Egypt looks to South Sudan ties amid Nile dam fears

Egypt’s support for South Sudan comes with the understanding that Juba will back Cairo in negotiations over the Nile.
Sunday 13/05/2018
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry speaks during a visit to Khartoum, last April. (AFP)
Diplomatic outreach. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry speaks during a visit to Khartoum, last April. (AFP)

Cairo - Egypt’s improving ties with South Sudan is part of a campaign to protect Nile water rights and win over African allies to pressure Khartoum and Addis Ababa over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, experts said.

“Cairo is doing this by gaining strong presence in the immediate vicinity of the two countries,” said Hani Raslan, an African affairs specialist at Egypt’s Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. “South Sudan is very important for Egypt’s national security and interests in the African continent.”

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry visited Juba, South Sudan, for a meeting of the National Liberation Council of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). He was one of the few foreign officials invited, which demonstrated renewed positive contacts between Cairo and Juba.

At the meeting, Shoukry said Egypt would do everything possible to help South Sudanese factions reconcile and bring security and stability to South Sudan.

South Sudan descended into chaos in 2013 when President Salva Kiir Mayardit accused Riek Machar, then the vice-president, of orchestrating a coup with some army units. The situation polarised South Sudan’s military and the conflict morphed into civil war that resulted in thousands of deaths and tens of thousands internally and externally displaced, including in Ethiopia and Sudan.

Egypt has been working to reconcile South Sudanese rival factions, helping the country regain internal stability and offering massive development support to Juba. Last November, Cairo hosted the signing of a declaration of unification between two SPLM factions. The declaration called for an end to disputes between the factions and the return of South Sudanese citizens displaced by the conflict.

Egypt has peacekeeping troops in parts of South Sudan, established clinics in the countries and offered political backing to Juba.

Cairo supports a South Sudanese bid to gain an observer’s status at the Arab League and opposes an arms embargo imposed on South Sudan in February.

Egypt’s support for South Sudan comes with the understanding that Juba will back Cairo in negotiations over the Nile. Technical talks among Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the Renaissance dam remain deadlocked, with Shoukry explicitly blaming Khartoum and Addis Ababa for the lack of movement.

He said Sudan and Ethiopia were purposefully refusing to share a study conducted to determine the dam’s effects on downstream countries. Cairo has said its share of Nile waters would be significantly affected by the dam.

Cairo’s diplomatic and political outreach to Juba comes amid the emergence of new alliances between Nile countries. South Sudan is a middle-stream state and features a confluence between the Achwa River and the White Nile, one of the two main tributaries of the Nile.

Egypt has sought to put political pressure on Addis Ababa and Khartoum, which is backing the Ethiopian dam, by getting other Nile riparian countries on its side.

“This is quite clear in Egyptian moves in the region, especially in the last two years,” said Sudanese political analyst Mohamed Latif. “Cairo does this by winning Nile riparian states over to its side.”

Shoukry previously visited Juba and Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, another riparian state, in March to discuss cooperation. As Shoukry addressed the SPLM convention, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed met with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum about increasing cooperation between their two countries.

Ethiopia says the dam project is necessary for its economic development and the welfare of its people. Sudan plans to buy electricity generated by the dam to satisfy growing national needs for electrical power.

Egypt has been trying to strengthen relations with Nile riparian states Rwanda and Tanzania. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni arrived in Cairo in early May with a team of cabinet ministers for talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Sisi, at a media briefing with Museveni, said his country was keen on solving pending issues in Ethiopian dam negotiations.

Egypt and Uganda also signed several cooperation deals and memorandums of understanding in electricity, agriculture and transport.

Such emerging alliances, analysts said, reflect the nature of conflicts in the region.

“They also reflect a desire by Egypt to bring its relations with other African states back to their past strengths,” said Amani al-Taweel, another African affairs specialist at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. “Egypt has the right to defend its own interests and to do this by all means.”