Sudan’s political disaster may complicate Nile dam dispute

CAIRO — Less than 24 hours after the coup by Sudanese military chief Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on Oct. 25 towards the civilian component of the transitional interval, the African Union (AU) suspended Sudan’s membership and participation in all of its actions.

This comes because the AU seeks a compromise components between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia to renew negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). These African efforts comply with the presidential assertion on the GERD adopted by the UN Security Council calling for a resumption of the AU-led negotiations.

Negotiations between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia are nonetheless suspended since Ethiopia accomplished the second filling of the GERD lake. The Egyptian and Sudanese worldwide diplomatic escalation towards Ethiopia is to date restricted to suggestions to return to the negotiating desk. Meanwhile, all mediation makes an attempt to bridge the views of the three international locations or begin a brand new spherical of talks to reach a binding settlement on the filling and operation of the GERD have faltered. 

Prior to the dissolution of the civilian authorities in Sudan, Christophe Lutundula, international minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo — which at the moment holds the presidency of the AU for a one-year time period — visited Sudan on Sept. 15 to debate the chances of resuming negotiations.

In flip, Sudanese Foreign Minister Mariam al-Mahdi was in fixed contact with Cairo to coordinate actions towards unilateral Ethiopian practices through the strategy of the second filling of the GERD. This raised questions in regards to the affect of the federal government’s dissolution and the continuation of political stress in Sudan on Egyptian actions and stances on the GERD dispute.

In this context, Amani al-Taweel, director of the African program at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, advised Al-Monitor over the cellphone that freezing Sudan’s AU membership this present day will undoubtedly negatively have an effect on Egyptian-Sudanese actions concerning the GERD.

“These actions will lose momentum, and the pressure against Ethiopia to return to negotiations would be eased,” she mentioned.

Taweel argued that Ethiopia sought to disrupt negotiations by taking fast actions aimed to freeze Sudan’s membership within the AU. “Such decisions are not usually rushed toward any African country, which shows that the decision was triggered by Ethiopia,” she defined. “It falls in Ethiopia’s interest to have an unbiased reason it can invoke before the international community to delay negotiations until the Abi Ahmed regime settles its internal problems, most notably the ongoing tension and war in the Tigray region.”

Ever because the elimination of the Omar al-Bashir regime in April 2019, Sudan — specifically its army component entrusted to run the transitional part with the participation of the Forces for Freedom and Change — had taken hard-line stances towards Ethiopia.

The Sudanese military liberated the lands of Al-Fashqa from the grip of the Ethiopians. Sudan additionally rejected Ethiopia’s unilateral strikes within the GERD and demanded ensures binding Ethiopia to scale back any anticipated antagonistic results it might endure due to the GERD.

Paradoxically, a rapprochement was felt between Ethiopia and Sudan initially of the transitional part. Ethiopia contributed to the negotiations between the Sudanese events till the drafting of the Constitutional Charter for the 2019 Transitional Period.

Commenting on the potential of Ethiopia returning to the GERD negotiation desk, Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Dina Mufti affirmed Oct. 28 that his nation will respect and acknowledge the AU choice on this regard. Mufti mentioned Ethiopia respects the AU’s choice to droop negotiations on account of Sudan’s frozen membership. 

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Haidar Youssef, a Sudanese water sources skilled, criticized Ethiopia’s try to make use of the present scenario in Sudan as a pretext to delaying the negotiations. “Ethiopia is moving forward with the GERD construction and getting ready for the third filling without waiting for the outcomes of the negotiations, whether with Egypt or with Sudan,” he mentioned.

He famous that the political scenario in Sudan continues to be not clear. “Although the return to negotiations is linked to unfreezing Sudan’s AU membership, the negotiations themselves would be futile if Ethiopia continues to take unilateral actions. This will remain true even if a binding legal agreement is agreed upon.”

Youssef mentioned, “Previous negotiations were held through various administrations and governments in Sudan 10 years ago, and Ethiopia has yet to fulfill any of Egypt or Sudan’s demands after the issuance of the international panel of experts’ report. It did not conduct studies to assess the safety of the GERD or its environmental, economic and social impacts, and it continues with the dam construction.”

In this vein, Youssef warned the political stress in Sudan may outshadow the Nile water subject. He defined, “We are now experiencing a climate change as the Nile River discharges increase. … Ethiopia’s refusal to coordinate and its concealment of important information regarding the management of the filling and operation of the GERD threaten Sudan.”

Mohamed Abdel Karim, a researcher specializing in African affairs, downplayed the repercussions of stress in Sudan on the course of the GERD negotiations. He reassured Al-Monitor, “The situation in Sudan is not dangerous for Egypt. Even if the negotiations had resumed, they were not expected to bring anything new. The emerging tension in Sudan is a good pretext invoked by Ethiopia. It might take some of the pressure off Addis Ababa.”

Abdel Karim added, “The negotiations cannot be relied on to solve the GERD crisis, especially amid Ethiopia’s insistence on monopolizing the decision to complete the dam. It would be unrealistic to opt for negotiations in light of the behavior shown by Ethiopia.”

He defined that Egypt took different measures to not directly confront Ethiopia by ramping up its diplomatic outreach within the Nile Basin area, akin to with Uganda and South Sudan. “This is the most important alternative path for defending Egyptian interests in the Nile waters,” he mentioned. “This would also rebuke the Ethiopian narrative that Egypt is estranged from its African surroundings.”

In his speech at Cairo Water Week on Oct. 24, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi reiterated the necessity to “reach, in the shortest time possible and without procrastination, a balanced and legally binding agreement” to the GERD disaster. He warned, “No one will emerge as the winner in a reckless struggle over the source of life, which shall be provided to every human being without discrimination.”

Meanwhile, Cairo’s month-to-month presidency of the African Peace and Security Council as of Nov. 1 will permit it to exert extra diplomatic efforts inside the AU to maintain any selections issued on Sudan from prejudicing the GERD subject. 

Of observe, Sisi had additionally reiterated in a gathering with the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo on Nov. 1 his agency stance reaching a legally binding settlement on the GERD filling and operation, beneath the AU umbrella.

 

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