Sudan’s subliminal relationship with Ethiopia has taken a new turn following the conclusion of the war in northern Ethiopia with a peace treaty. Sudan has been accused by authorities in Ethiopia of waging border clashes whenever they are preoccupied internally.
The two visits by the heads of the espionage agencies of the two countries in the previous month alone were merely expressions of optimism for an end to the two-year border strife between Ethiopia and Sudan.
While the Sudanese delegates led by Ahmed Ibrahim Mufadel (Lt. Gen.), director general of the Sudanese General Intelligence Service (GIS), visited Addis Ababa in October 2022, their Ethiopian counterparts led by Temesgen Tiruneh, director general of Ethiopia’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), visited Khartoum last week.
Another peculiar custom is the two leaders’ fighting on the border and hugging whenever they meet up. Sudan still holds control over most part of Ethiopia at al-Fashaga.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) and Sudan’s leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (Gen.) were seen laughing during the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) summit in Nairobi, Kenya, in July 2022, though the two sides were involved in border clashes.
The two were also observed getting along during the Tana Forum last month in Bahir Dar.
“The MoU is nothing but Sudanese officials’ agreement to handover Ethiopian peacekeeping troops stranded in Sudan to Ethiopia. This most likely includes handing over to the Ethiopian government TPLF combatants known as Samri who have been trained in Sudan,” an official familiar with the situation told The Reporter on the condition of anonymity.
The official says there are also unwarranted movements of people on the border, adding, “However, a MoU is obviously not binding.”
Ethiopia’s peacekeeping forces in Sudan were unprepared for the two-year struggle between the TPLF and Sudan, the Ethiopian federal government, and other parties. After completing their duties, some of the soldiers apparently refused to return to Ethiopia, creating a force in Sudan that was loyal to the TPLF. This time, Sudan is resolving border disputes through diplomacy. Nevertheless, the fact that Sudan’s military leaders are exercising less control in response to international pressure makes this decision necessary.
“Sudan has no choice but to normalize relations with Ethiopia after the federal government of Ethiopia and the TPLF agreed to end the war peacefully. They no longer have any leverage,” the official said.
The Ethiopian government is now free of internal conflict and can pursue the Sudan case, according to the official, who believes the time is right for the Ethiopian government to exert pressure on Sudan’s government.
“Sudan is under enormous internal pressure. Nonetheless, both governments are making calculated moves,” stated the official.
Of course, Sudan continues to assert its claim to al-Fashaga, citing the 1902 Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty on border demarcation. But the information about the actual border lines in the ground was not included in the colonial agreement.
Others argue that in the absence of a documented agreement, Ethiopia behaved in a way that suggested it had authorized the deployment of Sudanese military forces on the fertile 260-kilometer Al-Fashaga border land.
According to insiders, Sudan’s ability to maintain the occupation is waning and it should be given to the joint border committee. It appears that Sudan’s domestic politics are out of control. A significant grassroots movement against al-military Burhan’s authority in Sudan celebrated its first anniversary this week as Sudan dispatched a delegation to Addis Abeba. Since the military seized control from the civilian government of PM Abdallah Hamdok in October 2021, state forces have opened fire on protestors, resulting in more casualties than 117.
Sudanese students, labor unions, civil society organizations, and other civilian organizations have repeatedly threatened to overthrow the military regime. They demanded that al-Burhan hand over power to civilian rule, but the military rule has been delaying deadlines, effectively putting the movement’s leaders in jail in the meantime.
While the public wants the military to stay out of politics, al-Burhan is adamant that civilians cannot make decisions about the military.
Analysts agree that al-Burhan and his close ally, Hamdan Dagalo (Gen.), are wary of civilian rule because they are afraid of being held accountable for crimes committed under their command. However, al-Burhan’s government has recently faced severe internal and external pressures.
On November 23, 2022, the African Union (AU) again imposed severe measures on al-Burhan’s government.
The AU decided to suspend “the participation of the Republic of Sudan in all AU activities” with immediate effect until the effective establishment of a civilian-led transitional authority, as the only way for Sudan to exit its current crisis.
“Should the Transitional Military Council fail to hand over power to a civilian-led Transitional Authority,” reads the AU statement, “the Council [the AU Peace and Security Council] shall, automatically, impose punitive measures on individuals and entities obstructing the establishment of the civilian-led Transitional Authority.”
The AU’s latest statement on Sudan reiterated its previous position, in place since 2019, but did not specify a deadline by which the handover should occur or when the punitive measures would begin.
The AU is not alone in turning its back on Sudan’s military rule.
The President of the US, Joe Biden, also excluded Sudan from attending the upcoming US-Africa summit. Biden invited 49, including the AU chair. However, Sudan, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea are not invited to the summit. The AU has also suspended these four countries due to coups that have occurred in them.
The summit, which will take place in Washington on December 13 and 15, is a follow-up to the 2014 summit held by former President Barack Obama’s administration. Peace and security, US-Africa policy, and food security are among the topics that are expected to be discussed.
Of course, the US has also accused al-Burhan’s regime of failing to support Ukraine, supplying Russia with gold, and hosting the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary organization with a growing presence in Africa.
When Sudan’s strongman, al-Bashir, was deposed in 2019 after three decades of iron-fist rule, much hope was placed in the transitional government, which promised free and fair elections soon. There is no guarantee; however, that al-Burhan will not repeat al-Bashir’s mistakes. To that end, at the very least, a strong alliance with neighboring Ethiopia is needed.