TPLF & Sudan reap the bounty: What has Ethiopia got from the latest round Khartoum deal?

5 Dec

by Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory

To the best of my understanding – at this point for the first time – Egypt concedes that Sudanese President is backing Ethiopia’s Blue Nile dam. This admission comes, as it does, espeially ahead of the tripartite Nile talks to be held in days time in Cairo, according to journalist Ahmed Eleiba who writes on today’s Ahram Online – Egypt’s state-owned national newspaper.

At the same time, quoting Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Karti, journalist Mohammed Amin from Khartoum wrote on the December 3, 2013 issue of Africa Review that Ethiopia and the Sudan have agreed to resolve all their outstanding border disputes.

Mention should also be made that in its webpage whereas the Ethiopian foreign ministry refers to the work of the joint ministerial meeting of December 4, 2013 with the Sudan and the 13 agreements to be signed, it becomes oblivious to border demarcation. Nonetheless, in pinpointing the purpose of such undertaking with the Sudan and highlighting the purpose of the security agreement between the two countries, Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom has thus stated, “The Political Committee has assessed the commendable results in strengthening and expanding our cooperation in peace and security, justice, federal matters and exchange of information. The activities of the Joint Military Committee organizing patrols and exchanges of information along our borders have enabled us to minimize destabilizing and terrorist activities significantly by anti-peace elements.”

As a matter of fact, neither has Addis Abeba’s sudden burst of energy, which climaxed with the signing of 14 bilateral agreements with the Sudan on Wednesday, December 4, 2013, escaped Khartoum AFP correspondent Ian Timberlake’s attention. In the context of his reporting on the inauguration of 321-km power line between Sudan’s Gedaref power station and Ethiopia’s Amhara regional state, he reads into these the fact that “Ethiopia wants to appeal and neutralize the Sudan over the dam”.

Elsewhere, it is reported that Addis Abeba has resumed talks interrupted last year with the armed Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), possibly with Kenyan intermediary and pressure from some Western governments – presumed to be the United States. This and also preparations for celebration of Ethiopia’s much-lampooned “Nations and Nationalities Day” has evoked the highest frequency complaints by the population from within this Ethiopian region in years now. As ONLF spokesperson told ESAT only on Wednesday, it is because of curfews unregulated by law, massive security envelope of the region and imprisonments of hundreds of youth in the region – in short the martial law state they have been subjected to.

This past Monday, December 2, 2013, we also heard about the TPLF regime approaching the armed Ginbot 7 movement, which operates from Eritrea to engage in peace talks. For the good or ill of the country, this surprising move does not seem to be taken seriously either by the movement or several Ethiopian analysts. After three contacts by the regime within two months, Ginbot 7 reacted by issuing a statement, which set conditions for the talks. Among others, this especially demanded the release of the known and unknown political prisoners – including those in unknown prisons – as the regime’s evidence of its seriousness about the said peace talks.
 

Is all this sign of policy change in Ethiopia, or déjà vu all over again in times of distress?

Key to understanding what these different strands of state actions, the first prerequisite is the need for and possibility of clearly understanding of the nature and behavior of the TPLF regime in Addis Abeba. Whenever it is in trouble, it has been known to be putting everything on fire sale. Its aim is to merely jump as quickly as possible to safer ground. The past two decades of its stewardship of Ethiopia has shown that the regime lacks any concerns or dilemma about long-term implications of basically its short-term orientated actions, as the following selected instances prove.

In 1989, the TPLF reached agreement with Eritrea’s Popular Liberation Front (EPLF) on handing over Assab to Eritrea. By this decision, Meles Zenawi singlehandedly reduced Ethiopia from a historical country with two ports to status of being landlocked. This was notwithstanding the grave reservations of the United States, according to the peace-broker between the two countries – Herman Cohn of the US State Department. The motive of the TPLF was to buy the goodwill of Eritrea’s EPLF to leave it alone. They being of graduates of the same school, giving more only accentuated EPLF’s desire for more, which eventually led to the 1998-2000 war between the two most poverty-stricken states of the planet.


 
Most recently, this has also been corroborated in an interview on SBS by the first Prime Minister under the TPLF Tamrat Layne.
 

