15 Avril 2021
The Nile war. What is going on between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia?
Nubia: Although you don't usually broach political questions and controversies, events in the Eastern Horn of Africa take military turns. What is your view of the situation?
Bassam: Indeed, the situation could appear dangerous if we follow the chain of events on the borders between Sudan and Ethiopia. Add to that the declaratory positions of Egypt or Eritrea and we get a picture that shows an escalating trend. But I think we are a long way from an inevitable war.
Nubia: What is the role of these two countries in the tensions between Khartoum and Addis Ababa? Ethiopia has said time and again, through the mouths of senior officials and its Prime Minister Ahmad Abyi, that there is a third government that is blowing on the embers. Do you think they mean Cairo half-heartedly?
Bassam: To fully understand the role of each country involved in these conflicts, we must remember the course of events and the evolution of the situation for at least 15 years.
The central hub of what is happening in the Horn of Africa today is Ethiopia. It is this the common denominator of all the antagonists and which finds itself involved in all the regional frictions.
On the one hand, it is practically in the midst of a civil war. It mobilized its federal army with an ethnic component mainly Amharie, to put down the rebellion and separatism in the province of Tigray in the north.
On the other hand, the conflict spilled over to the Eritrean borders because the Tigrai ethnic group is a common component and is part of the populations of both countries.
Add to this the fact that Ethiopia indirectly occupied Sudanese territory recognized worldwide as such. I say indirectly, because its strategy is to support local militias in Amhara province, supports the current Prime Minister Ahmad Abyi. Letting them enter the Sudanese province of Al-Fashaqa, to sow terror among the border population and encourage Sudanese peasants to flee their land in favor of Ethiopian peasant settlers.
But the hottest point of all these points of friction is surely the provocations of Addis Ababa against Cairo. I am of course talking about the dispute between them over the famous Renaissance dam.
The region is the scene of a lot of military deployments and shows of force, but the real turning point will come from the question everyone in the region is asking whether Egypt will bomb the dam or if it will ever be placed under the fact.
Nubia: So Asmara finds herself involved because the Ethiopian civil war is happening on its border and part of its population is also of the Tigrai ethnic group?
Bassam: Not just that. After the independence of Eritrea from Ethiopia in 1993, a war broke out between the two countries and took place from May 1998 to June 2000. The two nations devoured hundreds of millions of euros and had to endure the loss of tens of thousands of men killed or wounded in the conflict that ended in minor border changes in almost uninhabited desert lands.
I think the Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki wanted to take advantage of the situation in Ethiopia to settle on one side, old scores with the Tigrai Liberation Front and on the other, he simply wanted to recover the Badami region which is a triangle of territory claimed by Asmara and which was annexed by Addis Ababa.
Nubia: Does that mean that Eritrean troops have crossed the border? How did the Ethiopian government react?
Bassam: There was no official reaction from the central power. But the commander of the federal troops deployed in the district of Tigrai, declared from Mekele, that Addis Ababa did not request the intervention of Asmara and asked them to withdraw its troops.
It must nevertheless be stressed that the Tigray Liberation Front claimed at the start of the offensives it suffered, that bombardments started from Asmara airport and that henceforth it was a legitimate target for the response.
So on the one hand, Adis Ababa asks Asmara to withdraw its troops which are estimated according to local witnesses at five battalions, but on the other hand it suits the plans of the Ethiopian central power to put down the rebellion of the Tigrayan separatists. Because the Eritrean power also wants revenge on the cross-border province of Tigray for historical animosities due to the past domination of this ethnic group.
The humanitarian situation in the province of Tigré has become alarming, with local observers denouncing atrocities committed by federal troops on the population of the separatist region. Testimonies of victims of gang rapes circulate in various media, despite the prohibition of access to journalists by the federal authorities.
Nubia: But currently the news rather highlights tensions between Khartoum and Addis Ababa. How does this relate to the previous events that we have mentioned?
