Led by two of the newest faces in East African politics, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali’s Ethiopia and transitional president Abdalla Hamdock’s Sudan find themselves in active border disputes over historically contentious territory between the border dividing the two countries. During the reposting of the Ethiopian Military forces in the Al-Fashaga triangle to face the TPLF in Tigray, it was reported that Sudanese troops advanced into the contested area to control eleven Ethiopian military and militia settlements in Sudan before advancing into Ethiopian territory, causing harm to the person and harvest of Ethiopians living in the area. It was also reported, that between 9 November 2020 and 27 December 2020, there was mobilization of weapons, machinery and heavy artillery in the border areas as well as offensives directed at Ethiopian territories.
It was in this context that it was reported that an attack at the hands of the Amhara militia had claimed the lives of four Sudanese security officials as well as wounding at least twelve more in an attack in the al-Qadarif province of the Eastern parts of Sudan. Centered at the Al-Fashaga triangle - a historically contested area near the Ethio-Sudanese border - the heads of state and high ranking officials from both countries have carried out visits to Khartoum and Addis Ababa, as well as a meeting between Hamdock and Abiy during the regional summit in Djibouti. However, with no concrete development from either side pointing towards a peaceful end to the conflict, the issue remains unsolved.
Rooted in the fact that the demarcation of borders of Ethiopia’s neighbouring countries was done by colonial powers, the conflict between Ethiopia and Sudan is one that has recurred throughout the historic and modern existence of either country. However, unlike other times Addis Zeybe contends that Ethiopia finds itself in different circumstances with conflict brewing in different parts of the country, Sudan’s increased geopolitical relevance and the lack of a sense of unity. Ergo, Addis Zeybe has chosen to dedicate the following editorial to the impending situation that has Ethiopia at crossroads with Sudan in the belief that it is imperative that relevant bodies and the nation understands the current context of the conflict.
One of the first issues to reflect on, is the surprising support the actions of Sudan have amassed on different platforms. Those with varying political positions over the current situation of the country took to their social media to voice support towards the seizure of over 250 square kilometers of land border. Depicting the absolute lack of unity in contemporary Ethiopia, Addis Zeybe expresses its utter dismay at the fact that what could tantamount be considered as an invasion can amass some local support in a country with a rich history of unity, especially over territorial and sovereignty issues. Similar to the support given to the decision by Trump to halt aid amounting to over 130 million dollars and the international call to have Abiy Ahmed (PHD) nobel prize stripped, Addis Zeybe strongly contends that the lack of unity of matters of sovereignty and country is one that is immensely concerning. However, these events also capture the current reality which is the division and political mess unfolding in the country. Addis Zeybe believes that it is important to note that regardless of political standpoints, without a stable country, none of these ideologies matter. For everything (even for our problematic political agendas) it is a precondition that Ethiopia remains sovereign, unified and strong, especially from the point of view of our foriegn compatriots and allies.
Concurrently with the above idea, it is also important to note that the current security concerns and structure (or the lack thereof) of the country has contributed to the decision of Sudanese authorities to take control of contested territories while allegedly causing considerable damage on their route. From the conflict in the Tigray National Regional State of Ethiopia to the recurring incidents of conflict between civilians as well as at the hands of organized and non-organized armed groups, it is safe to argue that the internal security situation of the country has deteriorated in recent times. As such, the capacity of the government and its security forces has been stretched in recent times. This has resulted in the movement of ENDF troops from border areas to either fight in Tigray or engage in similar internal incidents of violence and conflict. The country is recording serious diplomatic blows on several occasions. It is understandable that troops may be moved from one place to another depending on the security risk in one area as compared to another. However, while Addis Zeybe will not argue that the troops should not be moved, it will vehemently argue that internal peace and security is decisive to guarantee relationships with neighbours do not continue to deteriorate. Internal peace and security - a sustained one as well - is a prerequisite to guaranteeing regional peace and diplomatic cooperation.
Finally, the last point. Granted, politics is complicated. Geopolitics being even more complicated. Therefore, like it is usually done in Ethiopia, Addis Zeybe will not suggest pragmatic solutions without any consideration to consequences and ramifications of such “solutions''. However, in light of the current situation, Addis Zeybe would like to note that it is imperative that the Abiy administration reconsider its diplomatic approach towards its neighbours. While commending Abiy’s efforts to mend longstanding peace and security issues in the East Africa and Horn Region, Addis Zeybe strongly believes that it is important for the government to take strong political moves towards restoring its regional relevance and sovereignty. In the past - dating from the times of the Emperors - Ethiopia has faced recurrent threats to its territorial integrity and sovereignty. Aided by the unity of its people and the vehement commitment of its administration to guarantee the country’s territories remain free, Ethiopia has always managed to be a key actor in the region, a strong one as well. However, as the wheels turn geopolitically with Sudan becoming more and more stronger in the region, Ethiopia must quickly find diplomatic victories (aided by strong foriegn policy directions) in the region in order to maintain its diplomatic relevance in the East and Horn of Africa. This is not a matter of wanting dominance. Rather, Addis Zeybe believes it's an existential issue that requires quick attention from the youthful Abiy administration.
To conclude, Addis Zeybe would like to also raise one key step that the government, regional bodies and the international community must take. The proper demarcation of territories in the East and Horn of Africa as well as the erection of recognizable borders between the nations in the area. This must be done to guarantee the continent moves forward, looking past regional conflicts and guaranteeing Africa sees the light of peace in the coming times, contrary to its past history. This may seem like an obsolete solution, especially considering that the African Common Free Trade Area was launched on Friday 1 January 2020. However, the issue in question only goes to show that border issues are still an issue all over Africa. And the ACFTA (while bringing with it several benefits to the country) cannot answer peace and security issues, in lieu of concrete steps taken to answer long standing border issues dating back to the time of colonialism. Therefore, the Ethiopian authorities must take steps to demarcate the Ethiopian territory (physically) in line with international, regional and bilateral agreements as well as negotiations with bordering countries whenever necessary.