Why S. Sudan is on delicate balance over Ethiopia-Sudan relations

Why S. Sudan is on delicate balance over Ethiopia-Sudan relations
President Salva Kiir and Ethiopian Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy greet each other in a past function. [Photo: Courtesy]

“Friend of my enemy is my enemy” is a common phrase that could describe the dilemma facing South Sudan over fickle bilateral relations between two of her neighbours.

 Juba administration is at a crossroads over whether to side with Sudan or Ethiopia in their foreign relations which have not improved due to frequent diplomatic tiffs. 

This is shown by the neutral stance that South Sudan has taken over the conflict between Ethiopia and Sudan on the fertile border area, not to mention the filling of the Grand Renaissance Dam (GRD), which Sudan joined Egypt in opposing.

Egypt and Sudan said Ethiopia should stop going forward in filling the dam pending consensus on the share of the Blue Nile, but South Sudan has not said anything despite having a share in the water.

The conflict prompted Sudan to request the UN Security Council to replace the Ethiopian peacekeeping force in Abyei with a non-Ethiopian contributing force last month, but South Sudan opposed the move.

“Sudan and Ethiopia have reached the level of military confrontations … at this particular point, there will be no neutrality for South Sudan because South Sudan has to take side with any either of the two,” said Edmond Yakani, Executive Director for Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO).

According to Mr. Yakani, South Sudan, which has got strong historical links with both Sudan and Ethiopia has no middle ground to stand in the Sudan-Ethiopia foreign relations this time.

 He said the relations between Sudan and South Sudan have recently improved after Juba and Khartoum became played roles in one another’s peace brokerage that ended their long trading accusation of harbouring each other’s dissident groups.

Equally, South Sudan has a long history with Ethiopia of backing the then SPLM/A, a movement that brought the independence of South Sudan. 

No middle ground

But, according to a political analyst Dr. Abraham Kuol Nguon, Dean of School of Social and Economic Studies at the University of Juba, South Sudan should play a mediation role in the Ethiopia-Sudan role.

“It might not be that very possible because our history shows that South Sudanese live toward Sudan than Ethiopia despite the fact that the movement that liberated the country is attached to Ethiopia,” he said.

Dr. Kuol said what will determine the South Sudan government position should be how Ethiopia’s foreign and water policies promote the national interest of South Sudanese.

“The issue is about the lives of people of South Sudan because that is one of the water sources that pass across South Sudan [and] we should be able to have a say on the use of the water,” said Dr. Kuol. 

“And as a result of this, despite the history, despite proximity to the border; it is how this country is arguing in trying to give conducive and good proportionate water to the people of South Sudan. This is where our interests should be able to lie’’.

Early this year President Salva Kiir offered to mediate talks between the two neighbouring countries to end the conflict because of the belief that peace in ‘Sudan, is peace in South Sudan’.

However, Mr. Yakani doubts South Sudan’s capacity in managing the Sudan-Ethiopia conflict which has the potential to affect its territorial integrity.

“It is a very delicate relationship, it is very delicate foreign relations and despite that South Sudan doesn’t have a clear foreign policy in how to deal with such situation,” said Mr. Yakani.