Amicable solutions for Ethiopia-Sudan border problem

I believe that Israel should take advantage of its historical and long-standing ties with Ethiopia- a friend to the people and government of Israel.

Fasil Legesse (photo credit: Courtesy)
Fasil Legesse
(photo credit: Courtesy)
We are living in one of the most challenging times. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, more than two million people have lost their lives; including more than 4 thousand Israelis. So far over 100 million have been diagnosed with covid-19. The impact of the pandemic on the global economy has been devastating, with millions losing their jobs and livelihood. While this has been dominating the news, and rightly so; there was good news that comes out from the Middle East. The signing of the Abraham Accord and the establishment of official diplomatic relations between Israel and Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates were indeed historical. I believe these developments are already having positive impacts on strengthening regional alliances to fight terrorism, to bring peace and prosperity not only to the countries that opened a new diplomatic chapter but also to the entire region including North and East Africa.
I have always asserted that the Middle East and the Horn of Africa -a region that comprises Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan, and South Sudan- have many commonalities, including history, religion, and economic relations. In this context, I believe the Abraham Accord could boost regional connectivity and economic prosperity between the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. I hope that countries of the region can work together to fight terrorism, illicit trade, and illegal migration. 
I believe that Israel should take advantage of its historical and long-standing ties with Ethiopia- a friend to the people and government of Israel. Needless to say, the Bete Israel community is a unique symbol and an eternal human link between Israel and Ethiopia. It is my conviction that the Abraham Accord would provide us a historical opportunity to forge a new partnership while strengthening existing cooperation in a manner that could shape the future of the regions. Diplomatic engagement would enhance a better understanding and cooperation for the volatile regions that have gone through a lot of challenges- poverty, sluggish economies, war, refugees and displacement, climate change, to mention a few. The effective implementation of the Abraham Accord has the power to contribute to addressing these challenges.
As hopeful as I am about the potential of the Abraham Accord for the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, there have been opportunities and challenges. As one of the countries that normalized diplomatic relations with Israel is Sudan located in this region, there are potential economic opportunities that could benefit both Israel and the countries of this strategic region. It is my reading that the recent visit of Israeli delegation to Sudan was productive. It was reported that Minister Eli Cohen visited Sudan leading a delegation and the two sides agreed to strengthen their bilateral relations, including in security matters. This opens a new chapter in history. 
Yet, there is an emerging challenge in the region. Reports confirm that the Sudanese army, taking advantage of the Ethiopian law and order enforcement operation, took control of a border area, killing Ethiopian farmers and destroying their agricultural harvests. I observed that the current situation of the Ethiopian- Sudan border issue is genuinely alarming because the Sudanese forces used this timing assuming that Ethiopia is vulnerable. The recently conducted law and enforcement operation by the Ethiopian government in the Tigray region has concluded successfully. Now the humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation of Tigray, which according to the Ethiopian government should be the highest priority. I hope all who need humanitarian assistance are getting the much-needed aid and the international community would support the national humanitarian endeavors.
For neighboring countries that have consolidated bilateral ties, this exercise of excessive military action to control the border area inhabited by Ethiopian farmers is a source of grave concern. In a region, most of the boundaries were delimited by former colonial powers, having boundary issues is almost expected between two neighbouring countries. But what is deeply worrisome is the use of force. Whatever claims both countries have, I strongly believe that they should sit down and talk. It is only dialogue between Ethiopia-our historical friend, and Sudan- our new partner- that could help them to find an amicable solution to their border dispute. The good thing about this tension is that the Ethiopian government has shown patience and restraint. Since the Sudanese military adventure occurred, Ethiopia has been calling for political dialogue. In an interview with Reta Alemu Nega, Ethiopian Ambassador to Israel, told me that Ethiopia is committed and ready to engage in a political dialogue to find a mutually acceptable lasting, and peaceful solution to the current situation. He said that the military incursion by the Sudanese military force, is a flagrant violation of the agreements between the two countries. He explained that the boundary between Ethiopia and the Sudan was delimited by the Treaties signed in 1902 and 1907 between Ethiopia and the British colonial powers. Then in 1903 the British Government unilaterally demarcated the boundary in the absence of the representative of the Government of Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Government expressed its position that it didn’t accept the demarcation because it was carried out in the absence of the representative from Ethiopia. That was a unilateral act and what Ethiopia is calling is for both sides to engage in a dialogue and seek for amicable solutions. 
I learnt that, after the independence of Sudan, the two countries continued the dialogue on this matter and agreed in 1972 to re-demarcate the boundary. According to the Exchange of Note signed by the two Ministers of Foreign Affairs in 1972, the two sides agreed to set up a special committee to study and submit a final report recommending an amicable solution to the problems arising from the unilateral demarcation. Ambassador Reta said attempts to address the difference between Ethiopia and Sudan have been going on for years, even decades, using bilateral channels, such as the joint boundary commissions. He noted that it is only dialogue between Ethiopia and Sudan that could lead to amicable solution by reactivating mechanisms under the bilateral agreement. 
I have a firsthand knowledge of the area. Since time immemorial this land has been under effective administration and the domain of Ethiopian authorities. Ethiopian farmers have settled and cultivated these agricultural farmlands for centuries. Ambassador Reta underscored that Ethiopia expressed its readiness to continue the negotiation on the boundary re-demarcation while reiterating the importance of returning to the status quo ante. The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson asserted that in order to start a dialogue the recent massive incursions by the Sudanese army to Ethiopian holdings must be reversed and the Status quo ante should be respected first. Hence, the two sides need to reactivate the existing bilateral arrangements to discuss and find a win-win solution. 
In my opinion, both Sudan and Ethiopia should see the bigger picture of economic opportunities and the benefits of a political solution could bring to their friendly peoples. Otherwise, the two will miss opportune time to attract investment and develop their nations. They will also lose the multiple benefits of the Abraham Accord and the new momentum of opening a new chapter in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa could face a very serious impediment. I sincerely hope that the call for dialogue would be answered; and cooler and wiser heads who advocate peaceful solutions for border tension would prevail. Friends of the two countries and the international community should also take the matter seriously and encourage both parties to engage in a constructive dialogue by reactivating their bilateral mechanisms.