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Situation Report: Sudan and her Neighbours, David H Shinn
7 March 2003


David H Shinn, 7 March 2003

The African Security Analysis Programme (ASAP) is pleased to announce the launching of a new series of electronic publications under the rubric "By Invitation". As the title of these papers suggests, this product is the result of invitations to prominent academics and practitioners in the field of African security to share their expertise on matters of current interest with a broader readership.

Note on Author

The author is an adjunct professor of international affairs in the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University. He served for 37 years in the U.S. foreign service, including as ambassador to Ethiopia, director for East African and Horn of African affairs and deputy chief of mission at the American embassy in Khartoum.


The views expressed in this articled are those of the author.


Sudan looms large on the African continent. Of the 53 countries in Africa, only two—the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan—share borders with nine other countries. The Congo has an outlet on the Atlantic while Sudan has an 853-kilometer long coastline on the Red Sea. It is not surprising, therefore, that these two countries have such a major impact on developments in their respective regions. Sudan is also geographically the largest country on the continent, nearly equivalent in size to the U.S. east of the Mississippi River. The Blue and White Nile meet at Khartoum, giving the country additional leverage with the nine other states that make up the Nile basin. Sudan straddles north and sub-Saharan Africa and, as a result, reflects the divisions between Arabs and Africans. Its population of some 36 million consists mainly of Arabs in the north and Africans in the south. An estimated 70 percent of Sudan`s inhabitants are Sunni Muslims, while 30 percent follow traditional beliefs or are Christian. These racial and religious differences have contributed to an on-going civil war that resumed in 1983 and continues to the present. It has resulted in at least 1.5 million deaths from war and related famine and a much higher number of displaced persons.

Numerous attempts since 1983 to negotiate an end to Sudan`s conflict between the government and the Sudan People`s Liberation Army (SPLA) have failed. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), whose members include Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Uganda and Sudan, has taken the lead in this effort under the stewardship of Kenya. For years the IGAD initiative seemed to lead nowhere. A meeting between the government of Sudan and the SPLA in Machakos, Kenya, beginning last June resulted in a surprise, breakthrough “Machakos Protocol” in July. It deals with the two most contentious issues—the role of religion and the possibility of secession for the south—and offers the first real hope for a negotiated solution. Following a six-year interim period of federal rule, it provides an internationally monitored referendum to the people of southern Sudan to “confirm the unity of the Sudan by voting to adopt the system of government established under the Peace Agreement; or to vote for secession.” The United States, United Kingdom, Norway and Italy played a significant role in encouraging this process.

Meeting for a second round at Machakos, the two sides signed a Memorandum of Understanding in October for extending the cessation of hostilities and dealing with aspects of structures of government. A member of Sudan`s negotiating team, Sayed al-Khatib, commented at a meeting in Washington in mid-December that aspects of the talks are still in “treacherous and uncharted waters.” A member of the SPLA team, Nhial Deng Nhial, noted at the same meeting that the problem now is “operationalizing” the Machakos Protocol. Prior to a postponed third round of talks in late January, chief Sudanese negotiator Ghazi Salah Eddin Attabani commented that Sudan remains committed to the peace talks in spite of continuing differences.

The third round ended with the signing in early February 2003 of an addendum to the Memorandum of Understanding between the SPLA and government of Sudan. The two parties reached agreement on the constitutional review process, the establishment of independent and national institutions and the undertaking of a national referendum before elections. There was progress on several other important issues. Perhaps most significant, they agreed to pull back from any locations occupied in violation of the Memorandum of Understanding and to allow a cease-fire verification and monitoring team to visit their respective areas of control. Finally, the government said it would suspend construction of a road through the oil fields of southern Sudan until a final and comprehensive peace agreement has been signed. The fourth round of talks is scheduled to begin March 1, 2003.

