“Lo. Allah changeth not the condition of a folk until they change that which is in their hearts” Quran
By Professor Ali Abdalla ALI
October 23, 2009 — During the month of August 2009 a one day conference was arranged by the International Centre for African Studies (ICFS) in Khartoum. This centre was established and financed by Libya Gamahiriya under the responsibility of Mr. Abdalla Zackaria, a Sudanese thinker who is an avid admirer of Libya and President Gaddafi. Like many Sudanese he believed the Libyan leader to be the successor of late Nasir.
This one day conference was held after the Alexandria meeting on the River Nile issues which was held in July 2009(27/28) in which Sudan and Egypt were to coordinate their positions vis-à-vis the other members of the Nile Basin. The three speakers included Dr. Ahmed Al Mufti, a lawyer by profession and is well versed on the legal aspects of the Nile water agreements. The second was Dr. Salah Yousif who is a highly qualified engineer extremely familiar with all the technical aspects of the Nile Basin and is responsible for the affairs of the |Nile water resources in the Ministry of Irrigation. The third speaker was Dr. Seif El Din Yousif of the National Security who has deep knowledge of the external intervention of some countries in the affairs of the Nile Basin specially the Israeli designs and their pressures to impact both Sudan and Egypt through developing their relations with countries who constitute the Nile Basin in Eastern and Central Africa.
Unfortunately I was not able to stay long enough to listen to interventions on this vital and timely issue. However, I came to know that the discussion was very objective, sincere and transparent. While listening to these three experienced Sudanese experts’ three major thoughts came across my mind. One was that Sudan is endowed with very able, sincere and objective scholars and technicians who given the proper environment and confidence could solve Sudan’s various economic and social problems and institute the much needed transformation. Second was my feeling that the economic and social dimension although mentioned slightly were not given their proper place. But that does not reduce the importance of the deep knowledge presented by these three Sudanese professionals. The Sudanese people have to know the implications of their rights on the waters of the Nile which most flow through the Sudan and the Sudanese has the primary right to use such waters. Moreover, they were never consulted on such an issue specially in the 1959 agreement as we shall see, which was imposed from above during the military rule of late Abboud before the construction of the Aswan High Dam (AHD). In a remark by Dr. Al Mufti, he said all Egypt was in Alexandria (!) meaning to say that all Egyptians were setting their eyes on the meeting because they know pretty well how the Nile is crucial to their lives. The Sudanese people need to be more aware as to why they need the water from the both Niles . The third thought which was a very strong one was what kind of strategy could Sudan adopt in order to secure its national interests given the present status quo? My strong feeling was and still that while a country such Egypt knows pretty well what it wanted from the River Nile, since it strongly believes Egypt is “The Gift of the Nile” as described by a Greek philosopher in the fifth century AD, I feel unsure about our own strategy. My feeling had always been that our national interests were often dealt within the frame of the official Egyptian strategy and the usual spirit of eternal brotherhood. In other words I greatly respect Egypt’s choice of a certain strategy, but I am like many Sudanese extremely believe that Egypt’s strategy is often carried out at the expense of Sudan’s national interests.
This is what I would like to prove through my experiences and observations over the last forty five years as a young officer in the Bank of Sudan(1963-1977), as Economic Advisor to three ministers of finance (specially during the office of late Bheiry) , as a development journalist, as a member of the United Nation Institute of Planning Dakar, Senegal and as an academician in DSRC, University of Khartoum (1982-1985); the National Council for Research (1995-1997), and Sudan University of Science and Technology(1998-2008) . Through all these years I have been noticing that official Egypt had always been thinking about its own interests – in a single-minded and determined attitude- more than caring to the interests of Sudan ,Ethiopia and others. In short words a sort of superiority over all else. We have always been made by Egypt to feel that we are the younger brother who is supposed to only listen and obey and conform on every issue related to Egypt even if the younger brother had to sacrifice his rights to the big brother. Every file in the relation between Sudan and Egypt is always kept in closed drawers and guarded with heavy secrecy.
After proving what I believe in I shall try to lay down a strategy for the Sudan given the present geopolitics in the area.
