By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
This article is inspired by another article, appearing on the HornAffairs, which at many levels is quite interesting. I would like to express my thanks to the blog’s Editor for publishing this revealing piece, taking trouble to get it machine-translated from Arabic into English and finally ensuring its readability by enlisting the support of native speakers of the original language.
Therefore, I commend the article to students of diplomacy, among others. First of all, the Addis Abeba resident Ambassador Osman Nafie of the Sudan is imbued with a quality rare in diplomats – unfashionable for some however. He appears eloquently forthright about not getting within reasonable time what his country has been wanting from and pestering Ethiopia: HANDOVER of BORDER LANDs DISPUTED BETWEEN OUR TWO COUNTRIES FOR 113 YEARS INTO SUDANESE JURISDICTION.
I am not surprised that such deepseated dispute between the two countries has been on the mill for such a long time. I have always been aware that both Ethiopia and Sudan since the late 1960s have strongly believed in trying to prevail over each other, often each side aiming at worsening the other’s injuries. I am here referring to Ethiopia using its South Sudan stick against the Sudan, which until July 2011 was an integral part of the Sudan fighting for ages for freedom and independence. Ethiopian used it to promote its interests.
On the other side, three years after its independence in January 1956 the Sudan also turned to using the Eritrean rebels as its weapons against the Ethiopian state, possibly because of nudging by Egypt. Fortunately, possibly for the foreseeable future, it appears that the TPLF-ites have held in abeyance the idea of breaking away from Ethiopia. Nonetheless, their return to being Ethiopian is induced by the weakening of the Dergue, the Ethiopian regime, and their hunger for power and subsequently the power vacuum in in 1991 in Addis Abeba thereon trumping their principle of ‘liberating Tigray’.
In that, I believe, Ethiopia and the Sudan have both succeeded in diminishing one another. Both have lost territories – in the case of Ethiopia even an outlet to international seas that has successfully persisted in choking up its econpmy, especially manufacturers and other producers’ profits because of the onerous transportation costs to Djibouti port, even for that matter when using Port Sudan.
Beyond unresolved border issues, therefore, the unfortunate part of the whole thing is that there still are many lingering problems between Ethiopia and the Sudan. It is very likely that these in future may bleed both nations again, even inducing greater instability in the Horn and Central Africa. This is no novel insight into the future; it is in the nature of such tensions and the smoldering fury to consume with their fires sucking into them many previously unexpected territories and peoples, especially when their textures are susceptible to galvanizing ethnic and religious grievances.
Healing festering problems
There have been so many unresolved problems around the world since the Second World War. However, most striking for me is the over a century old territorial dispute between China and Russia, which entertained several claims and counter-claims over Yinlong and Heixiazi Islands.
However, in a practical manner the leaderships of the two countries found solutions, pacifying their nationalistic populations initially. Also not only they avoided litigating history for an answer, but also they simply chose to divide their disputed territories into sharing 50-50 percent for each side. That is one way to skin the cat so long as there is the will where solutions would be easier coming.
I would, therefore, like to believe that in expressing his ‘frustration’ against the size of the Ethiopian population, Ambassador Osman Nafie implied that it has become beyond capacity of Ethiopia to manage and offer them sustenance. Propriety dictates that this daring act be sanctioned. Accordingly, any self-respecting state – other than the TPLF, which the ambassador referred to as ‘tribal’ government – would have considered this incredulous mud-slinging to have him pack his bag and ship him out in 72 hours for gross interference in the country’s internal affairs. I know it would not be and cannot happen in TPLFite Ethiopia.
