Diplomatic spats in East Africa spark conflict fears


EAC flag. Diplomatic crises could threaten the stability of East Africa. [Courtesy]

The Horn of Africa is facing two diplomatic crises. Somalia recalled its ambassador from Ethiopia and Sudan recalled its ambassador from Kenya. Both countries complain of alleged interference in their internal affairs and threats to their sovereignty.

Experts warn that the two diplomatic crises, one between Kenya and Sudan, the other between Ethiopia and Somalia, could threaten the stability of East Africa.

Sudan’s government, led by the head of the Sudanese Armed Forces, General Abdel Fatah al-Burhan, expressed its displeasure with Kenya after the government there gave a warm welcome to Burhan’s rival, the leader of Sudan's paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti.

Kenya received Dagalo Wednesday as part of its efforts to find a peaceful settlement to the nearly nine-month-old Sudan conflict.

Angered by the move, Sudan’s government recalled its ambassador from Nairobi.

Al-Burhan sees Kenya as favouring Hemedti in the conflict and has called for Nairobi not to be part of mediation efforts spearheaded by the regional bloc IGAD.

Somalia Members of Parliament attend a session where President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud addressed the parliament regarding the Ethiopia-Somaliland port deal in Mogadishu, Somalia, Jan. 2, 2024.

In the other crisis, Somali leaders were angered by the agreement this week between Ethiopia and the breakaway region of Somaliland. The deal would give landlocked Ethiopia access to the sea and allow it to establish a military base in Somaliland, which Somalia considers part of its territory.

To protest the deal, Mogadishu recalled its ambassador from Addis Ababa.

The head of the Horn Institute for Strategic Studies, Hassan Khannenje, explained what the latest diplomatic spats mean for a region that has a history of border disputes and conflicts.

"For Sudan, it complicates efforts to mediate that conflict, considering Kenya has been a key player in the IGAD quartet," Khannenje said. "It also opens another area of potential conflict between Ethiopia and Somalia, considering that just in the recent week, Mogadishu had made efforts to restart the reconciliation talks with Hargeisa. What that does is it torpedoes all those efforts and sends the entire region into a tailspin with regard to diplomacy."

Both Somalia and Sudan have long struggled with internal divisions and conflict, which have displaced millions.

Nasong'o Muliro, an international relations and diplomacy lecturer in Kenya, said some foreign powers, including countries in the Gulf, are fueling the potential conflict between the African countries.

"So many foreign actors are at play in the region, and it's creating alliances that are now also degenerating into inter-state conflicts because the Horn of Africa was basically suffering from internal conflict, but now, we see a spike of inter-state conflicts whether they are armed, but then they are conflict between states," Muliro said.

 Muliro said countries like Kenya and Ethiopia should not be taking advantage of the weak central governments in Sudan and Somalia to engage local leaders and pursue their own interests in those countries.

"We are seeing a situation where the tradition that has been there of engaging the government of the day, no matter how weak it is, but now it's almost changing," Muliro said. "We are looking at Hemedti and Burhan and in any case, Africa should be behind Burhan but you can see that the states are selectively almost recognizing Hemedti.”

The African Union and other international actors are calling for the de-escalation of tensions and respect for each nation's territorial integrity and sovereignty.

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