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Sudan Shifts Alliance From Egypt To Ethiopia

Posted by Ethio Tribune on October 9, 2013

Since 1959, Sudanese politicians have sided with Egypt when negotiating with other African countries about Nile water rights. Similarly, Sudanese politicians based in Khartoum have looked north and east to their Arab neighbors for political, cultural, military and financial support. How then do we explain the statements in June and July 2013 by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Irrigation and Agriculture Minister Abdul Halim al-Mutafi that Sudan supports the construction of the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam over the objections of the country’s Egyptian allies? To understand the strengthening of Sudan’s alliance with Ethiopia and its increased distance from Egypt, it is necessary to look both at the events of the past few months and at the partition in 2011.

The recent protests and riots, which began in Wad Medani on Sept. 23 and have subsequently spread to cities throughout Sudan, calling for a continuation of government fuel subsidies and now the fall of the regime, are the direct result of the failure of the National Congress Party’s (NCP) political and economic strategy in the run-up to and in the wake of the partition of Sudan in July 2011.

While the riots are more severe than they have been in the past, contentious protests in the face of rising prices have occurred with increased frequency over the last few years. For instance, major demonstrations in Khartoum against rising prices erupted in June 2012. These protests have spawned several semi-permanent movements calling for Sudan to have its own “Arab Spring,” the most famous of which is the youth movement Girifna.

However, officials within the NCP always knew the postsecession transition would be difficult. They were surrendering 75% of Sudan’s proven oil reserves, the very wealth that had supported the rapid growth and consolidation of the regime during the 2000s. In the short term, Bashir’s government was prepared to fiercely confront the remaining separatist movements in the Blue Nile state, South Kordofan, Darfur and the eastern regions of the country. They also believed they could suppress political dissent in Khartoum, preventing the disparate factions from joining together or aligning with peripheral movements to threaten the survival of the regime.

In the years before partition, strategists within the NCP began to imagine an alternative to an oil-based Sudanese economy. These thinkers returned to the 1970s idea of Sudan becoming an “Arab breadbasket.” This transformation was premised on an agricultural revolution supported by an ambitious series of dam-building projects along the Nile, north of Khartoum, the most famous of which was the Merowe High Dam completed in 2009. New irrigation and hydropower projects were expected to reinvigorate a somnolent agricultural sector, while bringing prosperity to the long-neglected traditional heartland of the political elite.

Many in Khartoum even began to claim that a smaller Sudan was a virtue. They argued that without the burden of funding constant counterinsurgency warfare in the periphery, the nation would finally have the funds necessary to develop a culturally and economically united country. By ensuring a peaceful secession, the leadership in Khartoum sought to create the political stability necessary to attract foreign investment and win the lifting of the US sanctions placed on the country in 2005.

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