How Ethiopians understood Sudan’s decline to sign an agreement

Sudan held a position for too long that Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam aligns with its national interest

Sudan _ Ethiopia

May 13, 2020

With Egypt’s manifested intent to control the Nile water over 86 percent of which emanates from Ethiopia, the latter approached Sudan out of determination to start filing the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) starting July of this year.

Based on Ethiopia’s proposal, the filling of the dam could take up to ten years. The first phase of the filling is intended to end in two years and the dam gets a total of 4.9 billion cubic meters of water.

But Sudan declined to sign the agreement. The expressed position is that the agreement needs to include Egypt besides a concern for “legal and technical” issues that need to be resolved.

In a statement issued on Tuesday this week, Sudanese Irrigation Ministry said that “The Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok informed his Ethiopian counterpart, Abiy Ahmed of his country‚Äôs steadfast position on the need to reaching a tripartite agreement between Khartoum, Addis Ababa and Cairo, before the start of the first filling of the Renaissance Dam,” as reported by Sudan Tribune.

For the Sudanese Prime Minister, “The signing of any partial agreement for the first stage requires an agreement on the technical and legal aspects that must be included in the agreement such as the coordination mechanism, data exchange, dam safety, and environmental and social impacts.”

Sudan’s response seems to suggest that there has been a change in position. Divergent view are being discussed among Ethiopians in social media in a bid to understand Sudan’s apparent change in position while the project is in its national interest.Some say it is to early to analyse Sudan based on the decline to sign a partial agreement. Still others tend to see it in light political and economic threat that Sudan experienced from the heavy weights in the Arab League.

When Egypt mobilized members of the Arab League countries to condemn Ethiopia for not signing an agreement regarding the filling and operation of the dam, Sudan was the only country that defied signing a declaration from the League.

Not just that. In late February, Sudan did not initial US-brokered agreement saying it needs to be signed by all negotiating parties but Ethiopia was not even attending the last round of the Washington agreement.

Sudan’s decline to sign the Ethiopian proposal has triggered a conversation among Ethiopians. Political pundits are piecing together a series of events that possibly led to Sudan’s decision not to cooperate with Ethiopia.

Barely a week after Egypt and her Arab League allies were angry about Sudan’s refusal to sign declaration against Ethiopia, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok survived an assassination attempt in his nation’s capital, Khartoum.  Hamdok understood the attempt to be the works of “counter-revolutionaries.” The same day he tweeted: “What happened will not stop the path of change, it will be nothing but an additional push in the strong waves of the revolution.”  

Ethiopian analysts also make a reference to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’ decision not to release pledged $2 billion dollars, among other things.

Sudan and Ethiopia are also having what seems like a border in the northwestern part of the country. The issue resurfaced recently and Egypt is believed to be, according to some Ethiopian political pundits, the one fanning it to be the point of making it conflict flashpoints. Egypt is exhausting all possible ways of ensuring water monopoly over the Nile (including stirring internal instability) while contemplating military action against the Ethiopian Dam.

According to a report by the Sudan Tribune, Sudan is pushing Ethiopia to resume talks to finalize “outstanding matter through videoconference to reach an agreement over the pending issues,” and it remains to be a question if such a controversial topic could be solved through a virtual negotiation process. Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed’s administration was actively involved in the transition process in post-Albashir Sudan and has contributed to resolving differences between political forces in the country. It remains to be seen if he is capable of resolving the difference between Ethiopia and Sudan amid presumable financial and political pressure from Arab League countries.

On the other hand, the US pressure on Ethiopia seems to be continuing as the former wants the latter to conclude US-brokered negotiation before starting to fill the dam.

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