Sudan has taken on added economic importance following the exploitation of oil and the completion of a pipeline from the oil fields to Port Sudan on the Red Sea. The quantity of oil available for development is not known with certainty, but virtually all of it is located in southern Sudan or near the north/south division. Perhaps the most extensive reserves are located in the Sudd, the huge swamp in southern Sudan. Chevron did the initial exploration and development of the oil fields. Following attacks by the SPLA, Chevron pulled out of the south in 1984. Several small oil companies then entered and exited Sudan. Today, the major players are the state oil companies of China, Malaysia and India. TOTAL/ELF/FINA continues to hold its 120,000 square kilometer concession in the Sudd, although there has been no activity there for years due to the ongoing civil war.

One independent oil expert believes that there are one billion barrels of known reserves and that this figure could rise to 1.7 billion barrels by including adjacent producing areas not now being exploited. This same expert projects that another 1.2 billion barrels may be found by 2010 in areas to the south of the current producing region, making a total of 2.9 billion barrels of reserves. Others suggest the reserves in the Sudd could reach three to four billion barrels. Whatever the total, this compares with reserves of 50 to 90 billion barrels in Iran and 60 to 100 billion in the United Arab Emirates. Sudan`s reserves are significant but well below those of major producers. Sudan began lifting oil in 2000. By 2001 it produced 32 million barrels valued at $675,000,000. After subtracting oil for domestic use and payment of arrears to the Chinese National Petroleum Company, Sudan`s net export revenue from oil in 2001 was about $151,000.000. Sudanese oil production remains steady at 245,000 barrels per day.

The question of oil is of major importance because most of it is located in the south where one of the outcomes of the Machakos Protocol could be an independent southern Sudan and, therefore, control of most of the oil by southerners. It is also a serious issue in the ongoing negotiations with the SPLA about revenue sharing during the six-year interim period. Revenue from oil obviously enhances Khartoum`s ability to continue the war with the south should Machakos fail. As a result, the SPLA has in the past and would continue to take every possible measure to disrupt production. Finally, oil complicates negotiations because there is a tendency within the SPLA to think that Sudan`s reserves are much larger than is likely the case.

This analysis focuses on Sudan`s relations with her neighbors and the impact of those ties on the civil war and Sudan`s political and economic future. It consists of an analysis of the bilateral relationship with each neighbor starting with Libya, which is located on Sudan`s northwest corner, and continues country by country counter clockwise to Egypt, located directly north of Sudan.


Sudan has learned the same lesson other nations have experienced in dealing with Libya. Muammar al-Qadhafi is erratic and unpredictable. Although the warmth of the relationship has varied considerably from one Khartoum regime to another, Sudan has long been suspicious of Libyan intentions. If ever there was any doubt, Sudanese need only recall during the Gaafar Nimeiry government the Libyan attack in 1984 on the Omdurman radio station by a TU-22 bomber. The bombs missed the radio station but killed five people; Sudan called on the United Nations Security Council to condemn Libya. The incident resulted in a break in diplomatic relations, although Sudan`s successor Suwar al-Dahab government resumed them about a year later.

Libya, which shares a 383-kilometer long border with Sudan, has a long history of providing financial support to the SPLA and Qadhafi has a personal relationship with SPLA leader John Garang. Libyan support for the SPLA continues, presumably on the grounds that it is a “revolutionary” organization. It is otherwise difficult to explain why Libya would support a largely non-Muslim, African group that is trying to overthrow an Arab, Muslim government. Libya also keeps in contact with northern Sudanese opposition figures and Khartoum suspects that Libya gives sporadic support to groups in Western Sudan that have long had separatist tendencies. Sudan`s Interior Minister announced in April 2002 that it was monitoring the movement of vehicles “from a neighboring country” engaged in transporting people in military uniform to ambush vehicles plying the Sudan-Libya road. The following month a Sudanese delegation led by the Minister of Defense visited Tripoli where they discussed ways to strengthen bilateral relations.