1. From a historical perspective I would like to refer to a very important citation by an Egyptian Army Colonel in 1949 who wrote about the relation between Egypt and Sudan (see Also Ali,”The Sudanese Egyptian relations; Crisis behind Silence”.(sudantribune.com-19th.May 2008);
“No politician can ignore Egypt’s interest in the Sudan. Its permanent and vital interest concerns Egypt’s life. Egypt gets its water from the Nile which flows in the heart of the Sudan. The Nile to Egypt is a matter of life and death. If the water of the river were controlled by a hostile state or a state that could become a hostile state Egypt’s life is over. Of course ,whoever controls the Sudan naturally controls the Northern Nile Valley. Egypt in this era of conflicting political ideologies cannot trust the neighbours of the Sudan. Today’s friends may become tomorrow’s enemies. For this reason all of Egypt’s efforts are to secure life in the coming future.”That was said in 1949.Let us see what was said 59 years later by a young Sudanese journalist.
Mubarak Ahmed of ´”Al Sahafa” daily who wrote on 26th. April 2008;
“The Sudanese Egyptian relations are often described as being eternal and deep down in history. However, this description is always brought to the fore as a pretext to cover up a number of issues and obstacles that stand in the way of smooth movement of the relation between the two countries. These issues remained folded away for very long times in files which should not be talked about and everybody should remain silent on them!!”.
Therefore, it seems clear that nothing had substantially changed since 1949. The targets remain the same as well as Egypt’s unusual obsession about the Nile !
2.The issue of Halaib Triangle (HT) .The awareness about this issue and its comprehension came later on in one’s life. The issue is well known to every Sudanese. In 1958 while Abdalla Khalil was the Sudanese Prime Minister, Egyptian troops entered the HT claiming that it belonged to Egypt. That was at the time of President Nasir (see Ali Abdalla Ali,” Halaib 1958;How the Crisis came about and how it was solved?”translation, 87 pages,1995 and 2008,Sudan Currency Press Co. ). Both Sudan and Egypt almost went to war. A number of countries intervened to stop the escalation of the issue. Sudan decided to resort to the UNSC. At that time almost all the members of the UN stood firm on the side of the Sudan. Nasir had to order his forces whether border troops or army members to withdraw and declared in Damascus, Syria that:
“… the news media had distorted the issue and that it is impossible for an Arab country to entertain doing such an act and that no Arab country would go to war with another Arab country.” Nasir then added that ,”this is one of the tools of imperialism that aim at dividing between us and make us hate each other. I am positively sure that the enlightened Arab media in Sudan and the United Arab Republic shall prevail.”
(see Ali-p.84-85 ).
However, the issue remained in the drawers of the UNSC until today. Official Egypt often claim that the files were closed for ever. Everyone knows that is not the case. The simple reason is that the successive Sudanese governments who took care of governance in Sudan had always more urgent and more pressing issues than to claim the HT!! Moreover ,it was often used by Egypt as a sort of pressure on Sudan ,whenever it felt that Sudanese politics was at a low ebb. It erupted again in 1995 and continued to be a thorn on the side of the relations between the Sudan and Egypt. As Sudanese politics became complicated vide the issues of South Sudan and Darfur in the Western region and Sudan became busy with its internal problems , Egypt took it as a chance to spread its control over the HT specially during the last two decades. The issue has come up again since the Sudanese election (2010) has to cover HT as was the case in 1958.A number of articles of came out raising the issue and worried about the fate of HT in the forthcoming elections. One such article was by a veteran and well known and respected journalist and who is also partner in the well known Al Ayyam daily i.e. Mahgoub Osman. He had to live in exile in Egypt when the present government took over in 1989, yet he had to advise Egypt as regards HT in the context of the 2010 elections. The Assistant to the Sudanese President, Dr. Nafie Ali Nafie (See Ali-2008) stated that ,”Halaib is 100 % Sudanese but we shall not fight Egypt over it”. No one in his/her rightful senses wish to have war with Egypt. However, one feels that Egypt goes on insisting on occupying the HT claiming that it is Egyptian. Egypt instead of appreciating the complicated political situation through which Sudan is passing and offers to negotiate the HT still Egyptian officials like their bosses continue to declare that HT is a matter that should be forgotten by the Sudan. Rights are not easily forgotten. Moreover, official Egypt knows fairly well that if Sudan decided to reactivate the issue in the UNSC at the moment, it might not at all obtain the strong support of the members of the UNSC as happened in 1958 !! How can such a position be thought of except that it is a narrow and short sighted attitude on the part of Egyptian officials . Egypt Instead of relieving the Sudan from such pressures it continues to enjoy putting more pressures on the Sudan and the Sudanese. That is what makes one feel that Egypt knows nothing else except its own narrow interest even if it is to be at the expense of others! Such an attitude was explained to me by a fellow historian which he attributes to the nature of the relation between those who governed Egypt through the ages and the citizen of that country. Whatever is taken to mean Egypt’s national interest is carried down to the low levels as something sacred and never subject to any meaningful discussion or compromise. He added that most Egyptians repeat verbatim the proverb which says that” he who teaches me a word ,I become his slave,” forgetting that one’s serfdom is towards His Creator Al Mighty God !!
