I have been writing, articles, posts and participating in TV shows on Ethio-Sudanese relations since 2004.
The most frequent argument that I make in my writings when I want to highlight the absence of real integration between the two countries is that “the Sudanese are called brothers in Ethiopia but when it comes to investment, they are foreigners. Also, Ethiopians are called brothers in Sudan but no privilege for their brotherhood, no work permit, and could be treated as illegal immigrants.”
Unfortunately, this sentence is not enough now.
I want to establish a stronger alarming argument for Ethiopian and Sudanese elites who are repeating diplomatic statements and wishful phrases such as; “all things will be fine very soon” or “it is impossible for the two countries to go to war”.
Yes, I do believe it is impossible for a good citizen from Sudan or Ethiopia to support the idea of war, but who says all things in our world are going according to the wishes and ambitions of good people?
It is hard for me to outright say “war is possible”, but this is the reality in this messy world; If the devil of war is peeping behind the door, it is possible for him storm the house as well.
We must review history to understand all possible scenarios.
Conflicts in History
Sure, there are strong ‘historical ties” between the two nations. There have also been “historical wars” between the two nations.
King Ezana invaded Sudan and destroyed Nubian kingdoms. In the Mahdya time, Al-Zaki Tamal defeated the Ethiopian Army and killed King Yohannes.
This is not just limited to ancient times and modern history. Even in modern days, there were waves of “war by proxy” between the two countries.
It happened during the Imperial era and Derg period in Ethiopia and throughout different Sudanese regimes – democratic or authoritarian – after independence. Rebels and armed movements from both sides were in Khartoum and Addis Ababa fighting against their governments.
Yes, we share many things, such as similar musical melodies and brownish face features, but the war happened and it could happen again if we do not realistically look at how we can build economic integration between the two countries.
Al-Fashaga and GERD issues are not the reasons! All around the world, there are border or water disputes. If war is really caused by land disputes, there would be more than 200 wars in the world.
Globally, there are many cases of “border disputes” that have not been settled yet; there are 200 disputed areas. However, only 10-15 areas are witnessing clashes and conflicts from time to time. There are more than 20 disputed areas in Europe, more than 40 in Africa, more than a hundred in Asia and the Americas. Even between Australia and its neighbors, there are disputes over a number of islands.
There are disputes between Germany and Netherland, Germany and Denmark, and between the UK and four countries.
One of the famous European disputes is between France and Italy. Although the French-Italian border was re-defined in 1963, the joint border commission failed to settle the dispute on “Mont Blanc”, which is currently is under joint administration shared between the two countries.
The same is also in “Olivenza”, a disputed area between Spain and Portugal.
Actually, I need three full-page articles to write about European disputes and another paper just to cover the UK’s international disputes. The US-Canada disputes in four areas would require a book.
In Africa, there is a strange case of a dispute between four countries on one area; Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Yet, because of South Africa’s integration within the SADC bloc, no one is writing on this issue now.
There is also an area near the Moyo district that is claimed by both South Sudan and Uganda; then there is the Ilemi Triangle between Kenya South Sudan.
In fact, there is no border dispute between Sudan and Ethiopia. According to the treaties of 1902 and 1907, the international boundary has been settled, giving the land to Sudan. The dispute was on land usage for Ethiopian farmers on Sudanese lands.
The dispute could be solved if there was economic integration between the two countries or at least joint border markets to defuse the tension between locals and authorities in order to create an atmosphere for agricultural partnerships.
I warn again that the partnerships required cannot be achieved through political agreements between Addis Ababa and Khartoum; they need to be based on existing local cooperation.
There are good examples from Ethiopia and Kenya. The water resources dispute did not lead to a war between the two nations. The two countries under the IGAD CWARN program established border markets in spite of the clashes.
Once however, 250 died for water in “the War of the Well”.
As of 2005, at least 4 Ethiopians and 20 Kenyans died in clashes, with some Kenyan government officials stating the actual number is 69.
How to Work It
The border markets between the two countries created a healthy atmosphere for cooperation and marginalized hardliners from both sides. The countries now are working together to achieve the LAPSSET Corridor and Moyale joint city and economic zone.
In 2012, a big step of cooperation had been achieved, when Addis Ababa and Nairobi launched the “Special Status Agreement”. Both countries have the right to open trade facilitation offices in each other’s territory.
I insist and say it again, there is no economic integration between Sudan and Ethiopia, and there are 7 possible border markets available along the borders; they are not serving people effectively even during good times between the two governments.
Open these markets and activate cooperation agreements. This step should not wait for the tension in one area to diffuse. The other six areas will make magic and “all things will be fine” as diplomats say.
Mekki ElMograbi is a press writer on African affairs. He can be reached through his email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or his contact number +249912139350 (Whatsapp and Telegram)