Sudan`s surprise signing in 2002 of the Machakos Protocol with the SPLA caused some minor irritation in Tripoli, which hoped the Joint Egyptian-Libyan Initiative (JELI), would serve as the basis for bringing the conflict to an end. The two countries quickly overcame any serious differences on this account and the last half of 2002 witnessed a series of high level meetings between Libya and Sudan aimed at improving the relationship. Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail and his Libyan counterpart signed in August the minutes of the ninth session of the Libyan-Sudanese Committee. They agreed to work for peace in Sudan within the framework of Sudanese unity, establish a committee for political coordination and take measures to implement agreements on customs, the Nile international fund, trade, taxation and investment. Two months later, Ismail praised on Sudanese radio the strong and developing ties binding Sudan and Libya. The Higher Ministerial Committee for Libyan-Sudanese Integration met in late October and agreed on a host of political and practical issues, including condemnation of American threats to launch “unjustified aggression” on Iraq.

Relations between Sudan and Libya are now generally good. Between Qadhafi`s renewed interest in sub-Sahara Africa and his propensity and capability to meddle, Sudan has opted for the time being to try to improve ties with Libya. The relationship remains unpredictable, however, due largely to the nature of the leadership in Tripoli. As a leading Sudanese intellectual recently commented to me, all you can hope to accomplish with someone like Qadhafi is manage the relationship and minimize the damage.


The 1,360-kilometer long Chad-Sudan border has been largely peaceful in recent years. This has not always been the case. In the early 1980s, then Chadian rebel leader Hissene Habre began his march on Chad`s capital of N`djamena from the Sudan border area. The Nimeiry government in Khartoum provided Habre with assistance that helped him to overthrow the Goukouni Weddeye regime. As recently as November 2002, a faction of the Chadian rebel National Resistance Army claimed to have killed a number of Chadian soldiers northeast of Adre, 30 kilometers from the Sudan border. There is no indication the government of Sudan supports the rebels. There has always been considerable movement across this border. The ethnic groups on each side are related. Relations among these people today are cordial and there are no outstanding issues. There are only about 13,000 Sudanese refugees in Chad and virtually no Chadian refugees in Sudan.

All of the statements coming out of N`djamena and Khartoum over the past year on the bilateral relationship have been positive. Chadian President Idriss Deby reportedly praised the progress of Sudanese-Chadian ties during a visit in March by the governor of Khartoum State. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir commented in July that the relationship is “firm.” Chadian Prime Minister Haroun Kabadi visited Khartoum in August. Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Muhamad Taha noted the importance of establishing a joint economic zone between the two countries in an effort to achieve economic and political integration. Bashir told the Chadian prime minister that Sudanese-Chadian ties are “strategic and deeply rooted.” Sudan`s first vice president returned the visit to N`djamena in December when the two countries signed a communiqué covering a variety of practical areas for cooperation. Kabadi returned to Khartoum in January 2003 when the two countries signed agreements on security and political cooperation. Together with the Central African Republic, the three countries established a tripartite committee to oversee security on their common borders.

Central African Republic

Some of the Central African Republic`s (CAR) 1,165-kilometer long border with Sudan is contiguous to territory in Sudan controlled by southern groups, especially the SPLA, that oppose the government in Khartoum. It would not be surprising if Khartoum simply ignored this relatively isolated border and relations with the CAR. This has not, however, been the case. Sudan`s diplomacy towards the CAR is activist and engaged. The CAR`s border with Sudan, like all of its other frontiers, is porous; there is considerable movement across the border in both directions. In May 2002, clashes between Sudanese herdsmen and CAR nationals inside the CAR resulted in the death of several dozen Sudanese. The CAR claimed the Sudanese were poachers while Sudan attributed the dispute to tribal issues. Officials from both countries quickly met to create mechanisms to investigate the incidents and prevent their recurrence. Sudan then announced its intention to open a consulate in Birao in northern CAR to serve the interests of Sudanese nationals in the CAR. There are about 35,000 Sudanese refugees in the CAR.

