CAIRO — At a meeting held in Khartoum April 12, and chaired by Sudan's Minister of Transport Mirghani Mousa, Egypt’s Minister of Transport Kamel al-Wazir said that works to build a new port in Wadi Halfa in North Sudan will be launched as soon as possible. Wazir noted that his ministry is ready to meet all of the Sudanese demands with the very purpose of developing the transport sector between the two countries.
Sudan's state-run SUNA news agency reported April 7 that a delegation made up of engineers from Egypt’s River Transport Authority, in addition to the president of the board of the Nile Valley Authority for River Navigation and advisers in port construction, agreed to set up a joint committee for the construction of the new Wadi Halfa port, with a 70 million Egyptian pound ($4.46 million) contribution from the Egyptian government.
SUNA quoted the undersecretary of Sudan’s Ministry of Transport, Muawia Ali Khalid, as saying that the technical studies related to the construction works for the port were elaborated after the new port’s site in the northern city of Halfa was selected in accordance with Lake Nubia’s water level requirements. Meeting these standards would help facilitate maritime movement of the Nile Valley Authority for River Navigation, an Egyptian-Sudanese organization that works in the field of transportation of passengers as well as goods, Khalid added. Such a step would pave the way for more development works in the city of Wadi Halfa, he said.
According to SUNA, the delegation also visited Ahmad al-Sherif, the foreign minister delegate and head of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry office in Wadi Halfa. The delegation inspected the current port of Halfa, and discussed options to rehabilitate its rickety berths without halting its operation in the wait for the new port that would link all African countries via Sudan.
The city of Wadi Halfa is located in the far north of Sudan, and to the south of Aswan in Egypt. It consists of the northern gateway to Sudan and the first city to be linked to Egypt.
Yaman al-Hamaki, a professor of economics at Ain Shams University in Cairo, told Al-Monitor by phone that Egypt has recently managed to boost relations with Sudan. The two countries are well aware that they are fated to be on good terms, after their differences surfaced through their differing views on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) crisis under the rule of former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, she said.
Hamaki explained that the current coordination, in general and on the GERD in particular, indicates that there are major opportunities for the two sides to further promote bilateral relations.
The Egyptian-Sudanese political relations witnessed a breakthrough for the first time since 2012, when Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly arrived on an official visit to Sudan on Aug. 14, 2020. Since then, Egypt’s and Sudan’s views and positions on the GERD have converged during the latest talks to settle the dispute with Ethiopia.
At the economic level, trade volume between the two countries in 2020 amounted to nearly $862 million, including $496 million in Egyptian exports to Sudan and $366 million in imports. Trade exchange between Egypt and Sudan mostly includes chemicals, manufactured products, machinery, equipment, foodstuffs, textiles, means of transport, livestock and agricultural products, said Egypt’s Minister of Trade and Industry Nevine Gamea, during talks Jan. 21 with Sudan’s Trade and Industry Minister Madani Abbas Madani and Minister of State for Infrastructure and Transport Hashim Ibnauf.
Hamaki said that the presence of a border port between the two countries is key to enhance trade movement because transport means — by land or sea — are intrinsic for economic sustainability, particularly since trade exchange between Egypt and Sudan is poor and does not go in line with the opportunities for development between the two countries. She noted that there are great opportunities for trade between Egypt and Sudan, and crops and livestock may be exploited and human resources may be exchanged.
She added that Egypt has a major experience in highway infrastructure and could share it with Sudan. In addition, the Egyptian assistance in building the port is a form of support for Sudan and a long-term investment that would help seize promising opportunities there.
Heba el-Beshbeshi, a researcher at the Institute of African Studies and Research at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor by phone that the border town of Wadi Halfa is strategic and the port will be used for the movement of passengers and goods, and will help ease the dispute over the Halayeb and Shalateen triangle between the two countries and morph the region into an important center in their bilateral relations.
She added that although Egypt neglected for long the southern region, there is a clear interest and orientation by the state toward Sudan in particular, and Africa in general. Therefore this port will help boost relations between the two countries, because it is the only port Egypt shares with another African country, she said.
There are multiple joint projects that are being implemented between the two countries. A feasibility study for the construction of a railway network between Egypt and Sudan at a cost of 5 billion Egyptian pounds ($319 million) has kicked off in October 2020. Also, work is underway to build the Cairo-Cape Town Road that will cross through nine African countries, in addition to the Qastal-Ashkit border crossing that nearly 75 trucks and 11 passenger buses cross daily, and the Arqin border crossing that 15 trucks and 60 passenger buses cross every day. In addition, there is the planned Egypt-Sudan 3,000 megawatts Electric Interconnection project that links the national grids of both countries, according to the State Information Service.
Beshbeshi believes that the Wadi Halfa port presents an opportunity to boost cooperation in the border area, exploit the area for common interests, instead of border areas being a ground for conflict, as is happening in other parts of Africa.