Rising tension in Horn of Africa region

In the initial weeks of 2018, the Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir announced the closure of the border with Eritrea which was was followed by the deployment of militia forces to the bordering regions. The reason for the border closing has not officially been made clear and Sudan has denied tension between the two countries. This manoeuvre comes just after the declaration of a six-month state of emergency in the Sudanese regions of Kassala and North Kordofan. The official motivation given for the state of emergency  was the Sudanese campaign against the trafficking of human beings, weapons, and drugs and in those border regions.

The state of emergency in Sudan comes as tensions are rising between Ethiopia and Egypt. In 2011 the Ethiopian government began building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a large dam in the Nile river. The project was immediately criticised by the Egyptian government, which saw in the dam the potential cause for a drought. Sudan, however, supported Ethiopian idea and the construction process started.

This week, media reported that Eritrean president Isaias Afewerki left for a two-day visit to Egypt. During this official visit, Mr. Afewerki will meet Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to discuss the development of bilateral relations, developments in the Nile Basin countries and the Horn of Africa region and developments in regional and international issues. In the meantime, the Ethiopian government’s news agency reported that Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn had a private meeting with the Sudanese Armed Forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Emad al-Din M. Adawi who stated that Ethiopia and Sudan will continue strengthening their relationship.

An Iranian government news agency stated that Egypt’s military troops are already present in the Eritrean training camp of Sawa, with the task of training the Eritrean army, but sources in the camp state that this is not true.  An Eritrean source stated that the Egyptian president Al-Sisi has deployed more military presence in the country, although this news has not been confirmed yet either. Furthermore, the Eritrean port-city of Assab is known to be the military base to the UAE and Saudi Arabia and it has been unofficially reported by a Somali online media agency that UAE would be the principal instigator behind the latest deployment of Egyptian army in Eritrea. This would be an answer to the Sudanese decision to temporarily give permission to the Turkish army to access Suakin Island, the second largest port city in the country.

In conclusion, it is clear that there are rising tensions in the Horn of Africa region. Although the situation is developing and much is currently based on rumors, it will be crucial to see the effect that this situation will have on the regional dynamics and the refugees in the region, as well as those fleeing from Eritrea.