There was a failed coup attempt against CAR President Ange-Felix Patasse in May 2001. As a result of subsequent unrest in the country, Sudan, together with Libya and Djibouti, sent early in 2002 several hundred soldiers in support of Patasse. Sudan`s involvement took place as a member, together with the CAR, of the Community of Sahel-Saharan States and in the context of a bilateral cooperation agreement. Sudan has been a strong supporter of the Patasse government. Sudan removed all of its troops from the CAR by the end of 2002. Although Sudan described the engagement as a peacekeeping mission, developing a close, security relationship with the CAR also keeps open the possibility of using its territory as a base from which it can counter the SPLA should the peace process break down. In his New Year`s 2003 message to President Bashir, Patasse underscored the excellent relations existing between the two countries.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Most of the Sudanese territory along the 628-kilometer long border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is under the control of the SPLA or the Equatorial Defense Force. At first glance, this would appear to be another case where Khartoum might decide to cut its losses and ignore the situation in the DRC. Again, this has not been the path chosen by Sudan. There were persistent and credible reports in 1998 and 1999 that Sudan had sent troops to the DRC to help prop up the government of President Laurent-Desire Kabila. Both the Kabila government and the government of Sudan denied the existence of Sudanese troops in the DRC, although Khartoum did acknowledge that it supported Kabila politically.

Joseph Kabila succeeded his father as president and visited Khartoum in February 2002. The two countries agreed to consolidate bilateral cooperation. President Kabila met again with President Bashir during a brief stopover in Khartoum in September. One continuing issue is the existence of about 74,000 southern and 5,000 northern Sudanese refugees in the DRC. Following fighting last October between the Congolese Patriotic Union/Popular Rally and the Lendu community in the vicinity of the Biringi refugee camp located near the DRC/Uganda/Sudan tripoint, 17,000 southern Sudanese refugees fled but subsequently trickled back to the camp. The Sudanese ambassador in Kinshasa had earlier met with these refugees and urged they return to Sudan.


During most of the past two decades Uganda`s relationship with Sudan has been determined by Kampala`s support for the SPLA and Khartoum`s assistance to various rebel Ugandan groups, especially the Lord`s Resistance Army (LRA) created in 1988 by self-styled prophet Joseph Kony. Operating primarily in northern Uganda, the LRA continues to harass the government of President Yoweri Museveni and until recently was able to use as a refuge those parts of southern Sudan controlled by the government and the Equatorial Defense Force. Important changes have occurred in Sudan`s traditional support for the LRA and Uganda may be toning down its assistance to the SPLA, thus permitting the development of improved relations between the two countries.

Sudan`s 435-kilometer long border with Uganda has not been an especially important issue as the SPLA or other southern groups of questionable loyalty to Khartoum control most of the territory on the Sudan side. Vulnerable refugees on both sides of the border, however, periodically become embroiled in the fighting between the Sudan government and the SPLA and between Uganda and the LRA. There are 155,000 southern Sudanese refugees in northern Uganda and about 8,500 Ugandan refugees living in Sudan along the border with Uganda. The refugee problem continues to be a vexing matter. The White Nile enters Sudan from Uganda; this is also an important issue for cooperation or conflict.

Uganda`s commitment to the SPLA reached a peak in the mid-1990s when, together with Ethiopia and Eritrea, it became part of the U.S. “front line states” strategy to put pressure on the government in Khartoum. In exchange, the U.S. promised the three states limited military assistance. As recriminations grew between Kampala and Khartoum, President Museveni broke diplomatic relations with Sudan in 1995. The SPLA takes for granted the support it receives from Uganda. Although the personal ties between President Museveni and John Garang are strong, there is not universal acceptance within the government of Uganda for the SPLA cause. The conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 1998 ended the U.S. sponsored “front line states” policy; there has been a slow warming in Ugandan-Sudanese relations ever since. Both nations signed an agreement in 1999 where they pledged to stop supporting and sheltering each other`s rebel groups.

