Articles > > An Old and Repeated Affair

Articles - Addostour - Date: 2020-06-01
By: Oraib Al Rantawi

Border skirmishes between Sudan and Ethiopia are an old and repeated affair going back decades.
They are caused by the two countries' failure to demarcate their borders, tribal and demographic interventions, and the seasonal displacement of these areas' residents with the rainy and dry seasons. Both countries have long sought to prevent these skirmishes from developing into a political crisis that would threaten their bilateral relations, and have always had more immediate preoccupations diverting their attention to some local problem or tribal clash.
Matters appear to be different this time around. The border issue is rapidly evolving into a diplomatic crisis that necessitates summoning the Ethiopian ambassador to communicate Sudan's objection to the Ethiopian army breaching the Sudanese border and attacking Sudanese army positions West of the Atbara River in the Sudanese border state of Gadarif. These clashes are said to be between both countries' regular armies, rather than the Sudanese government-backed popular defense forces, and the Ethiopian army-backed Shifta militia.
The skirmishes' timing is of particular importance, as they occur amid the two countries' dispute over the Renaissance Dam, especially after Khartoum has recently changed its position in favor of Egypt's stance, after it appeared to be closer to Addis Ababa than Cairo for several months. Sudanese sources have justified this by accusing the Ethiopian government of failing Khartoum and abandoning its past obligations towards it.
Tensions on the Sudanese/Ethiopian border prompted Sudanese sovereign council head Gen. 'Abdelfattah al-Burhan to visit the area and inspect government and military sites, followed by STC (Sudanese Transitional Government) PM 'Abdullah Hamdouk's visit to the same area for the same reason, in an effort to send Addis Ababa the message that Sudan is aware of what is going on, and will not accept such infringements on its sovereignty and trespasses against the interests and lives of its citizens.
The truth is that Ethiopia, which has shown unfortunate disregard and dismissiveness towards the rights of the two countries downstream from the Nile River [Egypt and Sudan] has proceeded with the dam's construction and unilaterally decided on the timetable to fill its reservoirs. It seems unconcerned about Sudan's movements or diplomacy on a dossier far less important than the Nile waters dossier. The Ethiopian army and the Shifta militia are likely to continue to provide protection for the thousands of Ethiopian farmers and shepherds who cultivate and graze their livestock on Sudanese land, indifferent to the ambassador's summons or Sudan's diplomatic objections.
Ethiopia has a sense of surplus power as it observes the incredibly weak Arab landscape. It believes that its political and economic achievements and its expanded international relations enable it to proceed down the path of becoming an influential regional power, even if this comes at the expense of Arab water rights or by violating its Sudanese neighbor's sovereignty and borders.
Ethiopia has made an apt assessment of the weak Arab negotiating experience on a matter of life-or-death importance to the Nile Basin countries. It is likely to have taken careful stock of the lessons of Iranian, Turkish and Israeli breaches of the Arabs' strategic, geographic, water and security depths, from the Levant to the Gulf, to the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa, looking forward to securing a share of the 'sick Arab man's legacy', starting with the waters.
It would not mind fencing itself into a new safe zone or turning the state of Gadarif itself into a second [Israeli occupied Lebanese] Shebaa farms or a new [Israeli annexed] Jordan Valley.