Sudanese-Ethiopian relations: Similarities way to mutual dependency.

By: Ahmed Alhaj (Site Admin)

KHARTOUM, ( – Dr.Mahgoub Hassan Mahgoub, a respectable researcher and an expert in the Sudan-Ethiopia relations examines in this article the similarities and common ground between Addis Ababa and Khartoum and what brings the two sides closer, in the ancient history and in present day geopolitical realities. He conclcludes in this rich paper written for, that the two sides have so many similarities that they could safely depend on each other in so many a field. To reach this conclusion, he goes deep into the history of the region, examines the socio-cultural similarities and bases his conclusions on solid convincing grounds. It is an article worth reading for both researchers and readers seeking sheer pleasure of reading a rich article.  (editor)


1. Sudan is an Afro-Arab country within the African continent. It gained this unique identity throughout different historical stages due to its location, language and different ethnic origins which depicted the country’s ethnic diversity, psychological unity and much inclination towards Arabism and Islam northwards and Africa southwards.

Sudan (before south Sudan separation used to border nine states) now has common borders with seven countries, each of which has different ethnic components including Ethiopia, our subject matter, which used to be known as Abyssinia.

Ethiopia has a long history that dates back to BC and witnessed several population interrelations from northern, central and southern Arabian Peninsula and from the north Arab-African region for reasons of trade and dissemination of religions.


Ethiopia has also experienced phases of conflict and cooperation with its neighbors, including Sudan. Because of its location which overlooks the Red Sea, Yemeni, Arab Islamic and European migrations crossed Ethiopia to the region to form a conflicting atmosphere between orthodox and Islam and other civilizations, not to mention Judaism.

However, beyond this, Sudan and Ethiopia enjoy formidable resources as each one of them feeds the Blue Nile. Two thirds of Ethiopia’s land is a plateau, the reason why it is also known as the Ethiopian Plateau, while the remaining third is flat land, mostly at Danakil desert. There are seven other rivers in Ethiopia besides the Blue Nile.

Sudan and Ethiopia also share a great common social feature where many tribes in the two countries speak more than eight common languages thus representing a great social bond and   at the same time a security concern as for the double identity.

The two countries also enjoy rich cultures and variable heritage from south to north and both carry similar features of diversity such as the majority of Muslims and less Christians. Ethiopia, however, has been affected by the Orthodox Church and eventually inclined to the West in terms of culture.

Additionally, the two countries’ strategies have derived from their features based on the above-mentioned characteristics.

The two countries further enjoy many characteristics that are not found all together in most of the African continent’s countries. This include the wide area, fertile green lands, diversified climates and languages and the psychological unity, particularly with regard to traditions and cultures not to mention that both countries maintain many similarities in terms of history, language, culture, geographical nature and common names which resulted from the community, tradition, musical, economic, security and political interaction. However, and though the two sides sometimes dispute over the above characteristics, but usually their disputes end up in agreement over common interests.

Both countries are situated in the Horn of Africa region, which enjoys a strategic and important location as it overlooks the sea passage which links the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, and the African Continent and the Arab countries and South Asia. It is an international passage for the other international interests across the Swiss canal and Bab-el-Mandeb.

The Horn of Africa region has witnessed many conflicts since ancient times due to its location and formidable resources together with its position as a gate to eastern Africa via a number of ports.

Each country has its cultural, civilizational and political heritage and each has the ability to affect on the national security of the other and on the Horn of Africa region and its countries. Additionally, the alleged conflict between Islam and Christianity in the Horn of Africa region grants it a great importance thus each country affects and is affected by the international disputes over the region and the interests of the different ideologies which successively established in there.

Consequently, this study focused on Sudan and Ethiopia within the context of the dispute and cooperation ties and their local and international impacts, particularly from the political prospective of the new world order.

