Saturday, September 18, 2021

Threat of war is never far away

 A brewing conflict between Sudan and Ethiopia has the most basic of motivations: control over land and water.

The land dispute between the two countries dates back more than a century to colonial-era agreements demarcating the border between the two countries. The greatest dispute is over a portion of land known as al-Fashqa, which both countries have claimed as their own. The most recent settlement of the territorial dispute came in 2008, when the TPLF-led Ethiopia agreed to recognise formal Sudanese sovereignty over the area in exchange for Sudan, led by longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir, allowing Ethiopian settlers to remain in the area. 

Since then, however, both governments have fallen, and with them the agreement. When Ethiopian forces were diverted from defending al-Fashqa to go fight in Tigray, the Sudanese military moved back into the area. The Sudanese military has been adamant about defending its control of the territory, and Sudan’s interim Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was recently quoted during a visit to al-Fashqa as declaring that, “We want our relationship to be good with Ethiopia, but we will not give up an inch of Sudan’s land.”

The risk of war over al-Fashqa is serious. Twenty years ago, a similar dispute over a less commercially valuable tract of borderland between Ethiopia and Eritrea led to the bloody war between those two countries.

Meanwhile, a so-far non-violent but potentially larger clash has been brewing over control of the Nile River. After 10 years of construction, Ethiopia has begun filling the reservoir of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Ethiopia asserts that the GERD project, one of the world’s largest hydroelectric facilities, is necessary to meet the country’s growing energy needs. Downriver countries Sudan and Egypt, on the other hand, have warned that disruptions of the flow of the Nile River would be devastating. Khartoum and Cairo have demanded that Ethiopia share information and coordinate control of the dam’s operations with them, a request that Ethiopia has dismissed as a violation of its own sovereignty.

Sudan and Egypt have hinted that military action could be on the table if a peaceful solution is not achieved. Earlier this year, both countries held joint military drills, giving the exercises the unsubtle name, “Guardians of the Nile”.

Sudan and Ethiopia are nearing a fight over land and water | Ethiopia | Al Jazeera

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