt. Egypt’s sole goal is to strengthen its hard-liner position on the GERD; and to pressure the Sudan to side with it on all matters.
On December 23, 2020, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying, “Egypt is following these dangerous field developments with great concern … and underlines the need to take all possible measures to guarantee that such incidents against Sudan will not be repeated in the future. “This is one week after Egypt had “condemned” an alleged “cross-border attack on Sudanese military” by Ethiopian military.
Ethiopia has repeatedly urged and called for peaceful and diplomatic consultation to resolve the border issue with the Sudan. This issue has been festering since the colonial era. Emperor Haile Selassie’s Government, the Military Socialist Government and the EPRDF Government have each followed an identical policy concerning the border with the Sudan. Ethiopia adheres to the same modalities of negotiation in accordance with international law and conventions that underpin border conflicts.
This is also the same line that Ethiopia adopted regarding the dispute and impasse on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (the GERD).
In emboldening the Sudan to go to war with Ethiopia and annex large tracts of Ethiopian lands, Egypt miscalculated the risks. Although both are members of the Arab League, Egypt and the Sudan also share a highly contentious and unresolved border issue. If the primary concern is the border, how come Egypt and the Sudan have not yet settled their contentious border problem?
In any case, I believe that the solution in both cases is peaceful negotiation and not aggression.
It is my considered opinion that Egypt’s strong statement supporting the Sudan is causally related to the off and or negotiations or impasse on Nile River talks.
I recall that Egypt and the Sudan conducted military exercises in the Sudan. Egypt provides military training to the Sudanese, etc. These are facts.
In summary, Sudan’s unprovoked invasion of Ethiopia and the annexation of Ethiopian territory is illegal. It is a violation of international law. I therefore condemn this aggression. I urge the Sudan to withdraw its military from Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Defense Forces are justified in repelling Sudanese aggression against Ethiopia; and in restoring annexed lands to the Ethiopian people.
I also condemn Egypt’s recurrent proxy wars against Ethiopia. The international community must demand that Egypt stop undermining Ethiopia’s territorial integrity, national security, sovereignty, and the unity of its diverse population.
The way forward is for the Sudan and Ethiopia to revert to peaceful negotiations.