Since Ambassador Nafie learned this from the TPLF, he may even be promoted as a bright student of the Front’s divisive politics. While that indeed is the case, I cannot believe that a resident diplomat should show such total disrespect for the people of Ethiopia and gets away without sanctions. To put it mildly, his attempt – for a diplomat – to characterize on the media root of the political problems of Ethiopia being TPLF and Amhara ethnicity problems shows temerity that angles more on the side of foolhardiness, including his statement that observes:
“The group in power now is from Tigray, while those in the border (where the clashes occur) are from Amhara region and they used to be in power. As a result of this, maybe they have an attitude now…Ethiopia is now under the control of a tribe different from the tribe at the border. So the central government turn a blind eye to it”
I am not certain whether the ambassador’s orientation is informed by demography or Freudianism. We saw that his babble at some level seems to discuss attitudes and unconscious desires. If one bases the simplicity of his thoughts by which he diagnosed the Amhara, about whom he dared to claim the “Amhara have an attitude now”, one clearly sees that the honorable ambassador’s diagnosis of the behavior of a group of Ethiopians is an acquired hostility he has least digested, which falls in the realm of Freudian psychoanalysis that he uses as ticket to favoritism by the Addis Abeba regime.
I can understand that Ambassador Nafie has been irate regarding the delay in demarcating the border between the two nations. During his interview with Assayha, where he was either in least guarded moment, when speaking ill about Ethiopia and 94 percent of its population to a home paper in Arabic or he must have felt very comfortable by the freedom. As a politician and especially as a diplomat, he has opened up too much, having totally forgotten that the other half of the equation to solving the problem is Ethiopia. Is it possible that he had surrendered to his weaknesses of a mortal and was in an Ethiopia bashing mood to the gallery – to his officials and friends – whom he wanted to please as a representative of their nation’s interests in that troubled part of the world.
In both instances, in my opinion, Ambassador Nafi has proved to be a good actor, but less of a professional, who has been exposed by his obliviousness of the fact that the gallery often is path to national damnation; history has many times shown the dangerous consequences of the gallery, since it loves only one thing: favoring to hype, love of a solution that ignores the other part of the equation because of which his actions become cause for conflicts.
Envoys burning their fingers or their bridges
Often experts say, be it in diplomacy or any other terrain of human endeavors, success or good outcome of a state representative depends ‘on the nature of the beast’ itself. Some professional diplomats become owners of the mission – instead of vehicle for its accomplishments. That is when the messenger – the diplomat – runs into trouble, either with his/her government or the host country.
Another Addis Abeba resident Ambassador who found himself in Nafie’s shoes was Ambassador Tarek Ghoneim – none other than Egypt’s envoy, who in an interview with Capital on November 4, 2010 challenged the TPLF leadership to give up the whole Nile for Egypt’s utilization. I must admit that there is huge gap in terms of competence between the two persons.
The problem with Ambassador Ghoneim was that he insensitively, relatively less hurtful than Nafie’s, put his demand to Ethiopian authorities in the following manner:
“We [Egypt] are pushing for all Nile basin countries to benefit from the Nile, but there are valid past agreements. Egypt is 95 percent dependent on the Nile. Ethiopia on the other hand has many rivers and sufficient rainfall”. A reader must fill in the unfinished part of the sentence. It is a very carefully worded language for the ambassador to ask Ethiopia to leave the Nile for Egypt!
I just could not believe my eyes; I reread the article. Yes, of course I was angry by the fact that the TPLF regime did not react immediately, not even within a week or the week after that. As a citizen of Ethiopia I had already taken it upon myself to rebuke the ambassador in great length; I cited similar arrogant incidents and other historical precedents – admittedly I did not know what I was aiming at – whether to educate him or cut him to size.
Years later, I had one encounter with him at a function in New York, where I his name ringed a bell. After some talks, I found in him a learned person and a long career as a diplomat. Neither I nor he were interested in ginning the same issue, after the Nile Basin countries had succeeded in educating Egypt with their 2010 action that no one has any longer monopoly over the Nile.
Let me pursue this further with the TPLF’s response to Egypt (partly to Mr. Ghoneim’s remarks); it came on November 23, 2010, after a delay of nearly three weeks through an interview by the dictator Meles Zenawi with Reuters; it would be oversimplification to put it as strong. To my mind, it was of an overkill capacity; it was overloaded with all Egyptian crimes since God created man in Ethiopia and put him in the Garden of Aden at that point, nearly by end of November 2010.
