Why is Egypt’s hydro-political concern more intense on Sudan?
31 MAY 2014
The world has recently witnessed the long march of Egypt’s indignation to Ethiopia’s move on the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) over the Blue Nile (Abay) River.
Many Egyptian politicians and hydro-political strategists with their media acolytes promptly have portrayed the GERD as the bell ringing the complete final apocalypse of Egypt. To discard the apocalyptic imagery of the GERD and clear the clouds of such a vision of the said strategists, Ethiopia has tried to unravel the real benefits of the Dam to Egyptian and Sudanese citizens with great caution and the sine qua non of genuine cooperation and dialogue to finalize the recommendations of the International Panel of Experts (IPoE) report.
Egyptian hydro-political strategists clearly know that the GERD is a gateway to various benefits to the Nile Basin region and the water of hydropower will be sent down to downstream countries. But the portrayal of the GERD in the history of the 21st century canvas heavily enrages their preexisting mindsets. What extremely angers Egyptian hydro-political strategists and militarists most is not Ethiopia’s bold determination to throw away what they call their ‘historical rights’ in disarray, or its commitment to a win-win approach in the utilization of the water resources of the Abay River.
The disheartening issue to Egyptian officials is the recent changes and developments being undertaken in the geo-politics and hydro-politics of the Sudan, as it forcibly used to be the long ally of Cairo in the utilization of the water resources of Abay for years. Cairo had cooperated with the Ottoman Empire, British colonial rule and previous opportunistic leaders in Khartoum in having the Sudan exploited then developed through numerous ways including the signing of the 1959 Agreement on the Full Utilization of the Nile Waters.
This is the looming question enervating the water policy of Egypt. They are unable to answer that question because they have never dreamt of Sudan awakening from its long slumber, continuing instability and harrowing experience of frequent famines and droughts in order to engage in various development projects of Abay. Their inability to face this stark question emanated from their recycling project of self-originating hydro-political and geo-political calculation.
Andrew S. Natsios, Executive Professor at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, states that Sudanese politics have been influenced by three critical factors: (1) the issue of the southern part of the country, (2) its relations with Egypt and (3) the relationship between state and religion. As far as the Abay River is concerned, the issue of the South and the bilateral ties of Sudan and Egypt deserve serious attention to thoroughly decipher Egypt’s acute concerns on the contemporary Sudanese geo-political and hydro-political developments.
With reference to the issue of the South, South Sudan's secession in 2011 contributed to the significant loss of Sudanese oil reserves and revenues. It also rang the bell to Sudanese policymakers to view the water resources of the Nile as a new driving force for Sudan’s rejuvenation and development in the years to come. Water for life, food security, national development, energy and survival is a top priority in Sudanese hydro-politics as there are no alternatives to lift the country out from the current economic crisis. In this regard, Sudan has embarked on various development projects including massive agricultural development, investment, irrigation schemes, hydraulic infrastructure and intensification of infrastructural links.
Increasing agricultural production and sustained investment on this sector are vehemently supported by the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. This is because agriculture is the only route of the Sudan to extricate its citizens from poverty. Again, the future development of the nation depends on the Abay River. Agricultural goods like fruits, oil seeds, gum Arabic and wheat are sources of the country’s income and budget. The country is committed to intensify and boost exports of these agricultural goods in order to finance imported goods. This has led the country to invest in the extension of irrigated agriculture and other pump schemes. The government of Sudan, according to Ana Cascao, declared its extension of irrigated agriculture and pump schemes over the Blue Nile and Atbara basins in addition to the White Nile irrigation projects and the Merowe Dam irrigation scheme. These development projects included the extension of the Rahad, Kenana, Suki, and Setit planned projects with the view to bolster Sudanese economy. The situation and the developments in Sudan entail that the country will not be shackled by the 1959 Agreement. It will rather urge for more fair and reasonable allocation and distribution of the water resources of the Abay River.
