KHARTOUM – Sudan and Ethiopia on Wednesday inaugurated a cross-border electricity link which an analyst said aims to strengthen Khartoum-Addis Ababa ties as tensions persist with Egypt over a giant dam.
President Omar al-Bashir and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn “opened the Sudan Ethiopia power connector this morning in Gedaref state”, the official SUNA news agency reported.
A 321-kilometre line has been completed at a cost of $35 million between Gedaref power station and Ethiopia’s Amhara state, SUNA reported.
The line has a capacity of 300 MW but Sudan will initially buy 100 MW, SUNA said.
Desalegn arrived in the Sudanese capital on Tuesday for talks with President Omar al-Bashir as part of a wider routine dialogue between officials of the neighbouring countries.
Although they have discussed a range of issues over two days, Safwat Fanous, a University of Khartoum political scientist, said the electricity link is the most significant.
“Ethiopia wants to appeal and neutralise Sudan” over the dam which Cairo fears could diminish its water supply, Fanous said.
Sudan has said it does not expect to be affected by Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam development, but Fanous told AFP that Addis Ababa wants to be sure “to take Sudan on board”.
Ethiopia began diverting the Blue Nile in May to build the 6,000-MW hydro project which will be Africa’s largest when completed in 2017.
Egypt believes its “historic rights” to the Nile are guaranteed by two treaties from 1929 and 1959 which allow it 87 percent of the Nile’s flow and give it veto power over upstream projects.
But a new deal signed in 2010 by other Nile Basin countries, including Ethiopia, allows them to work on river projects without Cairo’s prior agreement.
Sudan, along with Egypt, has not signed the Nile Basin deal.
Water ministers from the three countries are to meet in Khartoum on Sunday.
During talks last month, they failed to agree on the composition of a committee to implement expert recommendations about the dam, Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Karti has said.
The experts’ report has not been made public, but Ethiopia said it confirms that the impact on water levels is minimal.
Egypt, which has sought further studies about the dam’s impact, wants international representatives on the committee but Ethiopia prefers national delegates, Karti said.
The Grand Renaissance dam will produce more electricity than Ethiopia needs, so it will have to export the surplus, Fanous said.
The new line from Ethiopia will power Sudan’s east, allowing the diversion of existing electricity sources to other areas such as war-torn Kordofan or Darfur, Fanous said.
In return, Ethiopia is a “big market” for Sudanese sorghum, sesame and onions grown in the east, he added.
At Wednesday’s ceremony president Bashir pointed to the “mutual benefits of the electricity project,” while prime minister Desalegn envisaged a further expansion of bilateral ties, SUNA said.
Sudan also relies on its own hydroelectric sources including the Nile River’s Merowe Dam development which opened in 2009 at a cost of more than US$2 billion.
The country’s consumption peaked above 2,000 MW last year, SUNA reported.
Premier Desalegn’s visit comes about a week after Issaias Afeworki, the leader of Ethiopia’s neighbour and rival Eritrea, visited the eastern Sudanese city of Port Sudan where he and Bashir opened a tourism festival.
Fanous said Sudan tries to maintain a balanced relationship between its two neighbours, “but of course Eritrea is not as important to Sudan as Ethiopia, at all levels”.
Ethiopia chairs the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an East African regional bloc which has helped to mediate a dispute between Sudan and South Sudan this year. – AFP.