Ethiopia’s active mediation role in the current crisis is commendable and justified. While IGAD under the leadership of Ethiopia provides the best vehicle for dialogue, Ethiopia has a very high stake in this crisis due to a number of factors. A peaceful region, the two Sudans at peace with each other and at peace within themselves would benefit Ethiopia’s peace and development efforts enormously. First there is the issue related to the refugee flow from South Sudan to the bordering Ethiopian regions of Gambella and Benshangul-Gumuz. An influx of tens of thousands of refugees could create similar imbalance in the regional states bordering South Sudan again. Composed of entirely Ethiopian troops numbering slightly more than 4000, the mission of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) could be easily affected by the spread of the current conflict in Unity and Warap and the encirclement of Abyei. Another diplomatic burden for Ethiopia is to keep UNISFA from implicating in the South Sudanese internal crisis. Deployed to help the mediation and prevent a border war between the Khartoum and Juba, UNISFA needs to enjoy the full support of the two states. If implicated in the internal crisis of South Sudan, the negative impact of a civil war between with in South Sudan will not be limited to the Ethiopia but also to the mediation effort by President Mbeki. Thus, Ethiopia has to tread carefully to ensure its fair-handed role of peacemaker and mediator.
Moreover, Ethiopia as the current chair of IGAD and the AU has to discharge its mandate effectively on behalf of the region and Africa. Thus, an additional diplomatic burden for Ethiopia remains the usual balancing role it plays within IGAD and the divergent interests of its member states, particularly Sudan and Uganda, who might lend support to different factions in this crisis. Here close assistance by the AU and the UN will be critical to ensure unison of messages to the warring factions, and their external supporters.
The long-term interest of Ethiopia in the region will only be ensured through democratic states that are peaceful within themselves and with their region. Support and encouragement for internal democratic reform of SPLM and SPLA is the best place to start with.