Shumete Gizaw, director of Ethiopia’s cybersecurity agency – the Information Network Security Agency (INSA) – confirmed on May 3 that the control systems of the GERD dam suffered a cyber-attack, causing no damage thanks to the timely intervention of the agency’s specialists.
The attacks also reportedly targeted some of the country’s banks in an attempt to create confusion in the financial transactions system, probably in order to discredit Ethiopia’s financial stability.
According to the INSA commander, the attacks on the GERD dam allegedly sought to target the control system of the dam and the banks connected to its financing – a network of more than 37,000 computers across the country – with the probable intent of blocking the smooth operation of the plant and the facilities responsible for its financing.
Shumete Gizaw made no reference as to who was responsible for the attacks, although he did generically mention an organization “supported by countries that seek to obstruct Ethiopia’s peace and development and try to sabotage the successful construction of the GERD.” A clearly allusive reference to Egypt, however, which was never explicitly mentioned.
The agency has reported that it has foiled thousands of cyber-attacks over the past several years, most of which can be traced back to a criminal cyber organization known as the Cyber Horus Group. A name clearly alluding to an Egyptian origin.
These cyber-attacks are being conducted at one of the most critical moments in the relationship between Egypt and Ethiopia regarding the development of the GERD dam, when talks have now been at a standstill for months with no real prospect of resumption in the immediate future.
According to the Egyptian ambassador to the United States, Motaz Zahran, the Biden administration has reportedly not exerted enough pressure on Ethiopia to resolve the sensitive issue and push Addis Ababa to resume dialogue, explicitly adding how “all options are on the table” for Egypt, alluding to the possibility of even a military attack on the GERD infrastructure.
Heavy statements, which have not been followed up on the level of Egypt’s governing narrative, but which many believe to be an expression of the political line advocated by President al-Sisi, geared toward urging U.S. intervention even through the threat of a – rather unlikely, at the moment – resort to the use of force to resolve the dispute inherent in the construction and management of the GERD dam.
New tensions are also emerging in relations between Ethiopia and Sudan, and the border crossing between the two countries between Galabat and El Gedaref was closed on May 21 after the killing of three Sudanese farmers by – according to Khartoum authorities – Ethiopian militiamen.
Of a contrary view is the Ethiopian government, which instead accuses Sudan of engaging in constant destabilizing along the borders, taking advantage of tensions in the Tigray region through the support of TPLF forces and with the intent of changing control of border areas.
While the government of Sudan denounces incursions by armed Ethiopian militiamen crossing the borders to steal cattle and kidnap farmers for extortion, Ethiopia rejects the accusations and claims on the contrary that the cross-border violence is the result of support provided by the government in Khartoum to TPLF militiamen who have found refuge across the country’s borders.
Against the backdrop of this new crisis, the unresolved problem of defining the borders between the two countries, which are still generically defined by the uncertain colonial cartography that has never clearly defined the exact demarcation of the more than 1,600 km of borders between the two countries, once again comes to the fore.
This ambiguity in the determination of the boundary line has been exacerbated over the years by the continued expansion of land occupied by Ethiopian farmers, seeking ever more arable land in the eastern El Gedaref region, claimed, however, by the Sudanese government.