3. In the early sixties while I was a young officer in the Research Department, Bank of Sudan I was trained in the balance of payments which later on became one of major interests in economics, I was concerned with the bilateral trade agreements which at that time were with Egypt, India and the countries of the then Soviet Union. While working on the trade agreement with Egypt, I used to notice the various financial problems faced by the Sudanese exporters who used to take their Camels to Egypt. They used to be treated very unfairly by Egyptians and Egyptian banks. Their problems became a major item in the agenda of the annual meetings between Sudanese and Egyptian officials in the two countries. I met a number of these traders who felt terribly bad in the way they were manipulated and given hard time. I often wondered as to why these people were treated so badly if they are assumed to be eternal brothers. The explanation came later when I used to visit Cairo and saw how Egyptians used to treat Sudanese specially if there is any sort of turbulence in the official relations between the two countries. The Sudanese or even the Nubians are portrayed in a very disdainful manner as if coming from another planet. The general media often gives a very distorted picture of the Sudanese and the Nubians until to day. Dr. Hisham Adam (himself Nubian) recently wrote a very powerful article in Al Sahafa ( dated 25/9/2009 – titled.”When will the Egyptian Cinema stop their sarcasm of the Nubians and Sudanese ?”). Dr Adam pleaded to those Egyptians who are in charge of the Cinema industry to stop looking down on the Nubians and Sudanese and to stop portraying them as sub-human and that such an attitude shall be extremely harmful to the relation between the two countries.
4.In 1972(11/11), I was seconded to the United Nations Institute for Economic Planning (IDEP) as a visiting lecturer for one year renewable . At that time the Director was a well known Egyptian Professor Samir Amin. He met me in a conference in Dar essalam, Tanzania in 1971 and offered me to join IDEP so that I could help in the training of African planners. At the same time I got an offer from the World Bank to join as a Loan Officer but preferred to go to an African country.. While I was there , there were two other Egyptians. After a lapse of some months I was requested to present a research proposal to be financed by IDEP.I chose a subject which was very much to my heart.It is an idea that still lives with me until today. The title was,” The Possibilities of Integration between the countries of Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia ”.The other was,”The Political Economy of Dam Building in the Nile Basin,”. I presented my proposals in a naïve manner never expecting that such titles would stir such a storm specially on the part of one of the two other Egyptians. Professor Amin did not talk to me directly but pushed the other Egyptian Dr. Khalil to tell me about what they thought. Dr Khalil and in a very crude rough and threatening voice said to me.”What do you think you are proposing? How come you make such a proposal for economic integration between Sudan and Ethiopia while we are your big brothers and you cannot ignore us?” The proposals were ultimately rejected and I had to stay for only one year instead of some more years as promised. The reason was my reservation on the way IDEP was run both financially and academically and with the help of our Minister of |Foreign Affairs at that time (Dr. Mansour Khalid) such reservations were passed to the UNECA in Addis at the time of Mr.Gardiner and was consequently passed to the UNDP Administrator who used to help in financing IDEP.
