Ethiopia’s PM Abiy Ahmed in Sudan on first visit since 2021 coup

Abiy last visited Sudan in August 2020, during the transitional government of former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has visited neighbouring Sudan on Thursday for meetings with army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, his first visit to Khartoum since a 2021 military coup there.

Relations between the neighbours in the Horn of Africa have been fraught with tensions in recent years, including over a border dispute and refugees from the two-year conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region.

Sudan’s ruling sovereign council said in a statement that Burhan and Abiy held talks on “ways to strengthen and enhance bilateral relations”.

Abiy and Burhan met in Ethiopia in October, but Abiy last visited Sudan in August 2020, during the transitional government of former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

Tensions heightened between Khartoum and Addis Ababa following the conflict that broke out in November 2020 between Ethiopia’s federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Fighting drove tens of thousands of people to seek refuge in Sudan.

In November, Ethiopia’s government signed a peace deal with the TPLF to end the two-year war that has, according to the United States, killed as many as 500,000 people. The war has triggered a severe humanitarian crisis.

Relations between Sudan and Ethiopia have also soured in recent years over al-Fashaqa, a fertile border strip long cultivated by Ethiopian farmers but claimed by Sudan, sparking sporadic deadly clashes.

It has fed into wider tensions over land and water, particularly stoked by Ethiopia’s mega-dam on the Blue Nile.

Sudan and Egypt, both downstream Nile nations, have been opposed to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and pushed for an agreement on the filling of its reservoir and the dam’s operations.

In February 2022, Khartoum and Cairo slammed Addis Ababa for unilaterally deciding to start power generation at the dam.

By June of that year, Sudan had recalled its ambassador to Ethiopia in protest of the latter’s troops reportedly executing seven of its soldiers and displaying their bodies to the public.

It was not clear whether the border dispute or dam discussions are on the agenda during Abiy’s current visit.

Sudan’s sovereign council said Abiy will also meet with Sudanese political factions.

Deepening unrest has gripped Sudan since the Burhan-led coup, which upended a transition to civilian rule installed following the 2019 ouster of longtime President Omar al-Bashir.

In December 2022, Sudanese military and civilian leaders signed an initial peace deal as part of a two-phase political process.

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