This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and guest host Comfort Ero talk with Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa director, Murithi Mutiga, about the fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and mounting tension between Ethiopia and its neighbours Eritrea and Sudan.
Intercommunal violence flared up in West Darfur, leaving over 100 dead and tens of thousands displaced; tensions persisted with Ethiopia. Arab and Masalit tribes 3-8 April clashed in and around West Darfur state capital el-Geneina, leaving at least 125 dead and reportedly displacing tens of thousands; fighting reportedly drawing in militia fighters from both sides arriving from other parts of Darfur and neighbouring Chad. High-level delegation led by Sovereign Council head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan 12 April arrived in el-Geneina for two-day visit in attempt to mediate between two sides; Masalit tribe representatives 15 April rejected mediation outcome, accused members of paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) of supporting recurrent attacks on Masalit tribespeople by Chadian gunmen. West Darfur governor 20 April declared el-Geneina disaster zone, requested humanitarian support from govt. In South Kordofan state, intercommunal clashes late April reportedly left “large number” dead in el-Hamid district. Meanwhile, tensions persisted with Ethiopia over disputed Al-Fashqa border zone. Authorities 3 April temporarily closed Gallabat-Metema border crossing after Ethiopian militia 1 April reportedly attacked Sudanese customs officers, and army 9 April said it had taken control of 95% of Al-Fashqa. Authorities 12 April reportedly handed over to Addis Ababa 61 Ethiopian troops taken prisoner in disputed area since conflict started in Dec 2020; Addis Ababa 21 April denied released prisoners were soldiers. After latest round of talks on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on Blue Nile river faltered 6 April, govt 23 April said it may sue Ethiopia before international courts if Addis Ababa fills GERD unilaterally in coming months (see Nile Waters). In apparent warning to Addis Ababa and preparation for possible escalation, Sudan 31 March-5 April had held second joint military exercise with Egypt since Nov 2020. UN Security Council 26 April discussed Sudan’s request to replace Ethiopian peacekeepers deployed as part of UN peacekeeping mission in disputed Abyei area at border with South Sudan; Khartoum cited security concerns in light of growing bilateral tensions. Authorities 19 April officially repealed Israel boycott law, paving way for normalisation of relations, which Sudan agreed to in Jan as part of U.S.-brokered deal.
The October 2020 accord between rebels and Sudan’s transitional government is a big step forward. But difficulties remain. External powers should help Khartoum broaden the deal to include holdouts, reform the security sector and keep promises to invest in the country’s long-neglected peripheries.
Mounting economic turbulence is rocking Sudan’s delicate political transition. Without urgent donor assistance to provide economic relief to a suffering population, public support for the cabinet’s reform agenda could collapse. Any failure in the civilian-military government could have tragic consequences for Sudan and the region.
Sudan’s post-Bashir transition holds the promise of civilian rule but also perils, among them renewed insurgency, economic stagnation and backsliding into autocracy. Outside powers should press the military to adhere to its power-sharing pact with the opposition. Authorities in Khartoum should pursue peace with rebels.
The UN General Assembly kicks off on 17 September amid general scepticism about the world body’s effectiveness in an era of rising great-power competition. But the UN is far from paralysed. Here are seven crisis spots where it can make a positive difference for peace.
Ethiopia is building a mighty dam on the Blue Nile, promising economic benefits for both itself and Sudan. But Egypt fears for its freshwater supply. The parties should agree on how fast to fill the dam’s reservoir and how to share river waters going forward.
Popular protests are rumbling across Sudan, shaking President Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year grip on power. The authorities have cracked down hard and, as the demonstrations intensify, they may ratchet up the repression. External powers should urge restraint and offer Bashir a way to the exit.
The military [...] simply has not had the time nor shown the will to address violence in the way that many rural Sudanese would need to see in order to put down their weapons.
Sudan’s economy is in freefall and there has been limited international assistance.
Sudan has been pretty isolated for a long time. It is very keen to get off this [terror] list. This is the carrot.
The violence [in Sudan] has triggered a wave of sit-ins across the region, demanding authorities protect civilians from the militias, who are scrambling to secure their gains now that Bashir has gone.
The transitional government and the international community [in Sudan] must move quickly to avert an economic collapse and accompanying disintegration of the transitional dispensation.
The attack [in Sudan] may have the effect of increasing the solidarity between the civilian and military components of the transition.
In early 2020, Vice News correspondent Julia Steers was the first foreign journalist in five years to set foot in the Jebel Marra mountains, Darfur’s last rebel-held area. This week on The Horn, Julia tells of a region traumatised by war and explains why these rebels stayed out of an August peace deal.
The Horn of Africa faces myriad crises. Beyond the potentially devastating impact of COVID-19 on politics and the economy, the region is grappling with deeply troubled transitions, cross-border jihadism and remains a playground for great power competition. In this Episode, Host Alan Boswell and William Davison, Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for Ethiopia, discuss Ethiopia's plans to start filling the massive dam it is building, including the complex dynamics at play, negotiations, and the parties' varius concerns.
With rains swelling the Blue Nile, Ethiopia is just weeks away from beginning to fill the massive dam it is building. Egypt and Sudan demand that it not do so without an agreement. All three countries urgently need to make concessions for a deal.