Early in 2002 President Museveni visited Khartoum and agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations at the level of charge d`affaires. In March Uganda and Sudan signed a protocol that allowed “access for the friendly Ugandan forces to execute a limited military operation within the borders of the Sudan in order to deal with the Lord`s Resistance Army problems.” Uganda subsequently launched “Operation Iron Fist” against LRA bases in southern Sudan. The Ugandan and Sudanese foreign ministers met in Kampala in April and agreed to reestablish full diplomatic relations. Sudan urged Kampala to put pressure on the SPLA to accept a comprehensive cease-fire, a step the SPLA has opposed without a comprehensive political settlement. President Bashir visited Kampala in July and agreed with Museveni to work towards peace and security along their common border. Bashir also used this visit to meet for the first time with SPLA leader John Garang since he took up arms against the government.

Operation Iron Fist has largely been a failure and has not ended LRA attacks. In August the LRA overran a refugee settlement 400 kilometers north of Kampala, leaving 24,000 southern Sudanese homeless. Under continuing pressure from the LRA, Museveni pressed Sudan to renew the agreement to pursue the rebel group inside Sudan. In return, Museveni said in November that Uganda had stopped providing military assistance to the SPLA although it could still transit Uganda. Sudan and Uganda agreed at the end of November to renew for two months the right of Uganda to pursue the LRA inside Sudan. The two countries also decided to deploy a joint monitoring team on their common border to deal with allegations that both sides were resuming support for rebel groups operating in the area. Uganda appointed an ambassador to Sudan in January, marking the restoration of full diplomatic relations; Sudan had earlier upgraded its charge d`affaires in Kampala to the rank of ambassador. Sudan`s defense minister met with his counterpart in Kampala in January and announced that Sudan would occupy camps in southern Sudan formerly used by the LRA. A senior Sudanese army officer visited Uganda in early February and announced at the conclusion of the visit that the Sudanese and Ugandan armed forces had reached a clear understanding on integrated cooperation.

The Sudan-Uganda relationship is still not out of the woods. Suspicions remain on both sides that support of some fashion continues to respective rebel groups. Uganda, in any event, would be hard pressed to end all assistance to the SPLA. Two well informed Ugandans from the north, a member of Parliament and a senior cleric, commented privately in Washington early in 2003 that Sudan is leaving open the option of supporting the LRA and may be providing assistance indirectly through the Equatorial Defense Force, which opposes the SPLA and supports the LRA. There may also be intrigue within both the Sudanese and Ugandan military in support of rebel groups. Sudan and Uganda are engaged in a complex and not so delicate “pas de deux” as they work their way through this period of important change in their relations.


Kenya and Sudan have maintained cordial relations since Kenya`s independence in 1963. IGAD mandated Kenya to lead the effort to end the conflict in Sudan, a role that is appreciated by both the SPLA and the government of Sudan. Lokichokio in the northwest corner of Kenya has been for many years the staging point for humanitarian assistance provided by international organizations and non-governmental organizations to southern Sudan. Kenya`s 232-kilometer long border with Sudan is not particularly significant but it has allowed the passage of 67,000 southern Sudanese refugees into Kenya. In October 2002 the governments of the two countries established a common border livestock market to enable Turkana pastoralists in Kenya and Toposa in Sudan to trade their animals. Trade is also increasing between the two countries. The sale to Kenya of one controversial Sudanese commodity—oil—has reportedly stopped, in part due to criticism from Kenyan politicians that it aided Sudan`s war effort.

From the Sudanese perspective, Kenya today arguably has the most cordial relationship with Khartoum among Sudan`s nine neighbors. This is surprising in that most Kenyans tend to be sympathetic towards the SPLA. Kenyan parliamentarian Wanyiri Kihoro reflected this view in an interview with the East African Standard last summer. He argued that the African Union must reject the domination of southern Sudan by the north and cautioned against the purchase of Sudanese oil, calling it “blood oil.” In spite of these sympathies with the SPLA, Kenyan relations with Sudan will remain cordial. The new Kenyan government of President Mwai Kibaki continues to lead the Sudan peace process and Kenya remains the base for humanitarian operations in southern Sudan.


