Al Jazeera Net- With Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announcing the first steps of internal reconciliation by releasing major opposition figures on both the Oromo and Tigray sides on January 7th; Expectations prevail that a new phase of relations and partnerships will begin or decline with Addis Ababa.
Two days after this announcement, the United States appointed Ambassador David Satterfield as its special envoy to the Horn of Africa, succeeding outgoing Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman.
Satterfield worked in several countries, especially as his country’s ambassador to Turkey, whose drones are reported to have played a major role in turning the balance of power in favor of the Abi Ahmed government in Ethiopia.
Satterfield also previously worked in Cairo responsible for monitoring the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, which some fingers point to a direct or indirect role in the Ethiopian conflict.
China and other players
On the sidelines of the new appointment, other international powers were present in the Horn of Africa last week; Where the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited the Eritrean capital Asmara, accompanied by his country’s announcement of its intention to appoint a special envoy for the Horn of Africa.
The two major powers (China and the United States) are publicly moving about the Ethiopian file with their interests in the region in general, and with their partner Ethiopia; Economically with China, security and politics with the United States, while the interests of other regional powers intersect with the Ethiopian developments in war and peace, some of which support the Addis Ababa government with weapons openly or in secret.
Eritrea… an ally of Abi Ahmed
About 30 years ago, Eritrea was part of Ethiopia before it gained its independence and became an independent country and closed off Addis Ababa, the sea port in the north and northwest.
Although those who contributed to the independence of Eritrea and those who overthrew the military rule led by Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia were comrades-in-arms; Disagreements arose between them after they came to power, culminating in a war over the “Badme” border triangle that lasted from 1998 to 2000, and claimed tens of thousands on both sides.
Until Abi Ahmed came to power in 2018, launched his initiative and signed a peace agreement with Asmara, and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki became his most important ally in the region and his partner in the Tigray war.
“Afewerki has not forgotten the role of Tigray in defeating him during the border war, but the Ethiopian scene has begun to change with reconciliation,” said Jamal Hamed, editor-in-chief of the “Adoulis” website, which specializes in Eritrean affairs.
Do Asmara continue to be an ally of Addis Ababa?
Hamed tells Al Jazeera Net that Afwerki prefers quick tactical relations that return to his own accounts, and on this basis he built his relationship with Addis Ababa. Therefore, his relationship with Abi Ahmed will be affected by this reconciliation.
Since the end of last week, the northwestern and western regions of Tigray region have witnessed continuous fighting between Eritrean forces that have re-incurred in the region and Tigray forces, despite the atmosphere of reconciliation in Ethiopia.
Abdel Razek Othman, a researcher in the region’s affairs, takes another approach by saying that Afwerki is against the structure of the Ethiopian federal state and with its centralization, and therefore he believes that the integration of the Oromo and Tigray into the system of government is a revival of federalism and a return to the zero point of the central orientation.
As for the Sudanese military analyst, Ahmed Abdel Karim, he expects that the confrontations between Eritrea and Tigray will extend into Eritrean territory. He told Al Jazeera Net, “It is difficult for the “Tigai” Afwerki front to enjoy stability.”
Sudan… the most affected and the beneficiaries
Sudan is the country most affected by the Ethiopian conflict, especially after tens of thousands of people fleeing the Ethiopian provinces crossed to its borders to seek asylum.
Sudan is accused of exploiting the war in Ethiopia to restore the Al-Fashqa agricultural area, which was in the hands of the Ethiopians since 1995 until the Sudanese army took control of it in November 2020, and expelled the government forces that were stationed on the borders of the Ethiopian Tigray and Amhara regions, which witnessed a large part of the fighting.
Unofficial reports also concern Sudan with secret support for the Tigray Front, although the official speech did not speak in this tone.
The two countries also link the file of the Renaissance Dam that Addis Ababa is building on the Blue Nile; It is the main branch of the Nile, about 15 km from the Sudanese-Ethiopian border.
Since 2001, tripartite negotiations have been conducted between the two countries and their partner Egypt, to reach an agreement on filling and operating the dam, but they have not been successful.