5.In 1975 and while working in Bank of Sudan, late Mamoun Bheiry became Minister of Finance and National Economy. He loaned me from Bank of Sudan to be his technical helper. During his stay in this post two most important projects were achieved. One was the establishment of Kenena Sugar Co. Ltd which became one of the largest Sugar mills in the word and had bailed out Sudan from depending on the rest of the world for this important commodity. The other was the establishment of AAAID which was supposed to make the Sudan the granary of the Arab world. In this context I would like to concentrate on AAAID since its establishment has a lot to do with Egypt’s strategy in Sudan. The study upon which the idea of AAAID was conceptualized was during the era of Ibrahim Moneim Mansour who was the Minister of Finance and National Economy before late Mamoun Bheiry. He was able to give a very strong push to the idea which helped in the realization AAAID later on. On the head of the project was an Iraqi in the name of Dr. Khalid Tahseen who was an expert in the Arab Fund For Economic and Social Development, which supported the idea. The phase of finalizing the establishment of AAAID came under the responsibility of late Mamoun Bheiry. The idea was to transform Sudan into a large granary of the Arab world. It restricted its activities to production animal feed , poultry and some other activities that did not lead to a real development of Sudan’s agriculture which was the prime objective of the establishment of AAAID.
In 1976 a meeting was held in Morocco with the aim of establishing the legal frame of AAAID. Late Mamoun Bheiry and late Al Rashid Nour El Din, who was Sudan’s Ambassador to Morocco attended the meeting. The Egyptian delegation tried to minimize the importance of the legal frame and suggested that it should be a small company for investment in agriculture in Sudan while the Sudanese delegation insisted that it should be a sizeable corporation which could undertake investment in agriculture as well as investments associated with agriculture. It was thought of by the Sudanese delegation as a small world bank. A strong tug of war took place between the two delegations and the Sudanese delegation had to withdraw from the meeting. The late King of Morocco had to intervene and AAAID was approved as a sizeable investment institution. I remember late Bheiry telling me that Dr. Hassan Abbas Zaki who was with the Egyptian delegation when he went back to Egypt told late President Al Sadat that “Al Bheiry had taken all the money of the Arabs and will put it in Sudan”. Dr. Khalid Tahseen was supposed to be the chief person in AAAID. Egypt protested and indicated it was not fair to have two Iraqis in charge of two important Arab institutions. He they were referring to late Dr. Abdel Alal Al Sakban who used to be the head of the Arab Economic Unity Organisation. Therefore, Egypt was left to propose Dr. Ibrahim Badran as head of AAAID. Therefore, Egypt was able to gain the post of head of AAAID and compensated its aborted attempt in Rabat to minimize the shape of AAAID. The performance of Dr. Badran was many times under fire by late President Nimeiri. He accused him of minimizing the role of AAID which could have achieved the real transformation of Sudan. To my mind Egypt seemed adamant to mitigate the real transformation of Sudanese agriculture through the presence of Dr.Badran as head of AAAID. This is so because if Sudan achieved a real agricultural transformation it would have become economically strong and if it became economically strong Sudan would have become politically strong. This is something which Egypt never wanted for the Sudan in all its history. Moreover ,an increased and enhanced agricultural development would have meant putting more land under irrigation and the possibility that Sudan will require to have additional water supply for irrigation. Moreover, Sudan might have been forced to call back water lent by it to Egypt !!!
6.While serving as a member of the Higher Committee For GICs in the Ministry of Finance and National Economy for five years starting October 2003, I happened to travel as a member of a delegation to Saudi Arabia to promote these GICs among Sudanese working in the Kingdom. In one of the visits which we made to Saudi financial institutions we happened to have visited the Saudi Development Fund (SDF) in Riyadh. After the main purpose of the visit was satisfied I have asked the Deputy President of the SDF as to why they do not show any interest in the raising of the Roseries Dam ?The man smiled and said, ”Your brothers in the North do not want that !!!”Who are our brothers in the North other than Egypt! For almost four decades there was a very subtle resistance to the raising of this Dam which would have availed to the Sudan about 4 billion cubic meters of water enough to cultivate large tracts of land. Egypt had always been very wary about any sort of storage of water inland. That is why Egypt is also dead against construction of dams projects in the highlands of Ethiopia.
