Sudan has now returned to its prior position, expressing its full support for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. It’s a dramatic shift from when Sudan sided with Egypt to oppose the dam’s construction.
The announcement was made when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) went to Sudan, where he was welcomed by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Chairman of the Transitional Sovereignty Council of the Republic of the Sudan.
Abiy’s visit is the first since the Sudanese military coup led by al-Burhan in 2021. Al-Burhan justified the coup by claiming that infighting among civilian components of the transition posed a threat to the country’s security.
Abiy was joined by the Ministers of Defence, Peace, and Interior Affairs, the Government Communications Office, the Ethiopian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, the National Security Adviser, and the Director of Ethiopian Intelligence. Mohamed ‘Hemeti’ Dagalo, Vice President of the Sovereignty Council and Commander of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, met with Abiy and his entourage.
Relations between Sudan and Ethiopia have deteriorated for a number of reasons, including a disagreement over a border and refugees fleeing a conflict that has been going on for two years in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. Reportedly, Sudan has been hosting TPLF combatants and allowing them to conduct military exercises within the country, which has aggravated the situation.
As Egypt backed the al-Burhan, the Sudanese military government supported Egypt in the dispute over the construction and operation of the GERD. In fact, Sudan changed its position on the project prior to the military government assuming control. Since the ousting of former Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir from office in the wake of a popular uprising, Sudan has sided with Egypt, which seeks to prevent Ethiopia from constructing a dam on the Nile before signing a binding agreement.
Egypt, often known as the Nile’s gift, relies on the Nile for agriculture and drinking water. Long ago, Sudan backed the dam with the hope that it would manage annual floods and generate electricity. Later, however, it expressed concern that the dam would limit the amount of water in its dams and insisted that the project’s operation not begin without a legally binding agreement.
Sudan seems to have reversed course once again.
Al-Burhan and Abiy discussed “measures to deepen and improve bilateral ties” at a meeting in Khartoum last Thursday. The two leaders are “aligned and in agreement” over the dam.
“Burhan emphasized… that Sudan and Ethiopia are aligned and in agreement on all issues regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD),” the sovereign council, which Burhan chairs, said.
Abiy, on the other hand, said “Ethiopia continues to stand in solidarity with Sudan in their current self-led political process,” he stressed. The PM urged Sudanese political forces to solve problems without external interference.
A joint communiqué was issued at the conclusion of Abiy’s visit, in which the two leaders underlined the need to settle the issue via establishment mechanisms. The one day visit, according to the communiqué, was meant to demonstrate support for the Sudanese administration and people as they worked to construct a peaceful transition period inside the country.
The statement emphasized that “Sudanese are capable of managing their internal problems.”
“The Ethiopian side expressed optimism that the Sudanese achieve an agreement to form a transitional civilian government and other institutions, opening the road for elections at the conclusion of the transition,” the statement added.
Several key military and civilian political players in Sudan signed a Framework Agreement (FA) in December 2022 after months of discussions to begin the country’s transition to civilian rule.
Phase I of the deal, which included the secretive and closed negotiations that led to the December agreement, was led by the United Nations-African Union-Intergovernmental Authority on Development tripartite structure with strong backing from the United States, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
It also marked the beginning of Phase II, the goal of which is to reach a final agreement and then establish a civilian administration. The parties that signed the agreement on December 5 agreed to complete Phase II within a month.
The agreement inked in December might be a beginning in the right direction, but it has a long way to go before it is fruitful. It excludes all former insurgents and others identified by institutions such as the Crisis Group as potential threats to the transitional administration.
“As part of these “Phase II” negotiations, anti-coup forces should forge a more unified front as well as bring in ex-rebels, tribal leaders and other opposition parties. The U.S and other outside powers that pushed for the deal should urge them to do so,” the Crisis Group said in its statement on January 23, 2023, regarding the transition in Sudan.