Analyst Abdel Karim Ahmed says that Ethiopia’s stability is strategically and security-important for Sudan, and will secure its borders of nearly 1,000 km, shared by a number of Ethiopian regions from the north to the far south. Stability will also stop refugee flows and close the door to human trafficking and smuggling crimes associated with asylum seekers on its lands.
Unofficial statistics indicate that there are about 3 million Ethiopians inside Sudan illegally, most of them in the capital, Khartoum.
According to Abdel Karim, Sudan is the biggest beneficiary of the return of stability to Ethiopia, as it can negotiate to end the file of the Renaissance Dam and resolve the issue of Al-Fashaqa.
Before the decisions of the seventh of this January, there were signs of détente between the two countries; The meetings between local officials on both sides of the border have returned after an absence that extended for months, accompanied by the escalation of the Ethiopian conflict.
Egypt.. Reconciliation is not in its favour
Egypt is Ethiopia’s traditional competitor for leadership in the region, although geographically it is not part of the Horn of Africa, but its strategic interests are linked to it; The first is that 65% of the revenues of the Nile River – the lifeblood of Egypt – come from Ethiopia, and therefore Cairo views the Renaissance Dam on the tributaries of the Nile as a threat to its national security.
and secondly; The Horn of Africa controls the southern entrance to the Red Sea through the Bab al-Mandab Gate, a gate that controls the Suez Canal, one of the main tributaries of the Egyptian economy.
Therefore, Ethiopia’s weakening and preoccupation with internal conflicts seems satisfactory to Egypt, making it unable to implement major projects that compete with it for the leadership of the region in light of the population and historical weight of each.
An African diplomat told Al Jazeera Net – who asked not to be named – that “Cairo does not want a strong Ethiopia, and reconciliation will enable Addis Ababa to restore its strength.”
The UAE is one of the biggest investors
The UAE is one of the 4 largest investing countries in Ethiopia, and according to government statistics, its total investments exceed $10 billion.
Abu Dhabi’s relations with Addis Ababa increased strength after the arrival of Abi Ahmed to power, when senior Emirati officials visited him.
With the outbreak of the conflict, media and intelligence reports spoke of Emirati support for Abi Ahmed’s government and its provision of rallies, which played a major role in tipping the hand of his forces on the Tigray front.
The UAE also tried to use its relations with Khartoum and Addis Ababa to settle the Fashqa file, through an investment project that creates economic integration between the two countries, but the proposal faced popular opposition from some parties in the Sudanese transitional government, which stopped it.
An Ethiopian source tells Al Jazeera Net that the change in power centers in Addis Ababa and the return of control to Tigray – and this seems unlikely now – will affect the relationship with the UAE.
Turkey..a partnership forward
Turkey is the second largest investor in Ethiopia, with investments exceeding $15 billion. Addis Ababa also played a major role in consolidating Ankara’s relationship with the African Union, which contributed to its diplomatic expansion. While Turkey had only 8 embassies in Africa in 2000, in 2012 it reached 48 embassies.
The trade exchange between it and African countries, especially in arms sales, increased more than 6 times. With the beginning of the Ethiopian conflict, it signed a security cooperation agreement with it, according to which it sold it weapons for about $29 million.
Media reports indicate a prominent role played by the Turkish drones in the war in favor of Abi Ahmed’s government, which indicates that its relationship may be affected by this reconciliation.
However, Abdel-Qader Mohamed Ali, a researcher in the affairs of the Horn of Africa, believes that the Ethiopian reconciliation – if it succeeds – will be one of the winners in Ankara on many levels, including economic and geopolitical.
In this context, it is expected that Turkish construction companies will have a share in the reconstruction of the areas and infrastructure destroyed by the war, as well as a share in the military security field by contributing to the armament and training of the Ethiopian army.
Which transfers the relationship between the two countries to the strategic partnership, and positively affects the Turkish presence in the Horn of Africa, and in many African files, given Ethiopia’s influence in the brown continent.