The carnage of Ethiopia’s civil war is making its rulers less willing to compromise with Sudan and Egypt in a dispute over the imminent filling of its giant Nile dam, a Sudan official said, as his government urges the United Nations to prevent any unilateral move.
With Ethiopia embroiled in an eight-month conflict in the Tigray region that’s sparked U.S. sanctions and famine conditions, authorities in the Horn of Africa country are taking a tougher line in foreign policy to bolster their domestic support, said Yasir Abbas, Sudan’s irrigation and water minister.
He compared Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, widely expected to win Monday’s national elections, with ousted Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir who’s wanted by the International Criminal Court for his alleged role in genocide during the long-running conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region.
“I think he’s repeating the same mistakes,” Abbas said in an interview in the capital, Khartoum. “How come you always assume yourself right and the whole world tells you ‘please don’t kill your own people. Please negotiate with your neighbors about your dam.’”
He said trust between Ethiopia and Sudan is at an all-time low. A spokesperson for Abiy referred questions to Ethiopia’s water resources ministry, which didn’t respond to requests for comment. Ethiopia has previously said it has done everything possible to address Egyptian and Sudanese concerns over the project that’s key to its economic development.
The remarks come as tension ratchets up over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Egypt and Sudan last week garnered the Arab League’s support in calling for UN intervention to secure a binding agreement that would protect their water flows when Ethiopia starts a second phase of filling the hydropower project’s reservoir in July.
Both Egypt and Sudan have warned of catastrophe in the region if no deal is reached, saying the U.S. and European Union should join negotiations. Sudan’s foreign minister in a TV interview Sunday said the UN should consider imposing sanctions on Ethiopia.
Ethiopia insists African Union-mediated talks, which stalled in April and have no date to reconvene, are the legitimate path.
“They want Ethiopia to become a dominant power” in the region, Abbas said. About 90% of the dispute over the GERD has been settled, but “it is the political damage to the issue now that makes it very complicated.”
Sudan and Ethiopia are also at odds over al-Fashqa, a disputed border region of fertile farmland that has recently seen deadly clashes between armies and militias. Abbas said it’s being used by Ethiopia as leverage in the Nile stand-off.
Khartoum is following “diplomatic and political channels and also legal channels,” he said, including preparing a possible legal case against Ethiopia they may refer to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
“If there’s the political will you can get a deal in one day,” Abbas said. “We are having a feeling that Ethiopia does not want to reach an agreement.”