Since the resumption of the civil war in Sudan in 1983, Ethiopian-Sudanese relations have revolved around the degree of Ethiopian support for the SPLA, corresponding Sudanese support for anti-Ethiopian groups and the extent to which Ethiopia perceives an Islamic fundamentalist threat from Sudan. Ethiopia`s Mengistu Haile Mariam regime was strongly supportive of the SPLA until Meles Zenawi and the Ethiopian People`s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) overthrew him in 1991. Meles, who had received help from Sudan during the long struggle to remove Mengistu, pulled back from the SPLA and stated during a 1993 visit to Khartoum that relations with Sudan are “outstanding and will remain so.” This period of goodwill did not last long as Islamic fundamentalists took charge in Khartoum, aided anti-EPRDF groups and otherwise put pressure on Ethiopia, a country with a large Muslim population.

The relationship reached a low point when Sudan, or at least its intelligence apparatus, in 1995 assisted an Egyptian terrorist group in a failed attempt to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as he arrived in Addis Ababa for a meeting of the Organization of African Unity. This deeply embarrassed the Ethiopian government, which subsequently joined Uganda and Eritrea in the U.S. sponsored “front line states” strategy against Sudan. (Ethiopia`s reward was non-lethal military equipment, including four reconditioned C-130s. The U.S. delivered two of them and canceled the delivery of the other two after the outbreak of conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 1998.) There was a sharp increase in the propaganda war between the two countries. Ethiopia stepped up its support for the SPLA while Sudan did the same for several groups dedicated to the overthrow of Meles. Ethiopian support for the SPLA even involved in 1997 cross border military assistance that permitted the SPLA to capture the border town of Kurmuk and Qessan, a town in Sudan`s Blue Nile region just across the border from Ethiopia. In return, Sudan`s speaker of parliament and then power behind the scenes, Hassan al-Turabi, threatened to unleash a million Sudanese-based Ethiopian and Eritrean exiles. The opposition Sudanese Alliance Forces (SAF) also claimed early in 1998 that they were active along the Sudan-Ethiopia border in efforts to topple the Bashir government.

With the outbreak of conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea in May 1998, there was a reshuffling of political alliances in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia concluded that its erstwhile close friend Eritrea had become a greater enemy than Sudan. Drawing on the axiom that the “enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Ethiopia decided to normalize relations with Sudan by the end of 1998. (The two countries never broke diplomatic relations; Sudan kept an ambassador in Addis Ababa and Ethiopia a charge d`affaires in Khartoum.) Ethiopian Airlines and Sudan Airways restored regular service between their capitals. Ethiopia began to cut back its support for the SPLA and Sudan stopped aiding anti-EPRDF groups. President Bashir visited Addis Ababa twice in 2001. The SPLA made a “tactical withdrawal” from Qessan. During a visit to Khartoum at the beginning of 2002, Meles “hailed Sudanese-Ethiopian ties.” There were also changes at the operational level. The two countries agreed to cancel entry visas and fees on traded commodities. Land-locked Ethiopia is looking for funding to build a railway from Port Sudan on the Red Sea to Moyale on its southern border with Kenya. Ethiopia began early in 2003 to import oil from Sudan using the road that crosses at Galabat in Sudan and Matema in Ethiopia. Ethiopia, Sudan and Yemen formed a regional group early in 2003 that they say is designed to “combat terrorism” in the Horn of Africa.

A senior adviser to the Sudan government said to me last summer that Ethiopia, which has a 1,606-kilometer long border with Sudan, is its most important regional partner. The two countries may eventually cooperate on the sharing of Nile water, a sensitive issue for both countries and also especially for Egypt. Ethiopia supports the Machakos agreement for ending the civil war in Sudan and prefers a solution that includes a unified Sudan. They are working to demarcate their long and ill-defined border. A senior Ethiopian foreign ministry official and a senior adviser to the Sudanese government both characterized their bilateral relationship to me last summer as “excellent.” A Sudanese foreign ministry official added that Sudan`s links with Ethiopia are the closest of all the member countries of IGAD and suggested the two countries are moving towards integration.

