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A historic visit: President Al-Sisi in Juba amid exceptional regional developments

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s visit to Juba on 28 November 2020 was the first of its kind since the independence of South Sudan in 2011. The historic visit was meant at promoting joint cooperation, bolstering bilateral relations, and deepening political ties between the two countries. 

The current changing context of the African continent and the recent changes in the region have multiplied the significance of such a visit and all similar rapprochement efforts taking place between Egypt and other pivotal African countries, especially South Sudan. 

The visit comes as part of Egypt’s rigorous efforts to strengthen mutual cooperation with all African countries, and to restore security and political stability in different conflict zones in the region, since President Al-Sisi came to power in 2014. 

It also relates to the great achievement of both South Sudan and Sudan regarding reconciliation with armed groups and Egypt’s role in establishing peace and reconciliation principles. 

This was largely reflected in the Cairo Declaration, signed in Egypt in November 2017. The declaration aimed to unify the South Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, and to support implementing the peace deal that has been activated to end the internal conflict brewing since 2013.

Internal changes in Sudan

President Al-Sisi’s visit cannot be separated from the internal changes in Sudan. Since Omar Al-Bashir was overthrown and a transitional government took over, major openness in foreign relations took place on the regional, African, Arab and international levels.

This openness was evident in the enhanced relations between the current Sudanese government and the US administration, and Sudan’s subsequent enhanced relations with Israel, which greatly contributed to removing Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List. 

Another internal change in Sudan is the developments of the reconciliation file and the establishment of peace between the Sudanese transitional government and armed movements in the regions that witnessed tensions over the last years.

South Sudan’s presidency played a great role in completing that agreement between the government and a number of movements in Darfur, South Kordofan and south Blue Nile, where there are a number of conflicts. The presidency hosted different rounds of talks between the interim authority in Sudan and those movements. Egypt has supported this path, and the peace agreement was signed in October 2020, largely ending years of armed conflicts.

Egypt seeks to guarantee tripartite coordination between Cairo, Khartoum and Juba by supporting the path of political movement and stability in both Sudan and South Sudan, and by supporting development projects, such as the electricity interconnection link project and various road projects, that can eventually achieve the interdependence of the three countries, which will contribute significantly to the promotion of intra-state trade.

Ethiopian complexities

President Al-Sisi’s visit to Juba is also related to the complexities of the situation in Ethiopia, given the conflict between the federal government and the Tigray region’s government. The crisis in Tigray Region poses a security and political dilemma for Ethiopia’s geographical neighbours, especially Horn of Africa countries. 

Complicating the matter, the federal government has been launching air strikes on the forces supporting Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in the capital of Tigray since 4 November. The crisis warns of conflict shifts on the level of East Africa as a whole, after operations extended to Eritrea that was exposed to many missile attacks as a result of the escalation.

The complexity of the scene may also be due to the intransigence of the Ethiopian government, headed by Abiy Ahmed, over the various mediation attempts provided by African countries as well as by the African Union, in spite of the African Union’s appointment of three high-level envoys to support the efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict between Ethiopia’s federal government and the Tigray Region.

This would reinforce the assumption that the crisis will last longer, which reflects the various tensions in regional neighbours, such as South Sudan and Sudan, especially as thousands of Ethiopian refugees have fled to Sudan.

Strengthening strategic partnerships with Nile Basin countries

The visit also reflects strengthening Egyptian strategic partnerships with Nile Basin countries and Egypt’s desire to connect with the African continent in general and Nile Basin countries in particular.

This is in order to accommodate the developments of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), especially in the light of Ethiopia’s apparent intransigence, its continuation of the old approach to negotiation, and its refusal to agree on a binding and balanced legal agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD.

Considering the importance of the geographical position of South Sudan, which is a River Nile estuary state and one of the most prominent parties, the visit achieves an equilibrium in the equation of water and common development.

In addition, Egypt has recently accomplished a notable success in Tanzania by establishing the Julius Nyerere dam, contributing to the hydroelectric power generation of Tanzania with a capacity of 2,115 megawatts.

Egypt’s new approach to be involved in Africa through promoting investment and sustainable development of African countries is a tool for achieving economic cooperation between Egypt as a strategic hub in the region and Nile Basin countries, which have the same common interests.

In conclusion, the African regional landscape is experiencing political momentum, as the various equations of conflict within the continent are changed and replaced with tools for joint cooperation and coordination to build peace and stability. In this regard, President Al-Sisi’s visit is an important message to reinvigorate Egypt’s relations with all African countries, and to transfer Egyptian expertise for achieving joint development in multiple fields.

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