Energy is also another area in which Sudan has made strides and will undertake several projects as a result of the loss of the so-called black gold, oil. The heightening and expansion of the Roseiris Dam on the Blue Nile State assists the country to store 7.4 billion cubic meters, permit more hydropower generation (1,800 megawatts,) offer irrigation to 2 million feddans (acres or hectares) of new farmland, increase agricultural production and transform the lives of many in Blue Nile State. Setting up a new institution called the Dams Implementation Unit (DIU) and departing from the legacy of the British colonial vision of the Abay River, Sudan has crafted a new vision and perspective to shape the history of Abay as a responsible actor in order to expand its hydraulic infrastructure. The planned Dal Dam, Kajbar Dam, Shreiq Dam, and Rumala Dam will be undertaken under the DIU. Both the existing and recently completed dams support the country extend and expand the irrigated agricultural development and investment. Both the government and privately owned companies’ engagement in hydraulic infrastructures elevates Egypt’s fiery.
Gulf investment in Sudanese agriculture is also another development being undertaken. David Hallam, Deputy Director for Trade and Markets Division of FAO, Gulf state-owned companies and private investors have chosen Sudan as their crucial investment destination in agriculture as a result of their food insecurity problem, the recent surge in food prices, the volatility of food prices in the world markets, population explosion, increasing income and urbanization. The al Bashir government highly regards Gulf investment because Sudan badly needs capital inflows, technology transfer to increase productivity, job creation, and upgrading domestic production as well as increasing food supplies to the domestic market and for export. Being water stressed and endowed with oil revenues, the GCC countries are the major players in the development and investment projects in Sudanese agriculture. For instance, it was reported in January, 2013 that Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, Hassad Food, agreed in 2009 in joint venture with the government of Sudan to work on a USD 1 billion agricultural development, according to Reuters. The GCC involvement in Sudanese agricultural development reached USD 25 billion, according to Gulf News (May 1, 2013.) This also raises grave concerns from the Egyptian narrowly self-serving hydro-political strategy, which categorizes the up-streamers as threats to Egypt’s singular water security neglecting the food, energy, water and human security of Sudan, Ethiopia and other up-streamers.
The relationship between Sudan and Egypt had a profound impact over the policy direction of Sudanese leaders in the years that followed independence from British colonial rule. The contemporary situation is quite different from the second half of the 20th century. Now it is pretty clear that Egypt’s meddling in the internal affairs of Sudan is considerably diminished. Egyptian leaders have no leverage over Sudan to extend their self-originating regime. Today, Sudanese officials have a new vision of Sudan, secluding themselves from the systems and rules made by the movers of yesteryears’ history, including the Ottoman administration and British colonial rule in close collaboration with their junior partner, Egypt, which perpetrated the exploitation of Sudan.
Being upset by the recent moves in Sudan, Egyptian officials have engaged themselves in the ongoing conflict of South Sudan siding with one of the warring parties, which is against the mediation efforts of IGAD, so as to benefit from the conflict and extend their interests. It is an obvious truth that Egypt’s involvement in the South Sudan conflict fuels the flames of the causes of violence and fans the spillover effects of instability to Sudan and Ethiopia, making them focus on security issues rather than development projects. Besides, Egypt has reactivated its support to anti-Khartoum forces to topple the al Bashir government. Indeed, Sudanese Foreign Minister, Ali Karti in an interview with al-Sudani Newspaper on May 21, 2014, said that the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate (GID) was sponsoring anti-Khartoum forces and Cairo had become a safe haven for Sudanese opposition groups. He also underlined Sudan’s cautious move, stressing that Sudan “will not be a launch pad for any damages towards Egypt and in fact Sudan is free of any of the symbols of the Egyptian opposition." In similar fashion, Egypt is employing the same tactic on Ethiopia relying on its short-term hydro political calculation.