Bassam :Tensions between Sudan and its neighbor Ethiopia are escalating further. Khartoum has sent military reinforcements along its eastern border, an area often prone to incidents between the two countries. According to the Sudanese agency Suna, Sudan dispatched "significant military reinforcements" to the border with Ethiopia a few days after an "ambush" by the Ethiopian army and militias against Sudanese soldiers, "The armed forces Sudanese continued to advance on the front lines inside Al Fashaqa ”in Sudan, the agency said, the armed forces had sent large reinforcements along the border in this eastern agricultural region. Incidents regularly occur there with Ethiopian farmers who come to cultivate in this land claimed by Sudan.
The head of the Sudanese army, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhane, who also chairs the highest executive body in the country, visited for three days the place where the army lost four soldiers, including an officer, while 27 were injured.
After this ambush and the loss of its soldiers, the national outrage following the massacre of a group of women in this region prompted the Sudanese army to deploy its troops there.
Another factor of instability for Sudan and in particular for the border region of Ethiopia, is the serious humanitarian crisis, with the arrival on its soil of 50,000 refugees who fled the war in the Ethiopian region of Tigray.
But it seems obvious that Sudan does not want war and neither does Ethiopia. During a visit to Addis Ababa on December 13, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok spoke with his Ethiopian counterpart about the resumption of work on the demarcation of the borders between the two countries.
For its part, Addis Ababa was keen to downplay the importance of the ambush.
It should be noted that the speech has changed tone since. The Sudanese Army said this time it was regular Ethiopian army troops that entered the borders to a depth of 5 km.
The most important to remember is the evolution of the Sudanese position on the activation of the Ethiopian Renaissance dam awaiting the second phase of filling.
Far beyond the territorial disputes between the two countries, Khartoum questions the legitimacy of building this dam, because it is on a territory that it conceded to it a long time ago in exchange for the promise not to build a dam there. As this last condition is no longer respected by Addis Ababa, Sudan is now opposed to this annexation, at least until the desired change in the aggressive policy of its neighbor.
We must not forget that this dam will thirst for 20 million Sudanese. It is not only Egypt that will suffer.
Nubia: Egypt has no borders with Ethiopia so it has nothing to lose if it bombs the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Or is it ultimately content to wage war by proxy, pushing Sudan into confrontation?
Bassam: Everyone considered direct Egyptian Air Force action against the Dam to stop the project. It is possible from a technical point of view, because Cairo has the military means. But the consequences are dissuasive.
First, Egypt will have to take action before the second fill, otherwise the flood risk for Sudan would be dire. The first filling has already accumulated 5 billion cubic meters and deprived Sudan of part of its usual flow.
Second, the affected facilities are well protected. Addis Ababa anticipated such a strike and some sources speak of Israeli securing of the Dam. This is possible because the Israelis have invested large amounts of capital there. An air strike therefore risks suffering losses and its success may prove to be insufficient.
Third, even though Addis Ababa does not have the potential to take revenge on Egyptian dams and even though the balance of power is largely in favor of Cairo, I guess Egypt does not want to appear like the country. aggressor in the eyes of the world.
Fourth, Cairo is betting on the technical problems encountered by the dam project. Satellite images and intelligence reports assure him that the dam will not be able to use more than a third of its capacity.
Cairo surely prefers to wage war by proxy, because Ethiopia leaves no choice and persists in wanting to thirst for Sudan and Egypt.
Cairo's message was clear when it conducted joint military maneuvers between its air forces and those in Khartoum. Its support for Sudan in a possible confrontation with Ethiopia is total.
But Sudan doesn't need someone pushing it into war, even if Egypt supports it, Ethiopia pushes it to confrontation by using the dam as a weapon of natural disasters. Let us not forget that during the first filling, Sudan suffered a drought followed by a flood which caused great harm to the Sudanese people. Ethiopia could avert this catastrophe by communicating the dates for the shutdowns and openings of the floodgates, but refused to do so.
End of part one ... to be continued in part two and the end.