Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 22 June 2020

Rumours about Egyptian military base in South Sudan

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The stalemate between Ethiopia and Egypt over the Ethiopia Dam is now being exaggerated by the Egyptian Army Base in Pagak area of Maiwut county, South Sudan.

By Lul Gatkuoth Gatluak

The stalemate between Egypt and Ethiopia over the project of Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is now being exaggerated in Social Media. In the past three weeks, last week of May and the first two weeks of June, one of the pressing newscast has been the establishment of the Egyptian Army Base in South Sudan’s Ethiopia border at the town of Pagak in Maiwut County South Sudan. The issue has gone viral day after day. Whenever one retired from daily engagements and fined himself scanning and skimming the news media, it is easy to come across exchange messages between individuals whose tone is always torn apart. Some people describe the establishment of the Egyptian Army base as mere propaganda and fabrication, others describe and deem it as a rumour which might develop into reality. Yet the rest seem to be authentic that, Egyptian Army bases are already been established and currently operational inside South Sudan in places such as Paloch and Mabaan, and the establishment of the new Egyptian base in Pagak is the way to get closer for an actual war confrontation with Ethiopia. Nevertheless, all above school of thoughts are taken into account as far as the subject matter is a concern. Speculators still emphasize the truthfulness of Egyptian army base establishment as an irreversible move. Thus, one’s aim in writing this article is to enlighten the general public about historical relation between South Sudan and both Egypt and Ethiopia, focusing on which country between the two has mutual beneficiary relation with South Sudan and which one has a bitter relation.

Initially, it is impossible to distinct South Sudan history out of the broader Sudan history without generalization. The relation between Sudan/South Sudan and both Egypt and Ethiopia goes back to ancient times. During those times, invaders that always intruded to Sudan team up with Egypt aiming to control Sudan/South Sudan. For example, Right within the generation of Muhammad’s death in 632, the Arab army immediately began the mission of carrying Islam into North Africa. This Muslim army inaugurated the idea of imposing political control over conquered territories in the name of Islam. Their first victory in North Africa was in Tripoli, the present-day capital of Libya. The coming of Islam to Sudan changed the nature of Sudanese society forever. This by far engendered the division that engulfs the country into north and south, with the conflict that existed even today. Among many reasons, Arabs came with the notion of Arabizing and Islamizing Local African communities. Before doing so, they wandered into the region in search of fresh pasturage, merchants, and a designed intermarriage way of assimilation.

Following the French withdrawal from Egypt in 1805, Muhammad Ali who was sent by the Ottoman Empire to influence Egyptian Mamluks soon filled the political vacuum. After assuming the power, Ali transforms Egypt into the most powerful military state and modernizes it economically and educationally. Thereafter, in1821 Muhammad plans the conquest of Sudan adding it to his domains for the sake of valuable natural resources including human. The invasion brought huge or greater transitional change to Sudan started by northern Sudan. This policy had later on expanded and intensified by his son Ismail. When Mahdi had risen, combined Turk-Egyptian army were in danger and that brought forth British colonization especially the death of Charles Gordon.

After the death of Mahdi, his successor Khalifa began to organize workshops in order to renew the military. This organization resulted in an invasion of Ethiopia. That invasion was a response to one of a raid Negus Tekle Hymanot of Ethiopia has led to Sudan a year earlier. The campaign resulted in capturing towns including Matmma. Six months later, Ansar penetrated deep inside Ethiopia as far as in the town of Gondar. The war continued until when Ethiopian king Yohannes was wounded in battle and died the next day; this caused Ethiopians withdrawal from the war field. When the British had full control of Sudan, the new master decided to explore the country especially the areas of Nile Basin tributaries.

British’s primary goal was to secure the waters of the Nile, for the major tributaries to the Sobat River, Blue Nile and Atbara. When the British left the country, the state of affairs and the pattern of the political landscape changed when the Government of Sudan started to support the Eritrean secession movement on ideological ground (Pan Arabism). The Ethiopian government has reciprocated by supporting the rebel movements in South Sudan started in the 1960s-70s. That support increased in 1983 when the Derge regime threw its support behind John Garang to establish a movement that should fight for the creation of a socialist-oriented united secular Sudan. That support contributed to numerous military achievements in South Sudan liberation. The modern history of hydro politics in the Nile basin is very complex and had had wide ramification for the region. One of the very good examples is the unfinished Jonglei Canal project in southern Sudan which appears to stretch for endless miles. The Jonglei Canal was jointly financed by Egypt and Sudan and built with French assistance. The canal’s excavation began in earnest in 1978. A huge earth-moving machine dubbed the "Bucket wheel” then the largest excavator ever built a carved out ditch which is 75 meters wide, progressing 2 km a week. At the time, the Jonglei Canal was Africa’s boldest and most daring waterworks scheme, envisioned as a novel way to divert the White Nile’s waters to bypass swamps and reduce evaporation losses. In a region with an unquenchable thirst, the result would have made an additional 4.5 billion cubic meters of Nile water available annually, to be equally split between Sudan and Egypt.

