Will Tigray’s fate be decided in Sudan?

Events have highlighted the importance of the Sudanese – both Khartoum and Juba – to the future of the war in Tigray.

It is reported that South Sudan and Ethiopia have expelled each other’s diplomats.

This is what Sudan’s Post had to say:

South Sudan diplomats in Ethiopia, including the world’s youngest country’s head of mission in Addis Ababa, have been expelled by the Ethiopian government, hours after the Ethiopian ambassador to South Sudan, Fisseha Shawl, left Juba in an abrupt decision, two South Sudan embassy staffs told Sudans Post this evening.

“We have been given 72 hours to leave. That that decision was delivered to us in a letter this morning by the Ethiopian security body and they told us that they don’t want us here ‘until further notice,’” one South Sudan embassy source said from Addis Ababa.

The latest development in Ethiopia-South Sudan relations comes after the Ethiopian ambassador to South Sudan left the capital Juba on Saturday in an abrupt decision to protest reported presence of leader of Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Debretsion Gebremichael, in Juba…

There are unconfirmed reports  that Debretsion whose forces in Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray regional state, have been defeated by a federal  Ethiopian ‘law enforcement’ operation,  is in Juba and was meeting visiting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi who visited Juba on Saturday.

 

Juba News Meeting Egypt TPLFThis was supported by another source in a Tweet, but the news has been denied by the South Sudanese and Ethiopian governments.

It is no secret that President al Sisi was in Juba over the weekend – that much was revealed by the press.

Egypt has kept a careful eye on developments in Ethiopia for years.

The Blue Nile rises in Ethiopia and is essential to Egypt’s future – as Cairo receives next to no rainfall.

The construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Nile by Addis Ababa has been a source of deep concern for al Sisi.

Instability in Ethiopia, which might reduce its ability to harness the waters of the Nile, is of critical important to the Egyptian leader.

Was it any coincidence that as the war in Tigray began  Sudan and Egypt held joint military exercises?

Sudan as a vital supply route for Ethiopian rebel movements

Anyone who visited Tigrayan or Eritrean rebels during their long wars against the Ethiopian government in the 1970’s or 1980’s will recall seeing supplies brought in by trucks through Sudan.

This was done covertly, but Sudanese officials knew very well what was taking place.

I saw the Eritrean base at the ancient Sudanese port of Suakin, which was large and well supplied.

When the 1984 – 1985 famine hit Ethiopia these supply routes were vital for the Eritrean and Tigrayan rebel movements.

Grain came in by the truckload and was then distributed to villages under rebel control.

It was the closure of the road through Eritrean territory during the famine because of a fierce dispute between the EPLF and the Tigray People’s Liberation Movement (TPLF) that forced the Tigrayans to march 100,000 peasants into Sudan, to keep them alive.

Many died along the way.

It is one of many bitter disputes that festered between the Tigrayan and Eritrean leadership – contributing to the current war.

Many Tigrayan families had to live in camps in Sudan for years – some only returning home when the TPLF finally took Addis Ababa in 1991 when they overthrew the then government of Mengistu Haile Mariam.

Will Sudan play the same role in the current conflict?

It is difficult to predict what stand Khartoum or Juba will take in the war in Tigray.

There is intense pressure on Sudan from a variety of states across the region.

The governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea are acutely aware of the importance of this route as the war progresses.

While the Tigrayans may be able to capture sufficient military hardware they are still dependent on outside supplies for ammunition, fuel and food.

This explains, at least in part, why the Eritreans and Ethiopians fought so hard to take the town of Humera at the start of this conflict – it is right on the Eritrea-Tigray-Sudanese border.

It also explains why Eritrea’s President Isaias sent a delegation to Khartoum on 11 November.

Eritrea’s Foreign Minister, Osman Saleh and Presidential Adviser Yemane Gebreab met President of Sudan’s Sovereign Council, Gen. Abdulfattah al-Burhan, as well as Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok.

As ever, little about what was discussed has been revealed, but the visit – the latest of many – was no accident.

It is likely that Eritrea was attempting to head off access to supplies for the Tigrayans through Sudan.

If Sudan really sealed its border with Tigray it is hard to see how the Tigrayans would sustain their position and feed their population, which is why there is such competition for the support of Khartoum.

 

3 comments

  1. I wonder if Egypt and the TPLF’s warm relations with the South Sudanese will concern Khartoum, and possibly lead to Ethiopia and the Sudanese governments cementing relations. This would be a huge coup for Abiy, and would be a big failure for Sisi. (Presumably the competing factions within the various Sudanese governing bodies are at odds over who to back.)

  2. I wonder if there is connection between Ethiopian expelling south Sudan diplomats and Somali expelling Kenyan diplomats.

    Eritrea is next one just like Syria and Iraq

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