The Prime News (Dec 30, 2020) Sudan and Ethiopia engaging in “large-scale fighting” on their border, by Martine Plaut, University of London
“Sudan says it is asserting sovereignty over the al-Fashaga triangle. And it is right. Region is internationally recognised as Sudanese. Ethiopian PM Meles Zenawi who was more astute sought modus vivendi with Sudan rather than challenge its sovereignty. This allowed Ethiopian farmers to lease land, not own land.
“A large-scale and prolonged war between Sudan and Ethiopia will be catastrophic. It almost certainly will draw in Egypt. That will be a nightmare scenario. Makes sense for PM Abiy to negotiate with Sudan rather than use military means to challenge Khartoum’s seizure of al Fashaga.
“PM Abiy is sadly in a bind and terrible fix. His only support base now is hardline Amhara imperio-nationalists. They drove him to war with Tigray, now pushing him to another even bigger war with Sudan. When he fails to deliver, they will depose him.
“Eritrea’s President Isaias Afewerki always wanted supremacy, dominance in the Horn. The turmoil in the Horn is his chance. Tigray was existential & immediate threat. A weak & conflicted Ethiopia suits him fine. An Ethiopia at war with Sudan even better. That way he gets to kill two birds with one stone.”
How this conflict escalated
The dispute over the al Fashaga triangle goes back to treaties signed by Britain, Italy and Ethiopia in 1900, 1901 and 1902. The triangle is very fertile and well watered land, which has been cultivated by Amhara farmers from neighbouring Ethiopia. But the land is generally regarded as Sudanese.
Former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir largely turned a blind eye to incursions into his country by Ethiopia. However, Sudan’s transitional government, which took power after popular protests that ousted al-Bashir, took steps to get the Ethiopian farmers to leave al-Fashaga.
When the war in Tigray erupted on 4 November, the Ethiopians withdrew their army from the al Fashaga – to join the fighting in Tigray. The Sudanese seized their opportunity – and took large parts of the disputed area.