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19.01.2021 Feature Article

Addis Ababa: rein in on chauvinists

Delusions of ancestral lands should end
Mubarak Mahgoub MusaMubarak Mahgoub Musa
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In Conformity with legal norms, the entry into force of an agreement comes after being legally drafted and the consent of all parties involved, hence, the validity and enforceability of the 1902 Agreement, delineating the boundaries between Sudan and Ethiopia, which was concluded between the British Government and the Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II, came into force after the latter was officially handed over the notification of approval of King Edward of Britain on October 28th1902.

Ever since, there has been no indication that the Ethiopian government has ever officially, contested this established line of the common borders; on the contrary it has affirmed its commitment to it in July-August 1955, June 1957, and July 1972 respectively. Consequently, here comes the importance of Ethiopia's commitment to international law, with regard to the principle of good faith when implementing international obligations, in accordance with the provisions of the Vienna Agreement on the Law of International Treaties of 1969.

In fact, until the year 2013, the only outstanding task has been the resumption of delimitation and emplacement of boundary markers, which continued otherwise, to be disrupted by Addis Ababa on one pretext or another; Citing sometimes its inability to meet its share in the financial costs of the mission and on other occasions, torpedo the assignment by referring to the unfavorable circumstances in its internal political landscape.

Having mentioned Ethiopia’s internal political landscape, there should be no mistake; any attempt to fully understand the drivers behind such elusiveness, in isolation of the ongoing complex transformations shaping Ethiopia's political landscape especially, shall definitely prove to be insufficient and rather myopic thinking.

Already known, Ethiopia unlike most of the countries in Africa, is not a centralized State: the new constitution in 1995, has divided Ethiopia into nine states however, based on ethnic federalism.

Irrespective of the ups and downs of such perhaps unprecedented political experiment in Africa, which is a matter left at the end of the day, to the discretion of the Ethiopian people alone, yet the experiment was bound to have a ripple effect in the region.

In particular, it should be appropriate to draw the attention to the multiplicity of military and security services; under the said Constitution, every single state enjoys its own distinctive army, police and internal security apparatus. Al-Amhara state neighboring Sudan, was not an exception.

Hence, during the course of the conflict in Al-fashaqa, the Sudanese army has been actually fighting federal armed forces and not merely a group of bandits or outlaws, as continually depicted by Addis Ababa in its occasional statements every now and then.

The modern world should know, the chauvinists amidst the Amhara’s ethnic group, driven by the same territorial designs over Sudan, refuse to recognize the official and international maps, and are instead using ones of their own, mainly premised on the very obsolete claims of ancestral lands. Ironically, their expansionist ambitions in Sudan, are not limited to the current Sudanese Al-fashaqa region, but extends deep further till Al-Gazira region in central Sudan.

Accordingly, what has made the common borders issue between Khartoum and Addis Ababa further complicated to settle, lie in the fact that it has become part of Ethiopia's internal political bargaining and manipulation.

For instance, in the context of their political rivalry with the center, activists in Amhara state used to exert a lot of pressure on the government of the late Meles Zenawi, accusing the latter of ceding their (historical) lands to Sudan, under secret agreements with Khartoum.

On his part, in order to decisively put an end to this one-upmanship and political blackmailing, the late Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, expressly declared in an official speech before the Ethiopian Federal Parliament in November 2008, that the region of Al-Fashaqa is a Sudanese territory, reminding the MPs that Ethiopian government recognizes the validity and enforceability of Major Gwen's border line.

such complexity has been equally evident in the crisis with Eritrea, when Tigray ethnic group refused to recognize the official maps and the subsequent International arbitration results. The Tigray ethnic group continued to consider the bordering Badme region, as part of their historical (ancestral) home land. in other words, as an integral part of their dreams of the (greater Tigray) according to the Eritrean narrative.

That standoff automatically resulted in the two years long of a devastating war with Eritrea followed by a cold war and antagonism between the two neighbors that spanned for yet more twenty years

There should be no mistake, insistence on clinging to ancestral borders of ancient kingdoms and turning a blind eye to the international realities of the twenty-first century and the modern world, does not only reflect a political naivety and sheer nonsense, but it is also a clear violation and contempt for international law. Besides, more importantly perhaps, Addis Ababa's binding obligations towards African Union resolutions (1964). In particular, Ethiopia is the host nation of the AU headquarters.

To that effect, let us recall that article 4 (1) of the agreement between the same government of Ethiopia and state of Eritrea, under the auspices of the African Union held in Algiers. Algeria from 12-14 July 1999, reads” … the parties reaffirm the principle of the respect for the borders existing at independence as stated in resolution AHG/res. 16(1) adopted by the OAU Summit in Cairo in 1964, and, in this regard, that they shall be determined on the basis of the pertinent colonial treaties and applicable international law. "

Building on what is stated, there has to be a great deal of caution on the part of Ethiopian; allowing certain segments of the Ethiopian people to heavily rely on or featuring of ancestral lands as title-deeds, could per se, constitute a double-edged sword and could open up a Pandora’s box of counter claims from similar cases, and ultimately Ethiopia could equally be stung with its fire.

For the sake of argument, the rich region of Benishangul, extending today along eastern and southern Ethiopia, and on its soil, the controversial Renaissance Dam is getting constructed, was entirely a Sudanese region in terms history, geography, population and borders.

Let those who continue to challenge the validity of colonial borders, come back to their senses and heed to the voice of reason; It was nobody but the same British colonialists, who were behind the annexation of this rich Sudanese region ( Benishangul) to Ethiopia, Sudan has never been a party to that!

Yet, the impact of could be even more far-reaching, considering the fact that some regions that existed on the margins in Ethiopia today, were incorporated into the Ethiopian imperial state. These regions were occupied by groups with vastly different cultures from those of the center.

Properly speaking, Al-Fashaqa is not a disputed territory with Ethiopia; it is Sudanese territory duly acknowledged by the international community and in accordance with international law. Therefore, the only way forward towards an amicable solution, lies in the return of all usurped Sudanese lands to its original owners. That's exactly what SAF is doing right now, without making any incursion into Ethiopian territories.

The President of the Sovereignty Council, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, as well as the Ethiopian Prime Minister emphasized that the issue of borders can be addressed through negotiation and that there is ample room to solve the crisis through diplomatic means.

It is high time for both Sudan and Ethiopia to focus on the bright future; in the footpath of European Union, Africa has already launched a continental free trade area that, if successful, will unite 1.3 billion people, create an economic bloc of $ 3.4 trillion and open the door to a new era of development. It shall contribute to unleashing Africa’s economic potential by supporting intra-trade, strengthening supply chains and disseminating expertise.

The people of Sudan still cherish the hope that the P. M Mr. Abiy Ahmed, would make the right and courageous political gesture, in a manner similar to his surprising withdrawal from the town of Badme and other contentious border areas with Eritrea, in full implementation of the provisions of the Algiers of 2002, ending decades of disputes with in fulfillment of the pledge of " zero conflicts with neighbors" which certainly qualified him later to be awarded with the prestigious Nobel Prize.

Mubarak Mahgoub Musa

Former Ambassador

Mubarak Mahgoub Musa
Mubarak Mahgoub Musa, © 2021

The author has 26 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: MubarakMahgoubMusa

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