7. The Jonglei Canal (JC).The story of the JC is well known to everyone since the eighties. However, certain points had to be discussed specially as regards the developments since the eighties. The canal project was meant to save water which was to be shared between the Sudan and Egypt. At that time the people of Southern Sudan were not consulted nor were they partners to the agreement constructing the JC. The project was obstructed by the SPLM when it started fighting the Sudan government after late Dr. Garang took to arms after 1983 (August).However ,after the CPA was signed in January 2005 and a new authority came to power in the South, nothing in the issue of the JC was possible without the consent of the Government of South Sudan (GOSS). Egypt tried to be helpful to the people of the South, but it appears that such help was very much late. A number of Southerners feel that Egypt is doing this kind of assistance in order to make them agree on a restart of the JC. Things were later made worse by the statements made by the Egyptian Foreign minister who said that if the South declares its independence, there will be poverty and ethnic fighting in the South. This seemed to have antagonized a good number of people in the South indicating that Egypt is interfering in their affairs by trying to impose unity. That is why the South declared a ban on the issue of the JC.
8. The 1959 Nile Water agreement. This agreement was signed between the governments of Sudan and Egypt during the reign of late Abboud, the head of the first military coup that took place in Sudan immediately after independence (Nov.1958).That agreement was arranged because Egypt decided to establish the Aswan High Dam(AHD).That agreement was considered by many as an unfair and unjust allocation of water between the two countries. Sudan had to get 18 billion cm of water and Egypt 55 billion. Moreover, and as a result of the AHD the people of Wadi Halfa were to be relocated in New Halfa in Eastern Sudan in a completely different ecology and environment. It was a sizeable operation in Sudan’s recent history .Wadi Halfa was fully submerged and with it was submerged a good part of Sudan’s valuable ancient history. Another fact was that neither the other members of the Nile Basin nor Ethiopia whose Blue Nile contributes 85 % of the over harvest of the River Nile as mentioned above, were ever consulted.
After reviewing some of what Egypt did for the Sudan proved that, a) Egypt sees in the River Nile only its very narrow interest ignoring the interests of Sudan as well as other members of the Nile valley specially Ethiopia. b) that it had done everything possible to block Sudan agricultural development as stated earlier, and that ,c)in a very subtle way it was able to resist the raising of the Rosereis Dam which could have assisted Sudan to irrigate large tracts of fertile cultivable land and, therefore ,help in the alleviation of Sudan’s food needs.
In spite of all this and others Sudan continues to coordinate with Egypt
on its determined stand. One strongly believe that Sudan has to chart
out a new strategy away from the unjust and reasonable stand of Egypt
on the issue of the Nile agreements which no longer hold. The strategy
which comes to mind is actually in the direction of creating a firmer and
more advanced sort of unity between Sudan and Ethiopia. The various
agreements signed this year (2009) between Sudan and Ethiopia should
be brought together in a more comprehensive agreement which will use
these various affinities between the peoples of Sudan and Ethiopia, the
similarities in natural resources, the cultural closeness, the large
population of both (80+40 millions including the South Sudan). This
will form a huge market of its own.(See our paper on the “Possibility of
Economic Cooperation and Integration between the Sudan and
Ethiopia,” presented to the 7th International, Conference of the
Ethiopian Economic Association during 2009). In that paper there was a
very clear discussion giving various reasons why the two countries
should unite as a substitute for the piecemeal attempts, although very
positive , between the adjacent states in both Ethiopia and the Sudan.
There is no way for the Sudan to continue coordinating positions with
Egypt as long as Egypt seeks its own narrow national interest without
any regard to the interest of both Sudan and Ethiopia as stated before.
