April, 1 2014
BY NEBIYU TEDLA
There is a long historical relationship between Ethiopia and the Sudan, starting from the states of Axum and Merowe. There are also age-old ties between the two peoples, who have lived in one another’s countries over the years.
According to Harry Verhoeven (PhD), a researcher on African politics at Oxford University, for centuries, Sudan and Ethiopia, along with Egypt, have fought over the Blue Nile Basin, through shifting alliances and against the backdrop of global politics and local resource realities.
As the border shared with Sudan is the largest of its kind for Ethiopia, the two countries have a strong people-to-people relationship. A case in point would be the fact that, while a significant number of Ethiopians have taken up residence in Sudan, Ethiopia is home to a significant number of Sudanese, including refugees.
Over the years, the two countries have been forging harmonious and hostile relationships between themselves. The history of these two neighbouring countries is affiliated with internal dynamics and external pressures.
Looking at the recent history of the two countries, which has direct relevance to the state of things presently, reveals strained relations. The cumulative factors of geographical proximity, shared natural resources and people-to-people ties created a situation in which development in one directly affected the other. And so, during the Derg regime -due to the ideological differences between the then ruling elites of the two countries and the global atmosphere created by the cold war – relations were marked by the involvement of one in the internal affairs of the other – most notably in the form of assisting opposition groups.
After the down fall of the Derg regime in Ethiopia, however, the relations between the two countries changed for the better, through steps taken by both sides. This was except for the unfortunate incidence of extremist tendencies and consequent terrorist activities in Ethiopia having their roots in Sudan – the 1995 failed attempt to assassinate the then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, for example.
After this, certain events became the turning point of hostilities that the two had found themselves in. One of which was the hostile Eritrean diplomacy, which affected both countries. In addition to holding a common enemy in the form of Eritrea, what contributed to the change in relations was Ethiopia’s genuine effort in the Sudanese peace talks and subsequent results as a member of the regional mediation efforts.
Moreover, developments in Sudan, which saw the ousting of prominent political figures who were staunch proponents of the “Islamisation” agenda and the growing desire of the country to get Ethiopia on its side in its petition for the lifting of sanctions laid up on it due to its then status as a terrorism-sponsoring state, contributed to the shift in relations between the two states.
It can safely be put that the good relations which began at this point have in general been maintained, if not strengthened. Ethiopia played a crucial role in the reaching of a peaceful resolution to the long standing conflict between Sudan and South Sudan, culminating in to the relatively smooth secession of the latter.
By and large, the challenges facing Ethiopia and Sudan are remarkably similar. Both need to boost food and energy production and stimulate manufacturing, while adapting to climate change. Both have poor infrastructure, turbulent political histories and troublesome neighbours.
After a decade of oil-driven growth in Sudan and the priority that both Khartoum and Addis Abeba accord to harnessing water resources for electrification and irrigation, energy is assuming great importance in discussions about the security and development of the two states.
A regional integration of energy linkages, with oil and hydropower exchange between the two countries as its nucleus, would not only assist the two countries in getting out of poverty and thriving economically, but also tremendously assist the region as a whole to obtain a stable, politically integrated and secure existence. If there is an energy-based linkage, there is a better opportunity for economic cooperation and consequently a strong and direct interest of one state on the conditions of the other, which is more practical and real than a concern borne out of sentiment or fraternity. Hence, energy linkages leading to economic integration would open the door to more concrete and justified institutional and political integration, drawing a collaborative effort in tackling problems and effectively utilising opportunities.
Both Ethiopia and Sudan must address their largely similar challenges through mutual trust and facilitating regional integration over the issues of oil and hydropower, which could even lead to conflicts if not addressed appropriately. Sharing their resource wealth to build better economic relations can also help in improving the political instability and address the ecological pressures confronting their populations.
