Ethiopia’s unwavering stand for regional integration amidst Sudan conflict

The internal conflict in Sudan between two military generals has now been ongoing for approximately a year, with no fruitful discussions or agreements reached. Consequently, the influx of Sudanese fleeing from their homeland to neighboring countries has become unstoppable. According to the UN refugee agency, violent clashes erupted between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Sudan on April 15, 2023, resulted in the displacement of nearly 8 million people, including internally displaced people (IDPs), asylum seekers, and refugees. This conflict exacerbated many of Sudan’s existing challenges, including ongoing conflicts, disease outbreaks, economic and political instability, and climate emergencies.

In addition to the devastating impacts of the war, the people of Sudan are also grappling with starvation, worsening their plight. However, instead of resolving their differences at the negotiation table, the two generals are engaged in a blame game, accusing each other.

Recently, the Abdel Fattah al-Burhan Administration banned pan-Arab media outlets in the country, accusing them of fueling up the problems. Surprisingly, regional and continental organizations such as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the African Union (AU) have not brought the expected and tangible results in mediating the conflict and bringing about peace in the country. The lack of rigorous action from these organizations, which bear the responsibility and power to alleviate the rising tension in Khartoum, raises serious questions.

These organizations, especially the AU, have recently played a vital role in Ethiopia’s war by mediating and facilitating the opportunity to bring the issue to the table. The effort of regional and continental organizations made agreement possible in Ethiopia’s case and the two warring parties have reached an accord in Pretoria, South Africa. The move have achieved its objective in relation to silencing the guns in Africa and implementing the motto: solving African problems with African solutions. The lesson must be learned and exercised in Sudan’s case, too.

Nevertheless, there have been some discussions aimed at finding a solution to the problem. It is also important to acknowledge that the Sudanese turmoil is not limited to Sudan alone; it has had repercussions on the entire region and its neighboring countries.

Yet, many of Khartoum’s neighbors are hosting Sudanese refugees who have fled their country due to the conflict. Ethiopia, in particular, has taken in a significant number of Sudanese refugees, adding to the existing refugee population of approximately one million from various countries.

In a recent press release to The Ethiopian Herald, the Refugees and Returnees Service (RRS) revealed that since mid-April 2023, over 20,000 Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers have crossed Ethiopia’s border through Kurmuk, a town in western Ethiopia, in search of safety and stability. Ethiopia, working with partners, will continue to support and ease their lives.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi and Refugees and Returnees Service (RRS) Director General Teyiba Hassen led a group that visited the migrants and spoke with their representatives, highlighting the pressing issues. This time, RRS Director General Teyiba Hassen reaffirmed the determination of her organization to work tirelessly with partners to relocate the refugees and asylum seekers and quickly find a solution to the difficult situation.

“Seeing women and the elderly, especially children, suffer so much as a result of miscommunications between the parties to the fight back home is terrible. We have many things in common that go beyond just being neighbors, so our people and administration are determined to share what they have with the people of Sudan,” she said.

For his part, UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi thanked Ethiopia for housing the migrants and voiced his organization’s profound worry over the situation in Sudan. He also promised to use his commission’s authority to support those in need.

“We are grateful to Ethiopia for setting a great example by accepting almost a million migrants and asylum seekers in spite of internal difficulties. Additionally, we appreciate the regional government providing property for our relocation, Filippo added.

These all demonstrate Ethiopia’s commitment to an open-arm refugee policy and its efforts to bring the warring factions to the negotiation table.

Furthermore, Ethiopia’s unwavering commitment to regional integration is evident in its provision of electric power to neighboring countries. Sudan, being one of the recipients of Ethiopia’s electric power exports, has faced challenges in meeting its payment obligations. Despite this, Ethiopia still continues to export electricity to Sudan even though the outstanding debt amounts over 130 million dollars. Due to technical limitations, the current power capacity received by Sudan is only around 80 megawatts per day, compared to the pre-conflict import of 200 megawatts per day.

Ashebir Balcha, Director General of Ethiopian Electric Power, revealed that Sudan has not paid for its electric power service for almost two years. Yet, Ethiopia has refrained from cutting off the power supply, demonstrating its commitment to regional integration and support for its neighbor during these challenging times. Ashebir emphasized that, despite the strain on Ethiopia’s foreign currency reserves, the country has not halted its power exports to Sudan, even with 130 million dollars owed. However, the situation in Sudan has had a significant impact on Ethiopia’s foreign currency reserves, as trade between the two countries has been disrupted.

Beyond Ethiopia’s regional integration efforts, the country is tirelessly working to ensure peace and security for the people of Sudan. It is imperative that both regional and continental organizations pay attention to the Sudanese crisis and work towards tangible agreements to improve the well-being of the Sudanese people.

In the other part, Kidus Gezahagn, an African and Asian Affairs Researcher, emphasized the need for continental and regional organizations to renew their commitment to facilitate resolution mechanisms for the Sudanese Civil War. The conflict hinders the African Union’s vision of regional integration, making it impossible to achieve while countries like Sudan suffer from civil war, resulting in immense destruction and loss of life.

Kidus also highlighted Sudan’s strategic importance to the East African economy and the adverse effects of inflation and shortages on the Sudanese population, with nearly 40% of the people facing food shortages.

Given the economic implications and the disruption of trade, Ethiopia has called for a mutual consensus between Ethiopia and Sudan to address the problem directly, without third-party interference. The African Union’s role in facilitating peace has been questioned, as it has failed to fulfill expectations as a continental body. Kidus argued that the global media’s attention is currently focused on conflicts such as the Russo- Ukraine War and the War in Gaza, while the Sudanese war has been largely forgotten.

Ethiopia, with its potential to mobilize continental and international organizations, still has the opportunity to reinstate the agenda and seek a resolution to the complex situation in Sudan. However, it is crucial for neighboring countries to recognize that the instability in Sudan must primarily be resolved through the efforts of the Sudanese themselves, he added.

It is worth noting that Ethiopia and Sudan have a longstanding diplomatic relationship, as well as strong people-to-people ties and cooperation in various sectors, including security matters. Their collaboration in combating terrorism and cross-border crime is considered essential to addressing shared security challenges.

Overall, the ongoing internal conflict in Sudan requires urgent regional intervention to bring about peace and stability. Regional organizations, such as IGAD and the AU, must play a more active role in facilitating negotiations and finding a resolution to the crisis. Only through collective efforts can the vision of regional integration and development be realized, benefiting all countries in the region.


The Ethiopian Herald April 14/2024

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