Ethiopia’s latest civil war is being closely observed by Ethiopia’s neighbours, Sudan and South Sudan, but also – from further afield – by Egypt. For Cairo, water is the issue, and the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile. On 28 November, Egypt’s president, Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, arrived in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, to meet with his counterpart, Salva Kiir. Sisi was accompanied by the head of his intelligence service. Egypt had just completed two high-profile joint military exercises in Sudan. At the Marwa air base near Khartoum, the Sudanese military chief of staff had vowed to deter the country’s enemies and protect its borders.
The refugee camp at Hitsats, an hour’s drive through the mountains from the town of Shire, in the Ethiopian province of Tigray, consists of simple block structures with corrugated iron roofs. Skinny cows congregate in the shade of the buildings, oblivious to the humanitarian agency traffic lumbering past. Tigray lies along Ethiopia’s border with Eritrea, and Hitsats now accommodates at least 12,000 Eritreans, fleeing the regime in Asmara. Last August, during the rainy season, the number stood at 34,000. New refugees were arriving daily, following a 2018 peace deal between the two countries, which threatened to choke off prospective Eritrean asylum seekers.
This year, for the first time, the UK government will devote 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income to foreign aid, finally meeting the target set in a 1970 UN General Assembly resolution. The budget of the Department for International Development has leapt from £8.8 billion in 2012 to £11.5 billion for 2013, about £183 per UK citizen. A report by Jonathan Foreman for the right-wing think tank Civitas has criticised the arbitrariness of the 0.7 per cent figure, and there has been a raft of scandals involving overpaid consultants, private equity firms and a lack of transparency at DFID last year, but the place of foreign aid in British politics appears assured. The big question, though, is who to give the money to.