Sudan Summons Ethiopian Ambassador As Cross Border Attack Raises Tensions During Negotiations Over Water Rights To The Nile River


Sudan has summoned the Ethiopian ambassador after a cross border attack occurred in the Eastern province of al-Qadarif on Thursday, reports the Associated Press. Sudan claims the attack was carried out by a militia which receives support from the Ethiopian government.

Two people were killed and 10 wounded  in the attack according to the New York Times.  A media statement from Khartoum released on Saturday reported that a child and a Sudanese officer were the fatalities, and seven soldiers and three civilians also suffered injuries. A spokesman for the Sudanese military claimed other attacks occurred on the 26-27th of May, although there is a lack of clear information around this.

Al Jazeera news claims some Ethiopian groups have used farmland inside Sudanese border territory for decades. This practice was tolerated by the previous Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, but the new transitional government in Khartoum is trying to push the groups out. 

Sudan and Ethiopia are currently engaged in long standing negotiations over the geography of their border and access to the Nile river. Ethiopian News agency Borkena News reports the attack occurred less than a week after the two countries agreed to resume talks over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the River Nile. Construction on the dam began in 2011 and has since strained relations between Ethiopia, Eygpt and Sudan. All three nations heavily rely on the flow of the Nile to support their agricultural sectors and food production. 

Foreign Policy Magazine (FP) writes that when complete the GERD will be the biggest hydroelectric dam in Africa and will cost approximately $5 billion USD to construct. The dam sits on Ethiopia’s Blue Nile tributary which feeds the Nile. Ethiopia’s rivers contribute to about 84% of the total water flow in the Nile river. Sudan and Egypt remain worried about their ability to access water after construction of the GERD is complete. 

While Ethiopia and Sudan have made progress in negotiations, tensions between Eygpt and the other two countries are high. This is largely due to the fact that once the river is dammed the flow will be much more steady, likely allowing Sudan to use vastly more water for agricultural purposes. This in turn could leave Eygpt facing water shortages, FP reports. The GERD also gives Ethiopia political leverage with the ability to effectively choke off both countries fresh water, leaving Sudan worried as well. 

The recent cross border attack does little to help relations between Sudan and Ethiopia and both sides should exercise restraint in an increasingly tense situation. Approximately 90 million people in Egypt rely on the Nile for their water needs. They should not be forgotten in current political developments.