Sudanese-Ethiopian Border Clashes: 6 Month Outlook

Sudan conducted artillery strikes against Ethiopian positions in the region of al-Fashaqa last month [source]. Sudanese forces moved to capture border points and towns on June 28th [source]. The region of al-Fashaqa is immensely fertile and for this reason, hotly contested by both Sudanese and Ethiopian tribal farmers. Owing to al-Fashaqa strategic location near Eritrea and Tigray, the region became a vector of violent confrontation in the context of Ethiopia’s civil war [source]. Food insecurity and crop failure are the primary concern for any inter-state conflict in the horn of Africa. 

Key Judgement 1: It is unlikely that Sudan and Ethiopia will escalate the present border clashes to a full-scale war in the next 6 months.

  • The African Union has urged both parties to restrain from violence. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development echoed the sentiment and called for the provision of diplomatic support to both countries [source]. 
  • Sudan’s ruling military government released images of the dead soldiers [source]. Subsequently, Ethiopia denounced Sudan’s actions as an intentional effort to worsen relations between the two neighbours [source]. 
  • Ethiopia’s hydroelectric mega-project, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), has contributed to tensions over water rights between Sudan and Ethiopia. The al-Fashaqa region sits downstream from the GERD [source].
  • Relations between the neighbors became increasingly agitated after fighting in Tigray drove refugee populations into Sudanese territory. Ethiopia accuses Sudan of supporting Tigrayan rebels [source]. 
  • On July 5th, Ethiopia announced a breakthrough agreement with Sudan over the issue of land demarcation in al-Fashaqa. However, the precise details of the agreement are not presently known [source]. 
  • Nonetheless, Sudan reopened the Gallabat border crossing on July 18th. Gallabat is a major point of entry for trade between Sudan and Ethiopia [source]. 
  • In addition, Sudan and Ethiopia tentatively agreed to mediate the dispute through South Sudan. South Sudanese President Salva Kiir confirmed his government’s role in the peace process [source]. 

Key Judgement 2: It is likely that violent clashes between ethnic groups in Sudan and Ethiopia will escalate in the next 6 months. 

  • 79 people were killed last week when the Berti tribe rejected an attempt by the Hawsa tribe to form a civil monitoring body for land sharing [source], [source]. 
  • The governor of Sudan’s Blue Nile State, Ahmed al-Omda, attempted to restore order by imposing nighttime curfews and banning all public demonstrations [source]. 
  • Despite the governmental decrees, violence erupted again near al-Damazin [source].
  • Local officials stated that the regional authorities lack the necessary number of troops to maintain order [source].
  • Violent confrontations in Tigray have sparked similar violence in the neighbouring Amhara region. The Qemant people previously attempted to assert autonomy, leading to deadly clashes between Qemant groups and the Amhara [source].
  • The Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) finalized an alliance against the government last year [source]. 
  • The OLA initiated several hundred new militants into its ranks last year. These additional fighters contributed to increased amounts of violence in the subsequent months [source]. 

Key Judgement 3: It is unlikely that border clashes will negatively impact foreign direct investment into Sudan in the next 6 months. 

  • The UAE is building a new port on Sudan’s Red Sea coast. The UAE partnered with Sudan’s largest firm, DAL, in order to facilitate the construction with a 300 Million USD deposit [source]. 
  • The project is part of a larger 6 Billion USD investment program which will finance the construction of a new airport, an agricultural scheme and a moderately sized free trade zone [source]. 
  • Despite the chronic instability, the UAE aims to construct agricultural projects in the al-Fashaqa region. A memorandum of understanding was signed last month affirming the plans [source].
  • Qatar is strengthening bilateral relations with Sudan and has expressed optimism over the future trajectory of the Sudanese economy [source]. 
  • Ethiopia is faring poorly compared to Sudan, with various industrial sectors of the economy significantly contracted since last year [source].
  • However, the GERD has successfully undergone the third stage of its filling process. The dam will provide surplus electricity for Ethiopia’s neighbors. Successful initiation of power generation will also help Ethiopia meets it’s development targets [source]. 
  • Russia is hoping to establish a Red Sea port on the Sudanese coast [source]. 
  • Wagner PMC, the Kremlin’s mercenary group, is involved in providing security for the port and the related construction operations [source], [source]. 
  • US intelligence officials believe that al-Burhan is wary of a Russian naval presence in Sudan. The military government is reportedly intentionally stalling the construction of the base [source]. 
  • Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, al-Burhan’s deputy, is more willing to accommodate the Kremlin’s wishes [source]. 
  • There is no official indication from either Sudan or Russia that the base project is formally canceled [source], [source]. 

    Intelligence Cut-Off Date: 15th of July 2022
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