Are Egypt and Sudan moving toward involvement in the Ethiopia Tigray conflict? Today respected Somali Journalist Bashir Hashi Yussuf tweeted that Egypt has been supplying weapons in flights to Sudan of humanitarian supplies intended for the Tigray to be used against Ethiopia.
I previously wrote about the deteriorating status of Ethiopian Sudanese relations. There is a very productive agricultural area the Sudanese call al-Fashaga and the Ethiopian’s call Mazega. Previously the TPLF leader Meles Zenawi had worked out a joint sharing agreement for its use. When Abiy Ahmed came to power the influence of the Amhara elites who claimed this area as theirs become vocal that it belongs to Amhara.
In March of this year the Ethiopian government had sent arms to a Sudanese insurgent group located along the Blue Nile which angered the Sudanese government in addition to Abiy Ahmed’s placement of soldiers in the disputed al-Fashaga region. Subsequently the Sudanese Ambassador was recalled for awhile but upon his return no agreement could be reached with the Ethiopian government.
The Egyptian government and its allies including Sudan have continued to bitterly complain that filling the Grand Renaissance Damn too fast will hurt the down river countries especially Egypt. Egypt and Sudan have signed a joint defense treaty and recently completed joint military exercises which many observers considered a warning to Ethiopia. As I said before some sources have told me that Egyptian press was publishing accounts that no military action should be taken until the outcome of the Tigray Ethiopian conflict was seen. Many believe a Tigray victory will yield a more understanding negotiation.
Just in the past month Eritrean opposition groups to Esaias Afwerki, leader of Eritrea and ally of Ethiopia in the Tigray conflict met in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, to discuss how they could remove the Eritrean government. Sudan has long standing problems with the Esaias regime regarding his support of the Grand Renaissance Damn and respect of Sudanese sovereignty.
An article written in Foreign Policy magazine in November 2020 predicted then that Sudanese involvement would predict the outcome of the Ethiopia Tigray conflict. Clearly if Egypt and Sudan support Tigray the odds of an Ethiopian defeat become higher.
The rapidly cooling relations between Sudan and Ethiopia has implications to the Tigray Ethiopia conflict. There have been growing tensions between the Ethiopian government of Abiy Ahmed and Sudan for several reasons. Tigray leadership has discussed the need to open a western land route for supply which means through Sudan. Could Sudanese Tigray relations be warming up? Logic would suggest Sudan will move to at least neutral if not passively supportive of the Tigray cause.
Sudan Prime Minister recalls ambassador to Ethiopia
The recall of the Sudanese ambassador from Addis Ababa occurred after an internationally supported plan for Sudan to mediate negotiations between the Tigray National State and Ethiopia was flatly rejected. The Ethiopian spokesperson added to their usual statement that they do talk to “terrorists” that they have “trust” issues with Sudan. This was a diplomatic slap in the face to Sudan.
Territorial Dispute between Ethiopia and Sudan
There is a very productive agricultural area the Sudanese call al-Fashaga and the Ethiopian’s call Mazega. Previously the TPLF leader Meles Zenawi had worked out a joint sharing agreement for its use. When Abiy Ahmed came to power the influence of the Amhara elites who claimed this area as theirs become vocal that it belongs to Amhara.
There are frequent skirmishes between Sudan and Ethiopian forces along the disputed farmland with Ethiopia currently holding a captured Sudanese officer. Skirmishes including military movements and exchange of fire have happened when Eritrean and Ethiopian National Defense Force invaded Sudanese territory to capture escaping refugees or search for elements of the Tigray Defense Force.
Dispute over Grand Renaissance Dam
Recently Sudan signed a joint defense treaty with Egypt regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Both parties feel that Ethiopia is not cooperating with their rights to the Nile flow. They have wanted the dam to be slowly filled over many years rather than rushed filling the Ethiopian government has done. I have had discussions with some quite familiar with current Egyptian policy makers who tell me that Egyptian Sudanese cooperation of the GERD plan of action have decided to avoid aggressive action because they expect that if there is a Tigray takeover negotiation will be easier to reach a compromise.
Dispute over Refugees from Ethiopia
Tens of thousands of refugees have fled from Tigray and recently more from Amhara, the Qemant in numbers of at least 3000, because of the Amhara aggression to non-Amhara. Sudan is complaining to the UN that they do not have the resources to care for them. Local Sudanese authorities have exhibited shock at the growing number of bodies of tortured Tigrayans found floating in the Tekeze river bordering Sudan and Western Tigray currently occupied by Eritrea and the Ethiopian National Defense Force.
Sudan is hosting opposition to Eritrea
The Sudanese are also hosting the organization of a shadow opposition government against Abiy Ahmed ally, Eritrea, and may be allowing organization of opposition military forces. This is occurring even though the ruler of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, visited Sudan just a few months ago where they reportedly agree to more mutual cooperation. So one must assume the relationship has taken a turn for the worst.
Recovery of Tigrayan genocide victims downriver from Humera shows how they were likely targeted by cultural markings and suffered horrible murder.
Over the past week increasing numbers of dead bodies have been found floating in the Tekeze river which borders between Western Tigray and Sudan. At least 40 bodies have been recovered in area downriver from the Tigray city of Humera which is under control of Eritrean and Amhara militia. It is the rainy season there and the current is quite swift making recovery difficult for local fisherman so only a few bodies have been able to be collected which have been buried by the local Sudanese.
According to reports by AP and others many have been found to be bound with hands behind their back and suffered burns before death. Tewodros Tefera, a Tigrayan general surgeon refugee who is helping Tigrayan refugees in Sudan and Sudan doctors examined the bodies and recognized the characteristic Tigray facial marking on some of the bodies and identified another with a tattoo in the Tigrinya language. Some of the bodies have suffered gun shot and axe wounds.
For centuries at least the Tigrayans often called the Tegaru have practiced ritual face marking. This is not unusual in Africa although the specific way the Tegaru do it is unique. In early childhood two parallel small incisions are made lateral to the eyebrow. Locally it is called the “eleven”. Sometimes this was done at the time a child showed febrile illness. There is a cultural belief that this mark protects health. Unfortunately this mark is known to those committing genocide in Tigray such that those bearing it become the targets of abuse or murder. In previous times the Derg regime and bands of Amhara militia have gone on hunting parties to kill those with these facial scars. These markings leave no doubt that it is Tigrayans who are being killed.