Analysis: Nile diplomacy: Cunning arm twists and turns, but whose losing game?

Thursday February 16th 2017

Zecharias Zelalem, Special to Addis Standard

Addis Abeba, Feb. 10/2017 – On January 9, 2017, South Sudanese President, Salva Kiir, arrived in Cairo, Egypt, to meet with his counterpart, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, and discuss, according to media reports, “bilateral ties.” With most media either unable or unwilling to go beyond the official transcript, details of what exactly has prompted Egypt’s leader to invite the embattled South Sudanese President to the Ettihadeya Palace (just a few weeks after president Al-Sisi met with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in Entebbe), remain sketchy; it left a lot of room for a lot of speculation.

Nearly a day after Kiir’s arrival in Egypt, The South Sudan News Agency (SSNA) published an article making some bold statements claiming, among other things, that it had firsthand information about discussions of a “dirty deal” in the works between South Sudan, Egypt, and to a certain extent, Uganda.

The source, unnamed, but identified by the news agency as someone in the upper echelons of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO), was allegedly in Addis Abeba when he told the website that Egypt was seeking to funnel weapons to the South Sudanese government in an attempt to quash that country’s rebel uprising, end the civil war, and solidify Kiir’s leadership in power.

The SPLM-IO, formed by former Vice President Riek Machar, has been fighting to take the capital Juba since falling out with president Kiir in December 2013. If one goes by the assertions made in this news dispatch, the possibility of the Egyptians facilitating a speedy put down of the SPLM-IO armed wing is what has allegedly wetted President Kiir’s appetite and motivated him to turn towards Al-Sisi. Afterwards, Kiir would repay the favor by jointly working with Al-Sisi to either destabilize or coerce neighboring Khartoum to politically side with Egypt over the controversial, lingering and most sensitive matter, the use of the Nile River.

But, a few seconds of skimming through the SSNA website would reveal to a keen observer the clear anti-South Sudanese government stance the media network maintains. There is a possibility that the website may simply blow things out of proportion in an attempt to provoke Ethiopia into hostility towards the governments of South Sudan and Egypt. With the report leaving no room for verification, the story could even be an outright fabrication, a figment of an editor’s imagination.

But then again it isn’t entirely infeasible. Egypt and Ethiopia have always been historical foes. Despite Al-Sisi’s conspicuous warm tone towards Ethiopia as compared to the openly hostile rhetoric by some of his predecessors, Egypt’s national interests, especially on matters of the Nile, are something whose importance cannot be wished away. Therefore, it wouldn’t be something totally out of the blue to suggest that Egypt’s diplomatic foreplay with sub-Saharan states has a rather ominous nature.

Ethiopia, too, has been repeatedly accusing Egypt of stoking tensions by funding domestic elements that exacerbated recent protest movements in its midst which rocked the government to its core throughout 2016.

Could there be a grain of truth to the claims that something sinister was indeed agreed to in Cairo during the meeting between presidents Al-Sisi and Kiir? 

Click here to read the full article.

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