2. Merger concept definition:

The September 11 events constituted an additional factor that imparted importance on merger or integration in addition to other factors including collapse of the socialist camp, the technological revolution, the conflicting economic interests, and growing tendency for unilateral subjugation to make enmity for whatever is Islamic, Arabic or middle eastern or whoever opposes this unilateralism.

Consequently, there arise questions such as: who is calling for merger, in what context, and under what ceiling?

Some people regard such anticipation for the future as unlikely or almost impossible, matter which compels the trends affected by this background to stand on a firm base for dialogue and communication because communication is the complete link and psychological factor.

Allah, the God Almighty, says in the Holly Quran: “O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! The noblest of you, in the sight of God, is the best in conduct. Lo! God is Knower, Aware.” In the interpretation of this verse, Dr. Abdul-Majid says femininity and masculinity in this verse indicate Man’s individual characteristics and cooperation among peoples and tribes, which is a reference to the collective dimension in that, while piety is proceeding on the path to Allah, the God Almighty. This means to harmonize between the two dimensions. It further confirms that deviation from this harmonic texture of man will lead him either to an unfairly individuality that cancels the others or an unfairly collectivity that cancels the entity of the individual for the benefit of the group such as the case in the communist society.

This is what scientists of international relations of modern time term as of mutual dependency, i.e. reconciliation and rapprochement to exchange common interest. The political merger is integration between political parties or political units such as the individuals, groups, municipalities, regions or States with regard to their political behavior, a policy that, in its framework, goes beyond the behavior of these units, parties or political components, unlike the case when these components fail to integrate.

Each of Sudan and Ethiopia has its various components which are associated with its history and the geographical, cultural, political, and economic composition which qualify it to internally integrate within the standing facts and strategic objectives that plan for the nation’s integration and construction and how to achieve these objectives through the merger function.


Tourism in Ethiopia:

Tourism is one of the most important elements of investment in Ethiopia. it attracts many foreign tourists from different nationalities and religions due to the country’s cultural diversity and moderate and rainy climate which lasts for long besides the high plateau that ranges between six and eight thousand and five hundred feet not to mention its other distinguished tourist areas, including:

1.    The seven Rift Valley lakes south of Addis Ababa.

2.    Arba Minch (Forty springs) southwest of Addis Ababa. They extend for (484) kilometers.

3.    Wadi Hawar (Hawar Valley) at the bottom of Awash River.

4.    Hararr region of the Islamic civilization.

5.    Carmra, the highest peak in the south, which is up to nine thousand feet.

6.    City of Axum, the historical city of kings where Negus was buried.

7.    Simien Mountains’ National Park (home of the Falasha).

8.    Markatu market, the biggest market in Africa.

9.    Shashamane village (Jamaican descent), its people known for their dreadlocks, or hanging hair, the culture Bob Marley, the renowned Jamaican reggae artist, together with its charming nature.

10.                        Ethiopia is also home of the famous Abyssinian coffee where most of the foreigners are attracted by the rituals of drinking the Abyssinian coffee. For instance, there is the brown coffee of the Tigray tribe, the black coffee of the Amharic and other Ethiopian tribes. These coffee rituals are mostly similar to those in Sudan, particularly with regard to the brown coffee of the Tigray.

11.                        Tana Falls and the historical cities of Gondr and Makaly.

12.                       The mineral water in the town of Ambo and hot water of therapeutic legend in the city of Sodere.

13.                       Addis Ababa, which is surrounded by seven Heights. At one of its peaks lies the Lake of Zakwala besides another cold rainy peak named (Antoto).

14.                        In addition to many bars, discotheques and restaurants, and atmosphere full of arts, dance and painting, there are many tourist features in Ethiopia that need to be restructured to be utilized in field of tourism. However, still there is no accurate statistics on tourism returns in Ethiopia or clear visions to develop the domain.


Education in Ethiopia and Sudan share many similarities.  In Ethiopia, until very recently, the parents, particularly at the suburbs, begin education of their children by sending them to the Church to study religion, while the Muslims in Ethiopia begin the education of their children by sending them to the Khalwas (Quranic centers). Similarly, in Sudan, and until very recently, the Khalwa is a very important kind of pre-school education. This constitutes and important factor of the historical similarities between the two countries in field of education.

