Escalating tensions between Somalia and Ethiopia, and civil war in Sudan have sparked turmoil in the already chaotic African region. Ethiopia and Sudan have been at each other’s throats over a controversial agreement signed, in January 2024, between Somaliland – a region that seceded from Somalia, and Ethiopia. The region declared its autonomy from Somalia following a devastating civil war, in 1991, which led to the ouster of Said Barre, the then President of the country.

Somaliland is still struggling to be accepted by the international community as a separate, legitimate, and autonomous country.

Ethiopia, a landlocked country in Africa – seeks to gain access to the Red Sea through this Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). Somaliland has leased 12 miles of its coastline for the next 50 years to Ethiopia as per this MoU. Port of Berbera will be utilized by the latter for achieving its commercial and military ambitions.

Abiy Ahmed, the incumbent Prime Minister of Ethiopia, considers access to the Red Sea imperative for the survival and security of his country. In one of his speeches, he vowed to gain a port along the Red Sea by any possible means. Abiy is recognized for his aggressive and contentious approach towards his enemies. Amnesty International has accused the Ethiopian forces of heinous war crimes and human rights violations under Abiy’s rule.

The controversial MoU signed between Somaliland and Ethiopia provides the former with the unrevealed percentage of shares in Ethiopian Airlines as a part of this agreement. Muse Bihi Abdi, incumbent President of Somaliland, claimed that the agreement binds the latter to officially recognize Somaliland. However, this claim has been refuted by the Ethiopian officials. They maintained this statement by Abdi as a misinterpretation of the agreement and declared that the MoU only states that Ethiopia will undertake an “in-depth assessment towards taking a position on the efforts of Somaliland to gain recognition.

Somalia has been enraged due to this agreement between the two sides. Somalian officials have ordered its armed forces to stay prepared for the defense of the country while declaring this MoU equivalent to the declaration of war. The relations between the two countries reached a new nadir when Somalian President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud accused Ethiopia of attempting to abstain him from entering the venue of the African Union summit recently. He maintained that armed security personnel blocked his way to the summit.

However, these allegations have been rejected by the Ethiopian officials. They held that President Mohamud was warmly received at the summit and only his security staff was denied entrance to the venue. The MoU has also been rejected by the African Union and different international organizations.

However, this is not the sole contention in the African region. Currently, the whole region is engulfed in fire. Since 2020, 7 coups have been witnessed in different African countries. These coups have reversed the efforts of the regional leaders to shun the label of a “coup belt” from Africa.

Sudan, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Gabon were not invited to the recent African Union summit due to their non-democratic governments. Amongst all these countries Sudan is experiencing extreme internal chaos.

The country is a victim of a civil war. Sudan was already hit by a grave humanitarian crisis due to increased inflation, climate change, and political turmoil. However, the recent civil war between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has further exacerbated the predicament. Sudan was ranked 103 out of 125 countries by the Global Hunger Index report in 2023. This situation is likely to worsen due to the decreased agricultural yields as a result of this civil war. According to the World Food Programme, 18 million Sudanese are estimated to be victims of extreme hunger as a result of this war.

Both forces were allies in the past. They colluded, in 2019, to overthrow the government of former President Omer Al-Bashir. General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, a leader from SAF, replaced Al-Bashir. Both sides even collaborated in overthrowing the interim setup in 2021. However, the tables turned when the SAF attempted to coalesce the RSF into the national army under international duress. In April 2023, the latter revolted against the SAF government. Darfur and Khartoum, along with some other cities, have been the centers of this civil war.

More than 8 million people have been forced to migrate as a result of this war. This migration has also sparked the most significant children crisis, after the Gaza war, due to the displacement of around four million children. These migrations have also triggered an economic crisis in the scarce-resourced neighboring countries, especially Chad. Reports suggest that the RSF is driving an ethnic cleansing operation in Darfur city.

According to the Human Rights Watch, RSF has killed hundreds of civilians in West Darfur. RSF is killing the Masalit community in the Darfur region in this ethnic cleansing operation. Allegedly, different European and Middle Eastern countries are also behind this civil war as they seek to achieve their national interests in the region through this war.

World Food Programme (WFP) halted its operations in some parts of the country in December 2023. The WFP seeks security assurances from the RSF and SAF to continue its operations in the country. A proactive role by different regional and international organizations and countries is also imperative to halt the prevailing catastrophe in Africa from spiraling out of control.

The Arab League and the African Union should take prudent steps to ensure political stability in the region.

The United Arab Emirates, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and other influential countries should coerce the warring parties in Sudan to resolve the dispute diplomatically to avoid the imminent humanitarian crisis in Sudan. Otherwise, this fire would engulf other regional countries as well. Moreover, the Ethiopian government should also be pressured by regional and international powers to respect the sovereignty of other African countries, especially Somalia.

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