There is perhaps no one in the sub-region as perceptive on Ethiopia’s internal dynamics as neighboring Sudan can be, claims gossip. Khartoum appears to have the knack for seeing through the layers of Ethiopia’s political forces, including the fault lines within the ruling party, says gossip.
No doubt Khartoumites have a history with Ethiopia’s current rulers that goes back to the mid-1970s, when the latter launched their insurgency against the military government, using Sudan as an outlet to the rest of the world. It was the Sudanese who provided a small aircraft, piloted by one of their officers, that flew top TPLF leaders to Addis Abeba – rather victoriously – in May 1991, gossip recalled.
There have been exceptional hiccups in the mid-1990s when the late Hassen al-Turabi’s Popular Congress Party tried to radicalize the region, putting Sudan on a collison course with Ethiopia. But otherwise, there has been rarely a time as the past two decades when relations between the two countries have been as cozy and cordial, claims gossip.
Omar al-Bashir, the military leader of Sudan, is known to be very friendly to Ethiopia, to a point he found himself at odds with his Egyptian neighbors up north, arch-foe of Ethiopia, in his unwavering support of the construction of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Ethiopia’s leaders, too, paid Bashir’s gesture in kind, staunchly opposing his indictment before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Yet, for all their reciprocal insights into one another and unprecedented cooperation, there are issues remaining outstanding, mainly lingering from history. The border they share remains un-demarcated, thus a source of continued disputes between farmers in the two countries.
It is also an explosive political issue for both where there are powerful constituencies on the ground influencing policies ever since the time of Emperor Haile Sellasie and Ismail al-Azhari, the Sudanese leader after independence. Successive leaders of Ethiopia acknowledged that pushing Sudan to an international court over the dispute is a precarious position, thus always preferred dialogue to resolve the dispute, claims gossip.
As recently as November 2014, Bashir met with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn where they had instructed their respective foreign ministers to set up a technical committee to complete the redrawing of the border in 2016. Apparently, this deadline was missed; but, a joint border commission meeting was held two weeks ago in Meqelle, the seat of the Regional State of Tigray, where Abay Weldu, president of the regional state, signed a series of agreements with Mirkeni Saleh, governor of the Sudanese Gedarif State.
To the surprise of many at the gossip corridors, the notable absence during this joint commission meeting was senior leaders from the Ahmara Regional State, including its president, Gedu Andargachew, gossip disclosed. The regional state shares much of the 725Km border with Sudan, neighboring the Gedarif and Blue Nile states from the other side. The subject of the most disputed area, Al-Fashaga, is located alongside the Amhara Regional State. It is a 250sq.km fertile area surrounded by Atbara, Setit and Baslam rivers.
Gedu and his top aides could not have missed the importance of the meeting in Meqelle, but chose to be represented in the two-day meeting by a junior official from the regional state, disclosed gossip. To the contrary, the incident illustrated how deep the rift between leaders of the TPLF and the ANDM has gotten over the years, a development that has not been lost on Khartoumites, claims gossip.