This October three foreign policy decisions made by the United States may have gross effects on peace initiatives in the Horn of Africa and possibly could trigger more conflicts in the region.
President Donald Trump early this month requested from his top advisers plans to withdraw US troops from Somalia, where the US military is fighting al Qaeda’s local affiliate, al Shabaab.
Not yet done the leader of the free world has been coercing Sudan to agree on a deal with Israel. And has of late wondered why Egypt cannot bomb the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam to halt its construction.
All these three foreign policy decisions by Mr Trump whether made to appease his voters or not have caused unease in the Horn of Africa for a region already known for civil war, conflict, and poor economic development.
After endlessly pursuing a better relationship between Israel and the Middle East, during a Friday call with Sudan and Israel to discuss normalizing relations between Sudan and Israel, President Trump referenced a long-simmering dispute — that involves Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan — over a dam on the Blue Nile River.
“[Egypt] will end up blowing up the dam,” Trump said. “And I said it and I say it loud and clear … they’ll blow up that dam. And they have to do something.”
Trump’s comments were largely interpreted to mean approval for Egypt’s aggression against Ethiopia. And this has not been taken lightly by Ethiopian government.
The US Ambassador Mike Raynor was the following day Saturday summoned by the Ethiopian authorities to get clarity on statements made by President Donald Trump about the Nile dam dispute.
In a statement posted to Facebook Saturday, Ethiopian minister of foreign affairs H.E. Gedu Andargachew said he told Ambassador Mike Raynor that a statement Trump made Friday was “incitement of war between Ethiopia and Egypt” that doesn’t reflect Ethiopia’s partnership with the United States and is not acceptable under international law.
Ethiopia began building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile River, which connects the country to Egypt.
The country has spent $4.6 billion on the project, and it is nearly complete. But where Ethiopian leaders see it as a vital public works project that will reduce poverty, Egyptian leaders worry the dam will disrupt water access.
“The minister further informed the ambassador that Ethiopia has never and will not in the future succumb to threats to its sovereignty and will be committed to continue the trilateral negotiations under the framework of the African Union,” the statement said.
Ethiopia’s former prime minister, Hailemariam Dessalegn, also tweeted Friday, calling Trump’s statements “irresponsible,” and asserting that Trump “doesn’t have a clue on what he is talking about.”
The United States had previously tried to broker a deal between the three countries over the disagreement, but Ethiopian officials ultimately walked away from negotiations, and in September the State Department suspended millions of dollars in foreign aid to Ethiopia after the country began filling up a reservoir behind the dam.
Trump has also hurriedly announced that Sudan has accepted to normalize ties with Israel as part of his Middle East Peace Plan to resolve the seven-decade-long Israeli–Palestinian. Trump did not wait for the Sudan transitional government to consult other stakeholders before reaching consensus on how to deal with Israel.
President Donald Trump made the announcement on Friday from the Oval Office while joined on the phone by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sudanese Chairman of the Sovereignty Council Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
According to a joint statement from the three countries, the leaders of Sudan and Israel “agreed to the normalization of relations between Sudan and Israel and to end the state of belligerence between their nations” and “agreed to begin economic and trade relations, with an initial focus on agriculture.”
Immediately after the announcement protesters in Khartoum took to the streets and chanted “no peace, no negotiation, no reconciliation with the occupying entity” and “we will not surrender, we will always stand with Palestine”.
Sudan’s former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi also slammed the announcement, adding that he withdrew from a government-organized religious conference on Saturday in Khartoum in protest.
Al-Mahdi, who is the country’s last democratically elected premier and heads the country’s largest political party, said: “This statement contradicts the Sudanese national law … and contributes to the elimination of the peace project in the Middle East and to preparing for the ignition of a new war.”
Sudanese political parties have also rejected the government’s decision to normalize relations with Israel, with officials saying they will form an opposition front against the agreement.
A statement from Sudan’s Popular Congress Party, the second most prominent component of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) political coalition, said Sudanese people are not obligated to accept the normalisation deal.
“We see that our people, who are being systematically isolated and marginalized from secret deals, are not bound by the normalisation agreement,” the statement said.
“Our people will abide by their historical positions and work through a broad front to resist normalisation and maintain our support for the Palestinian people in order for them to obtain all their legitimate rights.”
Sudan’s acting foreign minister, Omar Gamareldin, however, told state TV on Friday that the country’s legislative council must still approve the normalization agreement.
Also under scrutiny is Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Somalia, a decision that has caused gross panic in the whole of East Africa.
Trump has accordingly asked his top advisers to provide him plans for the withdrawal of American troops.
The Pentagon has begun drafting plans for the president, and discussions have involved National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, according to the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations.
The U.S. has 650 to 800 troops in Somalia, according to the US Africa Command, including Special Forces that are helping train Somalia’s army. All or almost all were sent during Trump’s presidency.
Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi has said that he’d like US forces to stay, adding that he believes his country, with U.S. assistance, is on the brink of defeating the al Shabaab insurgents.
“We really appreciate the U.S. support, and we are grateful for what the U.S. has done, and we would like to see the troops remain until the work is 100% accomplished,” Abdullahi told the media.
Trump’s desire to get out of Somalia has provoked unease internally from officials who warn that it could leave a vacuum for the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab to fill, one of the people said.
Al-Shabaab continues to carry out suicide bombings and other attacks in the eastern African country despite being the target of frequent US drone strikes, and the Somali government retains a weak grip on power.
Trump began sending more forces to Somalia by mid-2017 as part of counter terrorism efforts. Adding to Somalia’s potential security challenges if US troops leave again, an African Union peacekeeping mission is scheduled to withdraw by the end of next year.
The Trump administration’s Africa policy has had fits and starts, and while there are some promising developments, several experts say that the framing of Africa policy as part of a US competition with China and others is not winning it friends on the continent.
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