Today, the fabled excavator lies abandoned and rusted in the wetlands of southern Sudan. In 1984, civil war froze the ambitious canal project in its tracks. By then, 250 km of the navigable canal was dug, with another 110 km to go. The artificial waterway would have spanned more than twice the length of the Suez Canal.
In southern Sudan, the White Nile flows into the vast wetlands of the Sudd, a network of channels, lakes and swamps flooding an area the size of England. Cutting through southern Sudanese provinces, from Bor to Malakal, the Jonglei Canal was designed to circumvent the Sudd, where as much as half of the inflowing water evaporates.

The Blue Nile originates from the Ethiopian highlands and carries roughly 85 per cent of the water that reaches Egypt. The White Nile, which streams from the equatorial lakes of Central Africa and snakes through southern Sudan, carries the remaining 20 per cent. The river’s two branches meet in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. Under a 1959 water-sharing agreement between Egypt and Sudan, 18.5 billion cubic meters of Nile water is allocated annually to Sudan and 55.5 billion cubic meters to its downstream neighbour.

The Jonglei Canal would shorten river travel between Khartoum and Juba, southern Sudan’s main urban centre, expand farmland and constrict the breeding grounds of mosquitoes. Yet environmentalists have warned of the canal’s ecological consequences. Reducing evaporation in the Sudd swamps would likely lessen rainfall in West Africa. Draining the marshes would alter fisheries and grasslands, a delicate ecosystem the indigenous Anyuak, Dinka, Shilluk and Nuer tribes of southern Sudan have come to depend on.

Construction of the Jonglei Canal began under Sudan’s ruler, Jaafar Mohamed Nimeiri, who understood that development could only move forward if the civil war was brought to an end. With this in mind, Nimeiri signed the 1972 Addis Ababa Accord, granting the south a measure of regional autonomy, and effectively ending 17 years of civil strife between north and south Sudan for a short period. Nimeiri had ambitious plans. He sought to build oil and sugar refineries and increase cultivated land by 3.5 million acres. Yet grand development expectations soon gave way to corruption and a ballooning foreign trade deficit.

In 1983, Nimeiri imposed his brand of Islamic law (Sharia) across the entire country and revoked southern autonomy. Southern Sudanese factions took up arms in yet another civil war. Early attacks by the newly formed Sudan People’s Liberation Army, led by John Garang de Mabior, were against the Jonglei Canal and oil exploration projects. By drying out the swamps, the canal would not only open up the entire Sudd area for mechanized farming, making Sudan what Nemeiri termed the "breadbasket of the Middle East and Africa," it would allow government troops from the north to quickly move military equipment and troops into South Sudan.

Similarly, the same déjà-vu is repeating itself, Egypt wants to avoid taking necessary majors that would help deescalate the stalemate. The stalemate between Ethiopia and Egypt increase when Ethiopia had decided to construct a Dam in 2011 on the Blue Nile tributary in the northern Ethiopia highlands from where 85% of the Nile Waters flow. The mega Dam has caused disagreements between Ethiopia and Egypt, with Sudan and South Sudan caught in between. The issue is worrying the region, but as Africans are concerned, Egypt, Sudan and all regional countries that are attached to Nile basin might engage in a constructive dialogue to discuss potential environmental issues associated with the Grand Renaissance Dam. It is not a bad idea for Ethiopia to build a Dam but it is bad for Egypt to aim for confrontation.

As a sisterly country in the region, South Sudan could avoid allowing Egypt to establish an army base in its territory for the sake of maintaining peace in the region. On the other hand, South Sudan could look at both countries relation to them both ancient and modern historical relations. Inform individuals would understand that South Sudan relation with Egypt is more negative than South Sudan relation with Ethiopia. Ethiopia contributed effectively in the freedom of South Sudan while Egypt was supporting South Sudan foes fully. On that reason, one would see South Sudan to be the last nation that could accept Egypt to establish a base on its soil.

In summing, all countries that enjoy the gift of the Nile need to sit in solidarity to find a way to share the Nile water. The Nile water treaties were agreements between the British on behalf of its colonies, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda in addition to Egypt. Although the main purpose of the treaty was to determine the boundary between Ethiopia and Sudan, Ethiopia have never undertaken any constructive majors regarding water flow from the Blue Nile, Lake Tana or Sobat, which would arrest the flow of their water. Today is the right time to revisit the 1902 agreement and South Sudan need to remorse to allow the Egyptian government to establish an army base. Social media news outlets should cease assimilating or beating war drums between Egypt and Ethiopia. Let learn how to calm, reason and discuss prominent issues constructively rather than exaggerating issues unconstructively.

The author is a political commentator. He could be reached at lulgatluak09@gmail.com or lgatluak01@hamline.edu



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  • 22 June 06:31, by Angelo Achuil

    I am really surprised that our leaders with a loud history of Panyidu, Dima, Itang and the ultimate called Bilpam" can afford to be quiet just at the time our kind brother needs our help!

    repondre message

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