In my article published on this newspaper June 27,2020, I tried to modestly argue that Ethiopia and Sudan are tied up not only by the River Nile but also linked up with an unprecedented political relations, economic interdependence and cultural affiliations illuminated with history and civilization. Their relations have been not only long and time honored but also an indispensable one. To qualify the above assertions, let me try to highlight some of the salient features of the relations between the two very shortly, but as substantively as possible.
Ethio-Sudanese relations most significantly can be put within historical context. The actual diplomatic relations officially started after the independence of Sudan in 1956. Since then, both countries have maintained an uninterrupted relation and signed over twenty bilateral agreements, which include joint boundary commissions and joint technical and special commission as well as the establishment of ministerial commission headed by high level delegations. The fact that over twenty cooperation agreements have been signed and followed by other implementation agreements unequivocally shows how much the relationship between the two countries has become an exemplary to many other countries.
More importantly, Ethiopia and Sudan have been closely cooperating in many multilateral fields, regional and sub-regional organizations such as COMESA, IGAD and the African Union (AU) as a paramount regional organization. Needless to exaggerate, Ethiopia in her capacity as a member of the African Union and on her own account has played a substantive role in solving the deadly problem that the then government of Sudan had with the South that ultimately resulted in the signing of Comprehensive Peace Agreement, not also to forget the 1972 Addis Ababa Peace Accord which was mediated by Emperor Haile Selassie which gave the Southern Sudanese people a quasi-federal status. Very recently, when the former Hassan Al-Bashir was forced to resign and an intense negotiation took place between the military and the civilian forces for the establishment of a transitional government, the Ethiopian government has once more played a pivotal role in the realization of the successful mediation. When one puts all of these on a political balance, Ethiopia’s contribution to the survival and continuation of the Sudanese body politics goes without saying. It makes sense if one asserts that a friend in need is a friend indeed. In February 2021, the Ethiopian Ambassador to Sudan, Yibeltal Aemiro, stated that “Ethiopia which has been on the side of the Sudanese people during all times of difficulties, does not deserve such an attack from Sudanese army while it was busy managing its own internal affairs”. How does this sound for the Sudanese military leadership who are harboring the invasion? I leave the answer however to their own moral judgments. What then brought about such a sudden and drastic change overnight in the Sudanese approach and the forceful occupation of the unresolved disputed area? This will take us to briefly highlight some of reasonable facts.
The recently exploded boarder dispute has its own historical genesis. It can be referred back to the agreement reached between Great Britain and Emperor Menelik II, which was signed in Addis Ababa in 1902, basically to regulate the frontiers between Ethiopia and Sudan. Based on these agreements, in 1903 Major Gwyan who was also a British military intelligence was an architect in drawing this controversial boarder line between Sudan and Ethiopia. This boarder line has never been demarcated for over a century. Nevertheless, this boarder issue has never been the source of contestation until December 2020 during Ethiopia’s internal instability and its military engagement in the Northern part of the country. Sudanese high military officials including Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan ordered the crossing and occupation of the disputed border area.
Let Diplomacy be given a chance
As it is often reiterated, diplomacy is war by other means. It is war without bloodshed. Ethiopia and Sudan have already been conducting diplomatic negotiations since many times now, in fact, in the spirit of pacific settlement of dispute, as the international order of the day most ardently requires. Because, in this 21st century, the dictum which says ‘might is right’ has become obsolete and irrelevant. The most civilized slogan is dialogue. For the simple reason that if you win in war victory is only yours, but if you win in dialogue victory is for all. Despite Sudan’s violation of international legal principles, the Ethiopian government still holds that its position is to be governed by diplomatic laws, the principle of give and take, and the principle of win-win solution. However, Sudan has gone very far on the wrong path which most likely ends up in detour. Hence, the leadership of Sudan must be reminded that those who live in glass house should not be the first to throw stone. To put it most clearly for any action there will be an equal and opposite reaction.
I earnestly believe that it is often easy to go to war but coming out of it is very difficult and very costly. I also presume that before full scale war between the two countries breaks out organizations such as the AU, IGAD countries and all other concerned countries should come in to persuade Sudan by putting all necessary pressures on current leadership to return to status quo ante and resume the interrupted negotiation.