The sale does not end there

Like the Port of Assab that Meles awarded Eritrea, huge chunks of lush agricultural lands in Amhara region have been passed on to the Sudan step by step. Work on this started on the morrow of the bloody post-2005 election. Ever since, it has polarized Ethiopian society and is amongst the primary causes for derailment of the aspirations of the Ethiopian people for freedom and a democratic future, the first response of the regime was to enter into agreement with the Sudan, renouncing in 2008 the century-old territorial dispute between Addis Abeba and Khartoum.

I believe that most Ethiopian must recall that on 26 June 2007, the then Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin confirmed completion of the work of the Ethio-Sudan Boundary Committee. To some of us, it came as surprise how they resolved the dispute, especially Ethiopia’s historical claim to the territory for 101 years at that point. Aware of the implications and deceits thereon the Foreign Minister turned into diplomatique-esque obfuscation, declaring:

    …The significant achievements registered in a short period of time were sources of inspiration to redouble joint efforts … The completion of the Metema-Galabat-Gadarif road and the micro-wave link project as well as Ethiopia’s access to Port Sudan have paved the ground for enhanced cooperation between the two sisterly countries … The efforts made by the two sides to fully implement the agreements concluded during the Sixth Joint Ministerial Commission meeting regarding air transport, civil aviation and port utilization were encouraging. The joint Technical Boundary Committee has finalized the project proposal for the re-demarcation [sic] of the long common boundary, [which is] extremely critical for putting Ethio-Sudanese relations on a firm and dependable basis … (Emphasis added).

But the reality was that the TPLF was selling the disputed lands to the Sudan, in return for peace on the common border, to which the Sudan has held its pledge. Therefore, on May 26, 2006 – a year and eleven days after that fateful 2005 election in Ethiopia – Sudanese Envoy to Ethiopia Ambassador Ambassador Abu Zeid told ENA:”

    Ethiopia and Sudan have made boundary an issue of development and cooperation rather than of conflict. Sudan has about 10 [sic] neighbouring countries, but the way it manages its boundary issues with Ethiopia is exemplary to other African countries. The boundary of Ethiopia and Sudan is actually demarcated, yet the actual work on the ground remains a homework to both countries only because it is beyond their financial capacity.

This “border issue” has gone through a lot of transmutations – border demarcation, also erroneously referred to as “rem-demarcation”, territorial surrender – all this because of political deception. Obviously due to the nature of the dispute involving lands, it involves territorial adjustments. The tragedy is that this is not done in keeping with Ethiopia’s interests.

At the time, two things betrayed what was underlying this TPLF plan. The first is the implausible denial in a national statement by the foreign ministry. It blatantly claimed that there was any border demarcation or territorial give away. Secondly, when the pressure started building in the country and in the diaspora, Meles made a statement in parliament confirming that problems left by colonial arrangements were being corrected, HERE COMES HIS EDITING, “without giving Ethiopian lands to the Sudan.”

The ultimate motive of all this was made public by Sebhat Nega in March 2007 during his visit to North America, when he spoke to the TPLF foreign-based shadow cabinet – TPLF member Tigrians. This he needed to do to mobilize the TPLF members in support of the TPLF action involving ceding national territory to a foreign country.

Ato Sebhat explained to the TPLF constituency in North America that the regime would remain intact “as long as the Sudan did not now allow its territory to be used” by anti-TPLF armed groups. The former TPLF leader went even further in stressing explicitly “the TPLF would do everything to maintain good relations with the Sudan in order to prevent opposition forces from obtaining bases in that country.”

While the borders between Sudan and Ethiopia have remained all along undemarcated – despite mistaken claims by Ambassador Abu Zeid – it was drawn by the British and Italian colonisers in 1908 – while remaining undemarcated.

Consequently, so far the only self-interested in the matter directly, but on the whole patriotic, resistance to the take over of Ethiopian territory by the Sudan has come from ordinary farmers. They have been subjected to attacks by Sudanese forces. The TPLF military that masquerades as the national defense force of Ethiopia either stood on the side or at times joined the Sudanese in subduing the Ethiopian farmers. When the story broke out on the media, the TPLF regime publicly denied.

Most of these patriotic citizens have this long refused to move out, even after Meles had the first agreement signed. Over the years, several Sudanese raids have taken place against Ethiopian farmers. The latest such raid was in mid-2012.

Therefore, it is now expected that Ethiopia would force its farming population out of the disputed areas (using force, as usual) to demarcate the frontier between the two countries. In the months to come, we would experience as a nation a lot of this, since our country has distinguished itself as specialist in heartlessly pushing and dislocating its citizens!

