Humanitarian businesses and the worldwide neighborhood have rightly decried the rising battle inside Ethiopia as a humanitarian catastrophe. Final November, battle broke out between the federal authorities of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray Individuals’s Liberation Entrance (TPLF), the governing social gathering of the northern Tigray area that dominated Ethiopian politics till being sidelined by Abiy. Practically 10 months later, the battle has grown right into a de facto civil struggle. Because the battle spreads throughout the nation, it’s bringing with it famine, huge refugee flows, widespread civilian deaths and sexual assaults, and fears of ethnic cleaning.
With a lot loss of life and destruction coming from the Tigray disaster, there’s a hazard that too little consideration is being paid to the potential for a second lethal battle to engulf Ethiopia, this one stemming from rising tensions with its neighbour Sudan. Whereas the main points are generally complicated and technical, at its core, the brewing battle between Sudan and Ethiopia has essentially the most primary of motivations: management over land and water.
The land dispute between the 2 international locations dates again greater than a century to colonial-era agreements demarcating the border between the 2 international locations. The best dispute is over a portion of land referred to as al-Fashqa, which each international locations have claimed as their very own. The newest settlement of the territorial dispute got here in 2008, when the TPLF-led Ethiopia agreed to recognise formal Sudanese sovereignty over the realm in change for Sudan, led by longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir, permitting Ethiopian settlers to stay within the space. Since then, nonetheless, each governments have fallen, and with them the settlement. When Ethiopian forces have been diverted from defending al-Fashqa to go battle in Tigray, the Sudanese army moved again into the realm.
The danger of struggle over al-Fashqa is severe. Twenty years in the past, the same dispute over a much less commercially precious tract of borderland between Ethiopia and Eritrea led to the bloody struggle between these two international locations. Settling that battle was what gained Abiy the Nobel Peace Prize that many now remorse awarding him. Even when Abiy was inclined to equally negotiate over al-Fashqa – and up to now, he has proven no indications that he’ll – he could not have a lot say in calming tensions. The Ethiopian settlers in al-Fashqa primarily belong to the Amhara ethnic group, whose militias have been among the many fiercest pro-Abiy forces in opposition to the TPLF within the present Ethiopian disaster. The Amhara, who’ve lengthy complained that their lands have been taken by different teams, are trying to make use of the Tigray struggle to reclaim territory, each inside Ethiopia and alongside the border with Sudan, and so they resent previous agreements made regarding the land with out their consent.
The Sudanese army has been adamant about defending its management of the territory, and Sudan’s interim Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was not too long ago quoted throughout a go to to al-Fashqa as declaring that, “We wish our relationship to be good with Ethiopia, however we is not going to quit an inch of Sudan’s land.” Tensions have been exacerbated by the circulation of tens of hundreds of refugees from Tigray into Sudan, a lot of them arriving at al-Fashqa. The border dispute stays unstable, with lethal clashes between Sudanese troops and Ethiopian militia breaking out earlier this yr.
In the meantime, a so-far non-violent however probably bigger conflict has been brewing over management of the Nile River. After 10 years of building, Ethiopia has begun filling the reservoir of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Ethiopia asserts that the GERD challenge, one of many world’s largest hydroelectric amenities, is critical to satisfy the nation’s rising power wants. Downriver international locations Sudan and Egypt, alternatively, have warned that disruptions of the circulation of the Nile River can be devastating. Khartoum and Cairo have demanded that Ethiopia share info and coordinate management of the dam’s operations with them, a request that Ethiopia has dismissed as a violation of its personal sovereignty.
Abiy has remained intractable, and the Tigray disaster appears to have solely hardened his resolve to reject negotiations or compromise over the GERD. Formally, Sudan and Egypt have pursued political and authorized avenues to resolve the dispute, interesting to the UN Safety Council and the African Union, amongst others, to intervene. Extra ominously, nonetheless, each international locations have hinted that army motion could possibly be on the desk if a peaceable answer will not be achieved. Earlier this yr, Sudan and Egypt held joint army drills, giving the workouts the unsubtle title, “Guardians of the Nile”. Though Egypt probably has extra to lose from interrupted entry to the Nile, which provides practically all the nation’s water, Sudan’s proximity to Ethiopia makes it seemingly that any battle over the GERD would largely play out between Sudanese and Ethiopian forces, particularly given the opposite sources of stress that exist alongside the border.
To date, indicators level in direction of deteriorating relations between Khartoum and Addis Ababa. Hamdok’s supply to mediate between the TPLF and Abiy’s authorities was rejected by Ethiopian officers as not “credible,” resulting in Sudan recalling its ambassador to Ethiopia for the second time this yr. Whereas neither aspect appears inclined to compromise over both the GERD or al-Fashqa, struggle is much from inevitable as the 2 international locations face off. Just lately, Sudan reported that the Ethiopian dam didn’t negatively impression the annual flooding of the Nile in Sudan. That is excellent news for the Sudanese, and for these invested in sustaining peace between the 2 international locations, because it permits for extra time to barter a everlasting settlement. And, in idea not less than, an settlement for al-Fashqa could possibly be reached that might restore the 2008 established order of a “delicate” border to permit each Sudanese and Ethiopian residents to utilise the land.
Extra usually, every nation sits in a precarious place, creating blended motives for battle. Abiy is coping with the Tigray crises spiralling uncontrolled, whereas Hamdok’s transitional authorities is attempting to rebuild Sudan’s political establishments earlier than elections scheduled for 2024. Whereas every nation’s management could also be tempted to see its adversary’s weak spot as a possibility to strike, the leaders in Khartoum and Addis Ababa are seemingly taking a look at their very own precarious positions as causes to keep away from a brand new large-scale battle, if attainable. Turkey, which has been strengthening relations with each Sudan and Ethiopia, has turns into the most recent nation to supply itself as mediator between the 2 international locations over the al-Fashqa dispute. And Ethiopia has invited Algeria to play a job in GERD negotiations.
Either side are far aside, and neither Ethiopia nor Sudan has supplied a lot in the way in which of compromise up to now, however each international locations could quickly realise that neither aspect can afford to take the dangers concerned in a significant battle between them. Although it’s unclear whether or not or not the governments of Ethiopia and Sudan realise it but, a face-saving, negotiated settlement – whether or not facilitated by Turkey, Algeria, the African Union or another entity – is the most effective, and by far the most secure, possibility for each international locations.
The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.