The dispute between Sudan and Ethiopia over the Fashaqa border area has recently escalated. This is a long-standing dispute that began in the 20th century. This paper attempts to analyse and explore the consequences of escalation in the border dispute between the two neighbouring African countries in the light of the mechanisms adopted by the two sides to manage the dispute between them during 2020.
The evolution of the Sudanese-Ethiopian dispute over the Fashaqa region
Military unrest between Sudan and Ethiopia has been recurrent in the Fashaqa border areas in the light of the failure to fully demarcate the borders between the two countries. For years, Ethiopian citizens benefited from this uncertain situation by cultivating large swaths of Fashaqa lands without the consent of the Sudanese side. The unrest did not stop despite the recognition by the current Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of the outcomes of the 1972 agreement between the governments of the two countries, which stipulates that the region belongs to Sudan. Sudan accuses the Ethiopian army of supporting Ethiopian armed groups called Shifta in carrying out acts of kidnapping and looting of Sudanese farmers, with the aim of removing them from the area in favour of members of the Ethiopian Amhara tribes. In December 2020, a dangerous escalation took place in the military unrest between the two countries, after the Sudanese army enhanced its military presence in parts of the Lesser Fashaqa region, on the pretext of securing the borders from the consequences of the military operation launched by the Ethiopian government against the forces of the Tigray region. This led to repeated military frictions between the Sudanese army and the Shifta groups. The former accused its Ethiopian counterpart of supporting the Shifta in launching a military operation against it that led to the killing of four Sudanese army personnel. This was followed by an incursion by the Sudanese forces into the lands of the Lesser Fashaqa, and "recovering" 70 percent of the territories in dispute, according to the statements by the Sudanese Information Minister Faisal Saleh.
Mechanisms adopted by Sudan in managing the dispute
The Sudanese side has recently resorted to the use of several mechanisms in managing its border dispute with Ethiopia, with the aim of pushing Addis Ababa towards activating the demarcation of the border and removing the Shifta militias from the Fashaqa area. The most important of those mechanisms are the following:
Mechanisms adopted by Ethiopia in managing the dispute
On the other hand, the Ethiopian government has adopted the following mechanisms:
Possible consequences of the dispute
In the light of the foregoing, the border dispute between Sudan and Ethiopia is expected to develop in the future in the direction of one of the following possible paths:
1. Reaching a final solution to the dispute: the Ethiopian side may accept a final demarcation of the borders in the event that it guarantees the preservation of the interests of the Amhara tribes. This depends on its agreement with Sudan on legalising the conditions of the tribe’s farmers, in parallel with strengthening economic and security cooperation between the two countries in order to facilitate and secure the movement of individuals across the border.
2. Temporary de-escalation: the two countries are likely to pursue freezing the dispute in the status quo, agree to launch a long-term process of border demarcation, and agree to form joint security forces to control border security. Thus, the Sudanese army would maintain its recent field gains in a way that would support its popularity at home, and the Ethiopian government would avoid the possibility of undermining the interests of the Amharans. However, this path may lead to a renewed escalation of the dispute in the event of renewed military friction.
3. Military confrontation: the armies of the two countries may slide into an open military confrontation as a result of the recurrence of military clashes. The two sides do not favour this path because of its dangerous repercussions on local and regional stability.
Upon balancing the proposed paths, the temporary de-escalation path is the most likely in view of the low risks it entails for both sides compared to the other paths, followed by the path of reaching a final solution to the dispute, while the path of military confrontation is relatively unlikely in the near future.
In the light of the Ethiopian government's focus on its military operation against the Ethiopian Tigray tribes, Sudan sought to improve its negotiating position on the border dispute with Ethiopia and enhanced its military presence in the Fashaqa disputed territories between the two countries. The Ethiopian side tried to undermine the chances of success of the Sudanese moves out of its keenness to preserve the interests of the Amhara tribes. These developments led to shedding light once again on the issue of demarcating the border between the two countries in a way that may lead to a final solution to the dispute, or at least enhancing the Sudanese military presence in the region.
 The area of Fashaqa is 251 km2. It is divided into the Greater Fashaqa and the Lesser Fashaqa. These areas are arable because they are located near the Atbara River. The Lesser Fashaqa borders the Ethiopian Amhara region.
 “The border dispute between Sudan and Ethiopia”, 11 June 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/3mT3cMb
 “Two martyrs from the army in clashes on the border with Ethiopia”, 8 March 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/2WR8gX1
 “An Ethiopian army force penetrates into Sudanese territory east of the Atbara River”, 2 April 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/3ryYZRo
 It included controlling points such as Jabal Abu Tayyur, which is of strategic importance because it is located in the middle of the Lesser Fashaqa territories. The Sudanese forces also reached points close to population communities belonging the Amhara farmers after controlling the areas of Qala Luban and Khorshin.
 “Discussions to demarcate the tense border between Sudan and Ethiopia”, 22 December 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/34LC3ES
 “Chief of Staff: We shall not close our borders to anyone who is hungry or affected by the war”, 22 November 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/2WOghfr
 “The arrest of ‘Halka Asar’ raises signs of tension between Sudan and Ethiopia”, 1 December 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/34PMlUi
 “The Conflict in Tigray: Ethiopian authorities offer a financial reward for the capture of the region's leaders in hiding”, 18 December 2020. Available at: https://bbc.in/3pveo3A
 “Al-Burhan inspects the borders after an ‘Ethiopian ambush’, Egypt condemns, and Abiy Ahmed criticises ‘seditionists’”, 17 December 2020. Available at: https://cnn.it/3rzzVd0
 “Sudan accuses the Ethiopian army of repeated assaults on its territory”, 28 May 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/36KEB5K
 “The Ethiopian Consul in Gedaref: The situation in the border between the two states is not good”, 10 August 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/3rBmtFG
 “The army controls 11 Ethiopian settlements inside Sudan, and Eritrean forces move near the border”, 26 December 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/38CJTlk
Sherif Abou El-Fadl | 29 Dec 2020
EPC | 22 Dec 2020
EPC | 09 Dec 2020