Bashir vows to strengthen Sudan’s cooperation with Ethiopia

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir (left) with Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn (Credit: Sudan News Agency)

Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir says he wants to strengthen his country’s political, economic and military ties with neighboring Ethiopia, including by importing electricity generated from Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam. Bashir is in Addis Ababa on a three day official visit.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on Tuesday afternoon at the National Palace, Bashir stressed the need for economic integration to curb challenges facing the East African countries including drought and migration. Bashir pointed out that work is underway to implement an electricity linkage between Khartoum and the Grand Renaissance Dam, which is under construction in northwest Ethiopia.

Hailemariam for his part called Bashir “my brother” and reminded him that Ethiopia is his “second home.” This is the twentieth time that Bashir has traveled to Ethiopia since his indictment by the International Criminal Court in March 2009. Ethiopia has condemned the ICC’s decision to indict the Sudanese leader.

Incidentally, the visit comes a day after a delegation from Ethiopia’s archenemy Eritrea was hosted by the South Sudanese government. Bashir’s visit is also in the context of a new Egyptian diplomatic push in the region, including in Uganda, South Sudan and Eritrea, linked to its own concerns about the Grand Renaissance Dam. Egypt fears that the mega-dam might restrict water flow on the Blue Nile and hence affect downstream agriculture.

Seen in this context, the ongoing visit by the Sudanese leader to Addis Ababa is a diplomatic boost for Ethiopia in its own efforts to secure recognition of the mega-dam project and prevent a coalition of neighbors from lining up against the project.

Ethiopia’s communication minister Negeri Lencho confirms that the dam along the Nile is one subject that Bashir is discussing with Ethiopian senior officials. He told journalists ahead of the trip that Sudan is among the countries that promote fair utilization of waters of the Nile.

Other aspects of Ethiopian-Sudanese economic integration include a roadway that connects Khartoum with Addis Ababa, which commenced operation recently, and plans for the construction of a railway from Ethiopia to Port Sudan. But Bashir said plans for the railway and a port dedicated to Ethiopia are on hold “awaiting funds.”

With Bashir in Addis Ababa, state-run media in Khartoum are portraying Ethiopia as a friendly neighbor with deep cultural affinities. Sudan’s SUNA news agency referred to Bashir’s “pleasure over the level of the deeply-rooted and relations between Sudan and Ethiopia,” further citing “the similarity between the Sudanese and Ethiopian peoples in cultural aspects and general temperaments.”

SUNA also disclosed plans for Hailemariam to reciprocate Bashir’s visit shortly at the invitation of Bashir. But before concluding his visit, Bashir is expected to meet Ethiopia’s president Mulatu Teshome, to ink agreements that will further enhance bilateral relations and to visit industrial parks.

Speaking about security issues, Bashir told journalists that the security of Ethiopia is also a concern of Sudan. Any security threat to Ethiopia is a threat to Sudan as well, he asserts. “We are all one,” he told the news conference. The Sudanese leader further stated that he is trying to involve Eritrea in his attempt to increase the economic integration among East African countries, but he did not give more details.