Ethiopia started supplying power to Sudan last October, making Ethiopia among the few countries in the world supplying power outside its territory. This came following the completion of the Ethiopia-Sudan Transmission Line, set up at a cost of 41 million dollars. The World Bank financed the project and Sudan is being provided with 100Mw of electricity, as Ethiopia embarks on a test run.
Despite a difficult past, Sudanese-Ethiopian relations are better than they have been for a long time. Surging commercial interactions – including very substantial imports of Ethiopian products and livestock – have been facilitated by improved communications. Several connecting roads have been built, making it possible to drive from Addis Abeba to Khartoum, and there are plans underway to develop railway connections. There are also multiple joint commissions, including border issues and defence.
Sudanese businessmen are regular visitors to Addis Abeba. Ethiopia has been increasingly using Port Sudan’s facilities in addition to the port of Djibouti, which costs an average of 700 million dollars in port fees annually.
The foreign policy of a nation is composed of specific goals designed to be achieved in the course of its relations with other nations. These goals, which constitute the content of foreign policy, are selected from a diversity of interests, as the most important and achievable ones. On April, 1998, the Sudanese government issued a new policy document on the foreign policy and international relations of the country. The main pillar of this document is ensuring peace and security of the region by promoting solidarity based on the mutual benefit of countries.
Furthermore, it promotes mutual respect for national sovereignty and the equality of states, with non-interference in internal affairs of other states. It also looks forward to seeking and supporting peaceful solutions to international disputes, along with the international community.
Besides, it underlined the fact that Sudan can play a greater role in the cooperation of African countries and the Arab world. From this, one can see that the Sudanese government is indeed firm on its belief of regional economic integration.
On the other side, Ethiopia’s foreign policy also promotes solidarity and economic union. Thus, the Ethiopian government has given utmost importance to its relations with Sudan, in terms of development and security matters, as stated in its Foreign affairs and national security policy and strategy.
The areas of cooperation specified in the Ethiopian foreign policy include – the development of water courses flowing from Ethiopia to its neighbours and concluding agreements for their equitable utilisation; economic development; cultural relations; utilisation of ports and protection of security, particularly pertaining to the control of terrorist activities.
Certainly, oil and water resources could contribute to sustainable growth and more harmonious relations between the two countries, if they are managed with an explicitly regional perspective. There is a strong case for building regional economic interdependence around an energy deal, exchanging Sudanese oil for Ethiopian electricity and thus providing a new framework for political relations. Joint energy initiatives could provide a greater, cleaner and more reliable power supply for both Sudan and Ethiopia, as each country grapples with providing jobs for burgeoning populations and services to marginalised areas.
Energy is an important part of the Ethiopian development challenge. In tackling energy as a strategic priority, the government aims to expand access to electricity and improve the quality of current connections, encouraging a transition from firewood and petroleum to alternative sources.
Between 2002 and 2008, demand for electricity grew on average by 17pc annually. This growth is projected to rise to almost 25pc annually. Capacity and coverage need to be expanded if the Ethiopian government is to deliver on its promises of job creation, service provision and economic diversification in an agricultural sector affected by climate change.
The Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project is central to the energy position of the nation, as well as its regional identity. The completion of the Dam will significantly transform the image of Ethiopia, from that of a poor country – dependent on outside assistance – to that of a leading state with resources that are valuable to the entire region.
Electricity generation by hydropower has powerful attractions for Sudan. Only limited parts of the country are currently electrified, but urban demand for electricity is outpacing the supply growth. More and more, local communities are becoming more vociferous in demanding service delivery. This provides an opportunity for a win-win relationship with Ethiopia
A strong case for the nations is, therefore, to work together on energy security. The Horn of Africa would benefit from an energy deal involving water and energy that would contribute to sustainable regional development. That is clearly why an energy deal exchanging Sudanese oil for Ethiopian electricity should top the agenda.
Nebiyu Tedla He Is a Researcher in the Politics of the Horn of Africa and a Master’s Student in Diplomacy and International Relations. He Can Be Reached At N_tedla@yahoo.com.
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