Meles did not spare himself from calling history and international law as his witness or turning to his muscle in responding to Egypt, while cleverly not mentioning the Capital interview. He must have considered deep inside that to remind the Egyptian leaders that he was reacting to Ghoneim would have likened all those craftily designed arguments and emotion to using thermonuclear capacity weapon for local rebellion. His potent line darted at Hosni Mubarak said:
- “I am not worried that the Egyptians will suddenly invade Ethiopia. Nobody who has tried that has lived to tell the story. I don’t think the Egyptians will be any different and I think they know that.”
At the time, Egypt’s various actions were directed to discredit the actions by the five (later six) upper Nile Basin states that by April 2010 had signed The Cooperative Framework Agreement for The Nile Basin (CFA). For Meles, I have no doubt that the spur was Ambassador Ghoneim’s ridiculous comment, which in my response I described as “undiplomatic move for a resident diplomat trying to pierce with his finger the eyes of his hosts. Reuters also quotes Meles saying, “he was not happy with the rhetoric coming from the Egyptians…”
At the time, I recall that the Egyptians reacted with seeming confusion and surprise, perhaps sincerely or as part of their effort to play up Meles’s reference to war. For instance, the Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit observed “I’m amazed by the language that was used. We are not seeking war and there will not be war.” Egyptian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hossam Zaki also reacted with stating “Egypt is firmly behind its legal and political positions on the issue of the Nile water.”
When it comes to the Sudan, readers need to give recognition to subtleties of the Sudan of these days as a nation in an acquisitive state of mind. For instance, after Khartoum joined the Saudi coalition in bombing another Muslim country of Yemen into savagery – even before the Saudis were content with shedding shia blood and damaging one of the oldest nations – immediately al-Bashir hurtled back into seeking a reward from Saudi Arabia for services it has rendered.
Thus Al-Bashir, as chief envoy for his country, approached the Saudi king in person to seek help to recover lands lost to Egypt, known as The Hala’ib Triangle. The Saudi royal family instatnly overruled al-Bashir and offered him around a billion dollars of investments in the country’s agrcultural sector instead.
Another good example that immediately comes to mind is that of the US envoy in Iraq in 1990, i.e., before the first Gulf War. The US Administration reportedly accused its career envoy in Iraq Ambassador April Glaspie of having given ‘tacit approval’ to Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait. In later clarifying what happened, Ambassador Galispe expressed the opinion, according to The Washington Post:
- “It is over,” Glaspie said. “Nobody wants to take the blame. I am quite happy to take the blame. Perhaps I was not able to make Saddam believe that we would do what we said we would do, but in all honesty, I don’t think anybody in the world could have persuaded him.”
The theatrics and language employed by Ambassador Osman Naife is, therefore, aimed at pressuring Addis Abeba – jangling in the Sudanese mind the favors they have done the TPLF for years as a guerrilla movement. Sudan would not also forget the unrequited favor the Sudan had done in 2005 when the TPLF nearly was booted out of office through popular vote that was free and independent in the election that ever since has transformed the Ethiopian political landscape as the most repressive.
In that context, recall that it was secretly Dictator Meles Zenawi and Dictator and ICC-indictee Omar al-Bashir that entered into the most unholy of alliances that involved trade in sovereign lands in exchange for security for the TPLF. The price was suitable for the Sudan, especially after it tried it militarily means around 1994/1995 to take back contested lands and they were badly beaten back. Therefore, for the Sudan it is cheap – deny any and all Ethiopian oppositions not to be able to operate from Sudanese territory against the TPLF. The TPLF must have calculated that it would use deadly force to crush any rebellion because of this. The opposition was much stronger that it has anticipated. After it has been chorusing about good governance, it has automatically decided to go to the use of force against citizens that are advocating respect for their nation’s territorial integrity and national sovereignty.
Important to consider is, whatever the motive of the Sudan’s head of its diplomatic mission in Addis Abeba, it may startle the uninitiated and may compel them to wonder whether this is the Sudan’s declaration of war. This especially must worry TPLF members, given the warm relations and camaraderie between the TPLF and the Sudanese leadership. No doubt the ambassador’s words have sharper edge that pierces painfully than a sword.