As for the periods of primary and middle term education in Ethiopia, they extend for eleven years after which the students sit for the examinations of the small certificate and then after two years the sit for the secondary certificate. For 1700 years, Ethiopia has followed the Orthodox religion which influenced the education system before shifting to the modern education in 1950 when Addis Ababa University was established. The university has six specialized colleges. Most of the university lecturers are Americans with few British. In 1970, the university students reached 4,500.

Labor and migration:

Ethiopia has been known for migration of great numbers of its citizens because of refuge of poverty where most of the immigrants are technically unqualified the reason why most of them are women who migrate to Arab countries to serve as house cleaners. They also spread in Europe, Australia and the United States. However, the Ethiopian technicians are known for their competency despite the small wages they receive.

1.    History:

The Arabic language term “Abyssinia” means mixing where it has been stated in the dictionary that the Abyssinians are like completion to a group of people. The term which was used by Ibn Sina, was used by the Portuguese at the end of the middle ages to mean the black skin. As for the term “Ethiopia”, it appeared during the rule of King Munelik the second and was used to indicate the ancient Christian Abyssinian Kingdom and modern Ethiopia.

Sudan’s Kush Kingdom was not isolated from the external world but it had established trade relations between Merowe and Axum where those relations were governed by dispute and cooperation, particularly with regard to the commercial matters. Sudan’s Kush Kingdom and the Ethiopian Kingdom of Axum had been close related where some translations indicated that the King Aizana, who wrote in Greek language, mentioned information about the Meroitic civilization and its ties with Axum. Additionally, the archeological signs found at Bajrawiya area north of Sudan’s Shandi town also proved presence of Abyssinians north of Shandi. There is also a village in Jaraw, north of Axum in Ethiopia bearing a name similar to Bajrawiya in Sudan.

2.    Sudan’s needs of Ethiopia:

As studied, the Ethiopian-Sudanese ties pass through dispute stages to fulfill their needs and cooperation. Therefore, if the two sides have managed to make cooperation a means bolster their bilateral relations, Sudan then can achieve many interests including:

3- Electricity: Tana Lake falls and Fensha dam produce huge amounts of electricity from Blue Nile water as was planned by former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassi who expected the dam to generate 46 billion cubic meters to establish 59 water facilities where Ethiopia’s electricity was considered the cheapest in Africa due to the enormous generation. Sudan can import the electricity fill in its electric deficit.

At the same day when Entebbe agreement, which is contradictive to the Nile Water Agreement, was signed, Salem project was inaugurated under Italian patronage to produce 8000 megawatts followed by the inauguration of three other electric projects (Giby 1, Giby 2 and Giby 3) each of them produces 1.8 thousands megawatts. These were followed by the millennium Dam project which is still unimplemented but expected to be completed to produce 20,000 megawatts. It is expected to be funded by South Sudan to fill in its electric deficit. However, no date has been set for the completion of the project.

4.    Safe borders:

This falls within achieving Sudan’s strategic objectives where the eastern borders until Eritrea extends for over 2500 kms that is difficult to militarily supervise them. This borderline has been a source of concern for a long time and a reason that caused the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Eastern Front to be strong in Eritrea. Ethiopia, therefore, can use the border to sort out its political issues. After the Sudanese-Ethiopian agreement on border security, a great change took place in Sudan where the most important results of the agreement was the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with South Sudan.

5.    Border social stability:

 Many joint tribes live on the joint border between the two countries, matter which constitutes an important factor for creating secured border. The people live on the Sudanese side of the border enjoy the right of citizens and similarly those who live on the Ethiopian side of the border which necessitates the importance of coordination between the two countries to utilize the security and social factors for the benefits of the two peoples. Such matter should be included in the agreements between the two countries and the Ethio-Sudanese groups, which resulted from the border guards’, force, which crossed the border to support Emperor Haile Selassi in 1941.

