Photograph — Building Performance

In a move that could shape Ethiopia’s great dam ambitions, the Nile Basin secretariat has announced Sudanese Prof. Seifedin Hamad Abdallah as executive director, its ninth since 1999, for a two-year term.

Ethiopia’s renaissance dam project, and a sore point of disagreement between Egypt and Ethiopia, once scheduled for full operational commencement in 2022, could witness significant scaling back as a result of this appointment.

Only last week, the Sudanese leader promised Egypt his country’s support against “enemies.” These enemies, depending on one’s side of the table, might include Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has marched on in its quest to finish the great dam project, propelled by the general nonchalance of other members of the Nile Basin towards Egypt’s landlord-like grip on the River Nile. This situation has allowed Ethiopia to ignore Egypt’s call for inclusive deliberations about the project.

Several meetings between the irrigation, foreign affairs, and general intelligence ministers of Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia, have mostly ended in stalemates.

Now, with the Sudanese appointment confirmed on the heels of the Sudanese leader’s promise, Egypt might be in a stronger position to drag Ethiopia to the negotiating table again.

The new director is well-studied on the three-nation Nile conundrum, as he was once Sudan’s minister of Water resources and most recently chairman of the Water Resources Technical Organ in Sudan, two roles that had him in close contact with the Nile Basin issue. As such, Ethiopia will be watching his body language closely.

On his part, Prof Abdallah has already decided what his most pressing concerns for the Nile Basin are. In a statement, he said, “I want to focus on the commitment of the countries to NBI and also find a way forward regarding the stalemate on the re-engagement of Egypt and attain full membership and the engagement of Eritrea.”

Prof Abdallah is vastly experienced in the Nile Basin problem, as he was a major initiator of the 2015 Declaration of Principles on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam signed by the Egyptian, Sudanese and Ethiopian heads of state.  

While he has come out to suggest the unity of the Nile Basin nations is a big goal, saying he’ll work to achieve “one Nile,” one imagines that Sudan might still have a large role to play in how things shake out between Egypt and Ethiopia. Particularly concerning the deadline for completion.

When it celebrated its twentieth anniversary earlier this year, the Nile Basin sent out a statement of cooperation, saying, “Joint action and investments through joint institutions and dialogue platforms in the Nile Basin contribute to a culture of dialogue, trust and confidence and helps build strong partnerships within and outside the basin.”

The former director was Rwandan, Innocent Ntabana. The Nile Basin Initiative rotates the directorial position amongst member states every two years, a system which follows the alphabetical order of the names of the countries.

By Caleb Ajinomoh

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