Alas!

As far as the TPLF is concerned, it has proved its credentials as an agent of its own constantly repeating history, every time crisis hovers over its horizon!

This week, we have been informed through the foreign media – not Ethiopia’s media nor Ethiopian officials- that with the Sudanese Foreign Minister announced, beaming with smile, “Sudan and Ethiopia have ended the border disagreement on ‘Fashaga’ area,” according to Africa Review.

In Khartoum, Prime Minister Hailemariam and Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom have signed 14 bilateral agreements, pertaining to issues between their countries such as “ensuring peace” along the common border, Ethiopia’s Blue Nile Dam, energy deals, trade and commerce, and also “coordination of positions regarding regional and international issues”, etc.

At the airport in Khartoum

At the airport in Khartoum

From Khartoum, Ian Timberlake singled out the 100MW power Sudan would buy from Ethiopia, on which he said Ethiopia hopes “to strengthen Khartoum-Addis Ababa ties as tensions persist with Egypt over a giant dam.” He quotes a Sudanese political scientist Safwat Fanous, who sees the electricity agreement neutralizing the Sudan over the dam Cairo fears could diminish its water supply.

As mentioned above, Egypt also admitted for the first time today that, after this Ethiopia-Sudan agreement, the Sudan is backing the Ethiopian Great Renaissance Dam (GERD). Perhaps Egypt did not mean to speak in prose with the switch being in Ethiopia’s hands. Sudan too has interest in finding peace, with Ethiopia as broker for many of its internal problems. Nonetheless, the paper quotes President Al-Beshir confirming on the occasion his take on the deal saying, “Backing the dam project is not a political stance, but rather a belief in its benefits for all Nile Basin states.”

This comes on the heel of the talks between the water ministers of Egypt and the Sudan in Khartoum days ago, which has not yielded any agreement or signaled any change of positions, or not stated if there were any.
 

Peace at any price?

Peace is good and it must be the goal of every society, every government and every generation. Nevertheless, not all peace are the same or of equal value. There is peace with honor and peace at any price.

Today, once again Ethiopians are being compelled to be reminded their their sovereignty and national territorial integrity have become bargaining chip for those that have the goal of ruling the country for the coming millennium. Depressing as it is, for sure many Ethiopians would because of this once agains reflect on the peace at any cost their leaders have agreed on, which would be shoved down their throats. For the TPLF, this peace is essential to secure its continuation in power.

Therefore, in the past few weeks it has intensified its engagement in arbitrages of all sorts. In economics, arbitrage refers to profit-making by arbitrageurs (its practitioners), who are in the business of making “risk-free” money. Their job is to take advantage of price differences between different markets and move commodities, currencies and derivatives between markets and countries. Its practitioners love it for its seemingly risk-free possibilities; this is true only when one considers arbitraging with distorted lenses.

In modern economics, besides theory, sufficient lessons have been learnt from a huge disaster that befell Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM) in the United States in 1998. LTCM tried its hands to make money on the price differences between different bonds. The hard way – loss of $4.6 billion in no time – LTCM learned through its demise that not everything is for sale or arbitraging.

In the history of foreign policy or international relations, this has come with slight variation and is known as appeasement. The name most name that is associated with this “peace at any price” is that of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. In the years between 1937 and 1939, the prime minister wanted peace with Nazi Germany. This required him to appease Nazi Germany’s huge appetite for grandeur. Germany’s hunger started with race purity and acquisition of territories of other nations and peoples. Once it saw that gains could be made from this, Germany could not find the brake to stop this, because of which it continued, until the devastation caused the devastations of the Second World War and the losses of 60 million lives.

Thus “peace at any price” is not a free lunch. To those who have capacity to learn, it has left huge lesson that any attempt to secure peace between peoples and countries must satisfactorily answer the question “peace at what price?”

Peace amongst neighbors in the Horn of Africa, as being fashioned now by the TPLF – with Ethiopia at its center as the country with the largest population, biggest army after South Africa and Nigeria and the blessings of a state system that has been around for over 3,000 years – is increasingly becoming repression at home!
 

*UPDATE: This article is amended on Dec 6 with reference to the information regarding the number of agreements signed from the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry’s webpage, highlighting their purposes.
 

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