6.    Maintaining good relationship with South Sudan, completing of Darfur peace and developing eastern Sudan:

Here Ethiopia can either play a positive or negative role in the issue of the relationship with South Sudan or the issue of development in eastern Sudan. Therefore, Sudan can set Ethiopia in its calculations of strategic planning for Sudan’s peace in which Eritrea is representing an influential player.

7.    Reduction of regional and international effects:

Stability of the relations between Sudan and Ethiopia is affected by regional and international environment. Negative interaction of Sudan with its neighbors is not in its interest. For instance the attempted assassination against the Egyptian President in 1995 when the accusation was directed to Sudan, matter which resulted in tension of its relationship with Egypt and consequently led to issuance of three UN resolutions that were not in its interest not to mention the international consequences of that. There is also Ethiopia’s intervention in Somali land with the consent of the Somali government where Ethiopia has an economic and security interest in that intervention, namely with regard to securing its border against what it termed Al-Qaeda terrorism and then to reach the Somali harbors. All these should be put in the calculations of the strategic planning.

8.    Ethiopia’s needs from Sudan:

Ethiopia’s strategy stands on three fixed objective including development, democracy and national security. Sudan represents an active party in achieving these goals. Ethiopia has great concerns regarding the Islamic system in Sudan, so the question is: will Ethiopia work to establish stable relations with Sudan to make use of the following?

First: Sudan’s oil:

Like water, oil constitutes another lifeline and Ethiopia has not produced oil yet, the reason why it has resorted to Sudan to import oil to contribute to its development process, while at the same time grants benefits to Sudan.

Second: Sudan’s ports:

Ethiopia exports and imports through Djibouti and Mozambique harbors, but the capacity of these harbors is weak. Sudan’s three ports on the other hand provide Ethiopia enough capacity and associate it with Sudan’s oil, particularly that Ethiopia has many agricultural and industrial products.

Third: Market:

Ethiopia needs to market many of its products, namely the cheap agricultural products where Sudan can make use of these products to fill in its economic need within the framework of developing the economic ties and reactivating the joint committees and agreements signed during the past period.

Fourth: resolving water issue:

Ethiopia enjoys high water levels where the Blue Nile feeds the Nile with most of its water. Ethiopia does not make maximum use of the Nile water, as it is not part of the Nile Water Agreement this in addition to other difficulties accompanying the establishment of its Dam. Furthermore, Ethiopia lacks underground water, as two thirds of its territories are plateau. Ethiopia needs projects of high costs and therefore it hopes, within the framework of the Nile Water Agreement, Sudan would play a role, through its position in the agreement, to narrow Ethiopia’s viewpoints.

Fifth: Security of neighboring countries:

The Muslim Somalia, Eritrea which is seeking to join the Arab League and the joint borders with Ethiopia are all factors that encourage Ethiopia to remain hopeful that Sudan would play a role in fixing the relations.

Sixth: Ethiopia’s Arab-African openness:

Ethiopia is geographically and culturally landlocked where it speaks the Amharic language which is not known to the Arab and African worlds. Therefore, Sudan can be the beginning for Ethiopia’s economic, political and cultural openness due to Sudan’s distinguished location in the Horn of Africa region and via the historical and geographical ties with Ethiopia. The Arabic language is the key to that openness.

Seventh: Issue of agricultural lands:

The border relationship with Ethiopia usually reaches stages of tension because of lack of flat agricultural lands in Ethiopia. A good example here is the land of Al-Fashaqa where seeking to resolve this issue would be a reason to end it.

9.    Similarities and distinction in composition of the two countries:

Sudan and Ethiopia are linked with great direct and indirect historical bonds where Ethiopia has associated with south of the Arabian Peninsula which resulted in Yemeni commercial and religious migrations to the region since ancient ages.