Egypt’s meddling in the internal affairs of Sudan trumped the interests of the Sudanese people during the regimes of Major General Abboud and Colonel Jaafar al Nimieri, according to Andrew S. Natsios. President Gamal Abdel Nasser preached the gospel of a pan-Arab socialist movement to create a great Arab state and seduced many nationalists in Sudan to support the union of Egypt and Sudan in the 1950s, aiming to extend Egypt’s unilateral entitlement and singular utilization of the water resources of the Nile River. He further went on to say that Nasser provided support to Major General Abboud and his officers, who have links to the Khatmiyya sect, to advance the union of Egypt and Sudan. This sect was supportive of the union of the two countries. Nasser’s efforts ended in futile as the Sudan’s National Assembly voted against the unity proposal. Then Abboud’s regime gave way for the finalization of the 1959 Agreement, which is against the future needs and interests of the Sudanese population while cementing Egypt’s unilateral exploitation of the Abay River.
Additionally, Nimieri’s regime staunchly propelled a pan-Arab socialist ideology and allowed Egyptians to construct the Jonglei Canal to increase the flow of Abay at the expense of the people of South Sudan and the fauna and flora inhabiting the Sudan marshlands. The construction of the Canal was another important factor that precipitated the North-South civil war, which halted the construction of the Canal. Colonel Nimieri’s move was also against the national interest of Sudan while serving Egypt’s water policy. The Jonglei Canal project will never be materialized as the sacrifice made by South Sudanese was for the interests of and improvement of their lives and livelihoods despite the recent violence that occurred throughout the country. In sum, post-independence Sudan history has been shaped by “… an Egyptian imposition that the Sudanese regimes bitterly swallow, lest they become easy prey to Egyptian political manipulations and plots,” according to Deng B. K., a researcher on Abay. However, the present situation in Sudan and the al Bashir government demonstrate that the Sudan is no longer a place where the self-serving interests of Egypt can be orchestrated.
Besides, the peripheral quest for more development in Darfur, the Nuban tribes of the Nuban Mountains, the Funj of Blue Nile State, and the Beja people of the Red Sea State is the most pressing issue in Sudanese politics. The government of President al Bashir starts dedicating efforts to the development of these regions. One of the manifestations of Sudan’s commitment is the heightening and expansion of the Roseiris Dam aimed to develop the Blue Nile State. On the occasion of the ceremony of the heightening of the Roseiris Dam, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir underscored that "The sons of Blue Nile state will be the first to benefit from the dam."
All the changes and developments of the hydro-politics and geo-politics being taken in Sudan pose one concern: Sudan’s present and future development projects over the Nile will negate the water quota and water allocations accorded to it in the 1959 Agreement. Sudan’s present burgeoning development needs and future development trajectories will unquestionably call for a new basin wide agreement contrary to the securitization of Egypt’s water policy, which ignores the contemporary and long-term developments of the Nile Basin region.
Alarmed by the new narrative of the GERD, Egyptian media has been deployed as an extension of Cairo’s hydro-political ploy to set the spirit of misunderstanding and promote suspicions between the two friendly peoples, basing their invented assertions on old-fashioned ideas and uncorroborated evidences. Both the GERD and Sudan’s strides call for a new paradigm of making Abay a unifying factor of the peoples of the region to the cause of common peace, prosperity and integration. The GERD also entails that the peoples of the region share the waters of Abay and the same fate, stressing that they should cooperate than disintegrate. The Nile Valley has surpassed the age of ‘I win if you lose’ paradigm and entered a new epoch of being reasonable, fair and equitable in the usage of the resources
Egyptian strategists should firmly discern that Egypt has lost its long ally in its Nile policies and the development of White Nile projects and fathom the words of Emperor Haileselassie: Ethiopia is committed “to share this tremendous God given wealth of hers with friendly nations neighboring upon her, for the life and welfare of their people.” Shared benefit, mutual support, mutual understanding and a win-win mindset are critical to put aside the concerns and jointly develop and harness the benefits of Abay. Again, they must uphold the late Prime Minister’s remarks on Abay: “We all agree that the Nile is a bridge, it is not a barrier…The future is a new relationship …. based on a win-win strategy. The past is a past based on a zero-sum game. That is gone. There is no going back.” A win-win strategy should carve out the future usage, development and utilization of the Nile water resources than echoing the Nile as a matter of life and death issue.