But potential problems remain. Ethiopia is not convinced that Sudan has given up completely on the export of Islamic fundamentalism. It also wonders if Sudan had advance knowledge of the Eritrean-supported attack last summer from the southern Sudan by the Oromo Liberation Front into western Ethiopia. Although Ethiopia has terminated military assistance to the SPLA, it continues cooperation with this group. Likewise, Sudan has reigned in but not cut its links with groups that oppose the EPRDF. Support for these respective dissident groups could resume on short notice if one side or the other believes there is cause. In addition, there are still about 85,000 Sudanese refugees in western Ethiopia and 14,000 Ethiopian urban refugees in Sudan.


Eritrea`s relationship with Sudan since de facto independence in 1991 and until the end of 1993 was excellent. With a population divided about equally between Christians and Muslims but ruled predominantly by Christians, Eritrea has long been concerned, however, about the export of Islamic fundamentalism from Sudan. At the end of 1993 Eritrea charged Sudan with supporting the activities of a group known as Eritrean Islamic Jihad. It subsequently took its allegations to the United Nations Security Council, broke relations with Sudan at the end of 1994 and joined the “front line states” against Khartoum. Eritrea became a strong supporter of the SPLA and permitted the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), an organization dedicated to the overthrow of the Bashir government, to locate its headquarters in the former Sudanese embassy in Asmara! There are issues along the 605-kilometer border concerning the movement of the Beni Amer and Beja peoples. The matter of refugees is also contentious. There are 109,000 Eritreans in refugee camps in eastern Sudan and another 218,000 urban Eritrean refugees in Sudan. Many of these refugees are reluctant to return to Eritrea.

Following the outbreak of war with Ethiopia in May 1998, Eritrea, like Ethiopia, concluded it was in its interest to improve relations with Sudan. As Eritrea did increasingly poorly in the war with Ethiopia, it signed an agreement with Sudan in 1999 in Doha whereby both countries promised to end support for each other`s opposition groups. Eritrea and Sudan agreed early in 2000 to resume diplomatic ties and air traffic between their capitals. Eritrea sent an ambassador to Khartoum. (He defected in September 2002). Sudan reoccupied its former embassy in Asmara, although the NDA kept its headquarters in Eritrea. Eritrea continued to arm and train Sudanese opposition forces in western Eritrea while opponents of the government in Asmara organized under the Alliance of Eritrean National Forces and operated out of Sudan and Ethiopia. Nevertheless, the two countries tried to improve relations and Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki stated in May 2002 that they would solve problems through dialogue. Eritrea publicly supported the Machakos Protocol.

By mid-summer Eritrean-Sudanese relations began to deteriorate. A senior Sudanese foreign ministry official commented to me in August that Sudan wants better relations with Eritrea, but “it is not easy to read the mind of Isaias.” Sudanese presidential adviser Qutbi al-Mahdi commented publicly in August on the presence of armed Sudanese opposition in Eritrea. Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail stated in October that Eritrea was assisting attacks on Sudan by opposition groups. The NDA claimed credit for the attacks. Sudan closed its border with Eritrea and described its relations with Asmara as “strained.” Ismail charged in February 2003 that Eritrea had amassed forces along the border with Sudan and called on the African Union to verity this “aggression.” There has been no third party confirmation of this allegation.