Geographical similarities:

Despite the difference of climates between Sudan and Ethiopia, but they share many names of towns, villages and rivers. For instance, Dungola, Sudary, Merowe, Bijraw are similar to names of towns in Sudan besides Skuta town in northwestern Jabra in Ethiopia which is identical to the name of a Sudanese tribe of Skut in addition to Umal-Tiyour, Hafyana, Ariyana and  particularly Nyala which is a name of both a height and an animal in Ethiopia. These similarities which amount to more than 27 only indicate historical interactions between the two countries.

Social similarities:

First: This type of similarity adopts several shapes represented in the traditions and common tribes, which share color, physical structure, land, language and affinity. Abyssinia, as mentioned before, means the dark skin and was previously used to mean the area between the Red Sea and Nuba land. Therefore, the similarity in skin color and physical structure in all or most of the two countries’ areas constitutes evidences of interrelation on the borderline.

Second: There are many common tribes living on the Sudanese-Ethiopian borderline which extends from the south toward the northern border of the two countries with Eritrea. These tribes include Gumbaila, Bani Shangoul, Gimiz, Wataweet, Hadarab and Bani A’mer where it is difficult to prove the original affiliation of each of them to one country for another as for the ethnic interrelation between the two countries.

Similarly is the case with the group of battalions which were formed to return the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassi to the rule and which have remained in Ethiopia, namely at the Ethiopia area of Sudan Sifir (Sudanese’ accommodation) where members of the group married established a marital relation with Ethiopia, matter which supports merging of the social ties.

Linguistic similarities:

This type of similarity reflects communication throughout the history where we can find many common terms in the Ethiopian Amharic and Tigrinya languages and the Sudanese Arabic language.

Cultural similarities:

This type of similarity occupies a great room in terms of its multi-patterns. It includes drawing, sculpture, and music, singing and dancing. In this respect, Abdul-Rahman Abdalla, a lecturer at the faculty of Fine Arts, Sudan University, says: “Arts constitutes a means of communication among nations and plays a great role in enriching the public taste and mood among peoples”.

He further said that the Ethiopia refugees have played a great role in reflecting these common similarities. There are many identical features in the artistic style including, for instance, the graphic lines of the writing patterns in both Arabic and Amharic languages.

Regarding the musical similarities, we find that both the Sudanese and Ethiopia music and singing adopt a pentatonic scale (a musical scale with five notes per octave in contrast to a heptatonic (seven notes) scale such as the major scale and minor). Many Sudanese singers are known in Ethiopia and their songs are familiar to the Ethiopian people and vice versa.

Psychological similarity:

The above-mentioned similarities reflect a psychological bond between the categories of the two countries’ peoples, matter which institutes for a broad popular base which is an important condition for merger as indicated in the international merger theory.

The economic, social, security and political components of merger is the base upon which stand the broad popular base. However, the psychological acceptance of the other remains the most important in the success of such merger and a guarantee for its continuation for the interest of the two countries with consensus of strategies of the ruling systems. More importantly, such a merger positively reflects on the national security of the two countries and the regional environment which is affected by the dispute and cooperation between the two sides and within the framework of building positive international relations at the regional level. It further blocks the way before any arguments or justifications for any international polices that are likely to target the national sovereignty and security of this country. Knowledge is the key torch which institutes for planning and construction and an important factor of success and not the marginal impression of the Ethiopian cultural component and possibility of its effect on the religious component of Sudan because the Islamic growth in Ethiopia is higher than the population growth, which indicates the Islamic development through time. The evidence in this respect is that the rate of Muslims in Ethiopia on early 1980s was %50 of the total population and presently it amounted to %64. Consequently, the Muslims in Ethiopia will definitely be more than today in 2040.

Development, security and peace represent the most important and common strategic issues between Sudan and Ethiopia and therefore adoption of the diplomacy of interests and development of bilateral ties are key to the realization of the Sudanese-Ethiopian strategic objectives.








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