In a recent piece of news in www.sudantribune.com under the title
“Ethiopia seeks review to old treaty on the Nile,” 2nd. October, very
important remarks were made. In that piece of news there are very
direct charges by Ethiopia that ,(a) Egypt resists any attempt from
Ethiopia to launch any large scale irrigation projects and warns that
attempts to adjust the river status would be regarded as an act of
war, b) Binyam Tekle, an Ethiopian Architect and Environmentalist
argues , “that Egypt is a hidden factor in food crisis in the East
Africa Region.” He added that,” unless the old unfair treaty is soon
reviewed by the international community and Egypt accepted to
loosen its current rigid stand ,once of hand the stream could lead to
wrong but dangerous direction.” c) Despite the fact that Ethiopia
generates the lions’ share to the river (85%), the Horn of Africa
nation uses only 1 % of it because Egypt resists any attempts from
Ethiopia to launch any large scale irrigation projects.” (e) David
Shinn an American diplomat ( now an academician) who was in Sudan
and also ex US Ambassador to Ethiopia charges in the above statement
that,” Egyptian officials work behind “closed doors” to block any
funding for upstream projects.”.This reminded me of a criticism
waged on the World Bank recently by Mr.Meles Zenawi the Prime
Minister of Ethiopia for not assisting in financing Dam projects in
Ethiopia as well not estimating accurately Ethiopia’s need for energy.
Under the title “Meles Blames WB”, in Ethiopia 7 Days Update
Vol.XVI, June 29th,2009,it is reported that Ethiopian Prime Minister
Meles Zenawi said that the World Bank and international donors share
the blame for nationwide power cuts that led the government to trim its
economic growth forecast, reports Bloomberg (June 22).The Horn of
Africa country’s economy may grow 10.1 % in the fiscal year ending in
July, compared with an earlier prediction of 11.2 %,Meles said in an
interview on June 19 in the capital Addis Ababa. The World Bank
underestimated electricity demand in previous years and failed to
provide funding for new power-generation projects the government had
wanted, leading to under-investment in the industry, he said. ”We could
have avoided that mistake if we had the money or had the support of our
donors,” Meles said.Ethiopia was recently able to find funding from
China and its companies to construct three dam projects.
Therefore, it appears that it is no longer prudent for Sudan’s national interest to follow Egypt’s stand since Sudan had been treated unfairly in the 1959 Agreement vide which Egypt constructed the AHD. In fact this agreement was done without the knowledge of the Ethiopian government.I t was Nasser’s era when no body dared to raise his voice !! Moreover , if Sudan continues to stand by Egypt in spite of the fact that it had been treated unfairly by Egypt in the 1959 agreement in addition to what was mentioned earlier of Egypt’s attempts to hinder Sudan’s agricultural development, Sudan will then to charged as being an accomplice with Egypt and whatever befalls Egypt will directly or indirectly befall Sudan.
In sum one sees no logic in Sudan standing or even coordinating the Nile water policies with Egypt. It is very clear that Egypt had always over the years and in a very determined way been seeking its narrow selfish interest at the expense of both Sudan and Ethiopia. The long standing position of official Egypt has to understand that no one in his/her rightful mind will ever think of depriving Egypt from having its needs of water which is its life line and had been so for centuries. Egypt has to understand that in such a globalised world it cannot go bullying its neighbours to succumb to its unjust and unfair claims on the Nile water. However, one is not very confident that Egypt will listen to the voice of reason that is why Sudan has to chart its own strategy away from Egypt .This will be the major guarantee against any foreign intervention in the affairs of the Nile Basin!!
Last but not least nobody on earth can deny the fact that Egypt by virtue of its position in the Middle East had always played a very important role in helping the liberation movements in a number of African countries specially during Nasir’s rule , as well sacrificing men and machines in the Arab Israeli wars since 1948. Many African countries look up to Egypt and its leading role in the area. However , if Egypt goes on insisting to be unfair and unreasonable on the equitable distribution of the Nile waters which does not originate from Egypt, then Egypt will definitely lose the sympathy and admiration of the governments and people of the Nile Basin. In fact the Nile Basin Initiative if supported by very fair and just agreements among the various parties shall constitute an imaginative idea to insure the prosperity and welfare of the millions who had been making a living from this God’s gift ‘from which every living thing was created’.
Professor Ali Abdalla Ali, can be reached at email@example.com .