This is more so in view of the context he has put it. He has tried to attribute the problem of the delay in the demarcation to the Amharas in Ethiopia, at the same time as he saw the Sudan’s annoyance by the cycle of violence along the common border as a crisis fostered by inadequacy of land to Ethiopia’s fast growing population.
Seen against the data, however, this cuts both ways in the immediate and, not in the future, although irrespective of the period, Ethiopia has larger population. For instance, looking at it from perspective of the total rate of fertility per woman of the two countries, Ethiopia’s is 4.59 relative to the Sudan’s 4.83 the for the period between 2010-2015. Interestingly, the concern should be on the Sudanese side, since Ethiopia’s total fertility rate for 2015-2020 would grow down to 3.99 already by 2020, while the Sudan’s slows down only to 4.13 until 2015, and without dipping down into the 3.+s until 2025, according to the United Nations.
TPLF’s reaction now is surrendering to Sudan’s demand, under the guise of border demarcation
Any good citizen of any country would understand that, what the TPLF and the Sudan are doing is not consistent with citizens’ expectations in any country from those installed in power in his or her name. We know this because today’s The Reporter has carries news item, informing Ethiopians that the TPLF has postively reacted to the Sudan’s request to resume demarcation of the border. It has scurried to assuage Sudanese frustrations with the border to be demarcated by the next month.
We already know that the TPLF on December 5, 2013 had signed as many as 14 agreements, one of which is the border demarcation. That has made the Sudan happy, since Ali Karti, Sudan’s former minister at the time, had said: Ethiopia and the Sudan have agreed to resolve all their outstanding border disputes, with lands kept under Ethiopian control, i.e., 250 sq.km to be returned to the Sudan.
At the time, my angry response was put forth in TPLF & Sudan reap the bounty: What has Ethiopia got from the latest round Khartoum deal?, which still is my position. In that article, I made the observation:
- “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.”
Might I mention also that, when I was taking stock of the 14 agreements they signed in different areas from the web page of the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry, I found it interesting to learn that they had listed only 13 agreements. Missing was the border demarcation. I wrote in that connection that consciously or inadvertently, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry web page has become oblivious to one of the records of the joint ministerial meeting records of December 4, 2013; and notably missing is the border demarcation agreement.
What are citizens supposed to do in this situation?
The simple answer is that anyone who claims to love Ethiopia, this is the time to fight the injustice of tyrants and gangsters. By tradition, border people are national guards that in all countries, in cooperation with national guards and responsible state political offices, help defend national territorial integrity and their countries sovereignty from any attempt through the border.
In the circumstances, there is no higher calling for all Ethiopians than supporting in every manner possible Ethiopian farmers that find themselves between a rock and a hard place. The TPLF has betrayed our people and our country’s interests. Recall that the farmers are being shot and killed by both Sudanese forces, ordinary Sudanese farmers and from the back by TPLF’s Agazi force.
That is why Ethiopians should do everything within their powers to derail the implementation of the demarcation exercise. All forms of help need to be provided to the gallant fighters of the nation in Gondar fighting Sudan’s efforts to be rewarded with an inch of Ethiopia’s historical lands.
International awareness also must be exerted to prepare the international community for possible intervention, before it escalates into conflict between civil society and the heavily armed TPLF state, known for its love of violence against ordinary citizens.
For any future solution to this problem, Ethiopians must have a united position, which must also involve in future boycotting any products by the TPL and its allies.
The search for solution must also involve the international community, selected nations helping to arbitrate with involvement of the United Nations – but never the African Union, a spineless dictators’ club without principles!
The Sudan and the TPLF, as I tried to discuss here, are on the same side – the TPLF buying its peace by handing Ethiopia’s sovereign territory!
Not only that this is unequal exchange. But also it is immoral, a transaction by the unprincipled and brigands, bereft of any morality and loyalty especially to Ethiopia!
Even the Sudan had its latest consultations with exclusively with TPLF officials, Debretsion Gebreamlak, the Sudanese represented by Vice-president Hasabo Mohamed Abdel-Rahman. To create confusion, the press was told they held consultations on the creation of free trade zone, according to Sudan Tribune.
Readers interested in reading Ambassador Osman Nafie’s full interview should access from the HornAffairs