Last but not least, the government of Sudan has no other choice, at this point and place in time, other than going back to the Joint Committee meeting based on the 1972 Exchange of Notes and other historical, political and legal facts of the dispute which also involves diplomatic procedures such as good offices, mediation and reconciliation.
What is expected from our diplomats and MPs?
With all due respect, I would like to propose some of the diplomatic measures to be taken as a matter of principle and as a matter of expediency, leaving the actual diplomatic tactics for those who are in the mainstream diplomacy, and more so, to those who are most qualified to do the job.
At the first place, Ethiopian diplomats should highly focus on Joe Biden’s new administration, who unlike Trump’s administration is seen by all standard as non-isolationist in its policy approach towards Africa in general and the Horn of Africa in particular. This Biden’s policy stance will hopefully enable Ethiopia’s high-ranking officials and diplomats to carry on fine-tuned and well-measured diplomatic duties, reminding the new administration how much Ethiopia was sidelined and isolated during Trump’s office tenure.
Despite this, the Ethiopian government and people are committed in re-affirming their assurance to further strengthen their historical relations with the U.S government and people who have been standing by the side of Ethiopia in all times of trouble. Such a modest diplomatic approach which is a reality of life should include the U.S Senate, House of Representatives, Department of State, lobbying institutions, black caucus and all accessible U.S embassies stationed abroad, to come to rescue the Horn region before it slides into a full-scale-war by using their diplomatic leverage and wisdom, in fact, as a matter of urgency. Doing this is also in the U.S strategic interest such as, peace and security, humanitarian interest and the promotion of democracy and human right, to mention, but a few.
In the second place, the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU) and AU and all their relevant agencies should remain totally seized about the eminent danger that will precipitate the flow of refugees further impacting on the peace and security of the region, which is also in the interest of the above mentioned organizations. Therefore, it is a high time that these organs should come in to save the Horn today, if tomorrow it will be too late.
In the third place, the aforementioned institutions should be made aware that, overfly or covertly, the Egyptian policy of aggrandizement is behind the recent Sudanese attack of Ethiopian territory. The Egyptian heavy handedness and its behind the screen maneuvering was clearly manifested when the Joint military exercise was made with a Sudanese military forces preparing Sudan to carry war of its own and Egypt’s proxy war against neighboring Ethiopia. The international community therefore should be made within sight that unless this kind of unholy alliance is broken, a full-fledged war at all costs would be inevitable.
Fourthly, all existing regional and inter-parliamentary unions should be remained seized that, if a full-scale-war explodes its spillover effect will further destabilize the already war ridden Horn of Africa. In this Horn region already over ten external powers have established their military bases each of them being engaged in promoting their geopolitical interests and for further expanding their sphere of influence in this already volatile and combustible region.
Fifthly, the case of media as a “forth government” should be taken into account. Currently, some internationally renowned media are standing by the side of Egypt and Sudan in their news analysis and report contrary to media professionalism and expertise. If we know that we are this much in a disadvantageous position, our diplomats and media should work harder by countering these biases and prejudices. By all parameter of logic, the reverse should have happened. It is crystal clear that there are insufficient evidences, biases and incorrect procedures amid the chief-editors and their staff members of these renowned media. Our diplomats must not give up neutralizing these biases by confronting them with professionalism and human spirit. They have to do it fair or foul. This is a media war, which should be won at any cost. If limitations exist in our part the record should be put straight.
To conclude, the significance of diplomacy, at this time in history, is by no means less than the use of tank. However, this does not by any means rule out the importance of weapon. No, not at all! War becomes necessary, at all cost, only when all diplomatic solutions are fully exhausted before jumping onto a war bandwagon. In a nutshell, diplomacy is better option as the modern and civilized society most ardently requires. But, if all diplomatic efforts fail, according to the United Nations Charter article 51, every state will have the inherent right of self-defense. Ethiopia cannot be an exception.
Ed.s Note: Mohammed Ali is an Ethiopian Member of Parliament and former Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Republic of South Africa. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter.
Contributed by Mohammed Ali