For its part, Eritrea announced that Sudan had joined Ethiopia and Yemen in an alliance against Eritrea. By mid-November Eritrea said this alliance intended to overthrow the Eritrean government. Former Eritrean leaders who turned against Isaias increasingly appeared in Khartoum. In December Eritrea ran a lengthy statement on the ruling party web site detailing charges against Ethiopia, Yemen and Sudan, describing all three as “terrorist states” aligned with al-Qaeda. Sudan replied that Eritrea was acting on behalf of Israel and said relations could be normalized only if Eritrea stopped backing Sudanese rebels. The foreign ministers of Sudan, Ethiopia and Yemen, meeting in mid-January 2003, emphasized that their alliance was not directed against any country but focused on regional cooperation. Isaias accused the Ethiopians in February 2003 of massing troops along the border of Eritrea in collaboration with Sudan and Yemen. Neutral observers say this has not happened. As long as the current leadership remains in Eritrea and Sudan, this will continue to be a rocky relationship.


There was contact between Egypt and Sudan as early as the 8th millennium BC. Modern relations between the two began when an Egyptian army under Ottoman control invaded Sudan in 1820. Egyptian rule ended in 1885 but returned in the form of the Anglo-Egyptian condominium from 1899-1955. Even after Sudan`s independence in 1956, Egypt exerted considerable influence over developments there. This long history left a lop-sided relationship and an attitudinal problem between Egypt and Sudan. Egypt continues to think of Sudan as part of its backyard. The matter is complicated because the Nile, Egypt`s lifeline, flows through Sudan before reaching Egypt. An estimated 95 percent of all Egyptians depend on the Nile for water. Although Egypt and Sudan agreed in 1959 on an allocation of the Nile water, this issue stands above all others in the bilateral relationship. There is also a dispute along Sudan`s 1,273-kilometer border with Egypt that resulted in deadly confrontations in 1995. Cairo claims according to the 1899 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty that the border runs along the 22nd parallel. Khartoum argues that amendments to the treaty in 1902 and 1907 created an administrative border further north along the Red Sea. The disputed area is called the Halaib triangle. Egypt currently controls the Halaib and the issue is dormant.

Since Sudanese independence, relations with Egypt have had their ups and downs but reached a nadir in 1995 when some authorities in Sudan were complicit in a plot to assassinate President Mubarak as he arrived in Addis Ababa for an Organization of African Unity meeting. By the end of 1999, Egyptian anger had subsided and President Bashir visited Egypt where the two leaders agreed to normalize diplomatic relations. Bashir returned to Cairo in May 2002 when they stressed their brotherly ties and put in motion actions to expand cooperation on a variety of practical issues. Trade is increasing and totals about $85 million annually.

A principal Egyptian theme in its relationship with Sudan is the continued unity of the Sudanese state. It does not want an independent southern Sudan and, hence, another country to bargain with on usage of Nile water. This has become the principal Egyptian message following the Machakos Protocol, which both surprised and angered Egypt. Libya and Egypt had sponsored the competing Joint Egyptian-Libyan Initiative for ending the war based on a united Sudan. Sudan is making a major effort to smooth over this bump in the road with Egypt. Bashir said in September that relations with Egypt are a “strategic priority” and announced the opening of a consulate in Aswan. Presidential adviser Qutbi al-Mahdi emphasized in a September interview that Egypt is welcome to contribute to the security of Sudan`s unity. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher stated in Khartoum in mid-January 2003 that Egypt looks forward to cooperation that preserves Sudanese unity and territorial integrity. In spite of these recent positive steps, of Sudan`s nine neighbors, its ties with Egypt are the most difficult. A senior Sudanese official commented to me last August that of all the Arab countries, Egypt has the “poorest understanding” of the Sudan.

A Final Thought

Most observers give Sudan`s foreign policy and diplomatic service generally high marks for competency. Except for egregious missteps such as involvement in the attempt to assassinate President Mubarak, Sudan`s handling of relations with its nine neighbors underscores this conclusion, particularly when it must labor under some domestic policies that are offensive to many nations. Unlike many African countries, Sudan pursues an activist form of diplomacy with all of its neighbors, even those far from Khartoum and with whom it seemingly has little in common. This robust approach vis-a-vis its neighbors, usually has positive results. This, in turn, has strengthened Sudan`s diplomatic hand as it deals with its critics, especially the United States.