INTERVIEW: Deputy President of the Egyptian Council for African Affairs, Ambassador Salah Halima, talks about 'the Juba connection'
Dina Ezzat, , Friday 5 Mar 2021
According to Ambassador Halima, today is the time for all possible partners to try and establish as strong a relationship with Juba as possible to help promote peace and development

“Frustratingly slow” was the way David Shearer, Head of the UN Mission for South Sudan, described the progress towards stability in the 10-year-old state upon the end of his mission on 3 March.

Halima, Deputy President of the Egyptian Council for African Affairs and Former Assistant Minister for Sudan's affairs in Egypt, agreed in an interview with Ahram Online, a few days earlier, that the young African state still has a lot of hard work to do with the cooperation of its neighbours - particularly Egypt and Sudan - to reach the point of stability and security.

“One would have hoped that 10 years down the road since Sudan became an independent state the people of South Sudan would have now gotten their fair share of stability and development. The fact of the matter is, that they still need to work very hard and of course they need the help of all possible partners especially Egypt and Sudan,” Halima said.

Speaking a little after a year since the late February 2020 announcement of the South Sudan unity government, that should have brought a permanent end to civil fighting, Halima said that it was disturbing to find that “tribal squabbles and fighting over power and wealth is still haunting this country that has enough natural wealth and a population that is eager to live in peace and prosperity”.

Last year, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and his former Adversary Riek Machar received support from the UN and the AU for agreeing to end their civil fighting and to sign a peace deal. However, during the past few months, fighting picked up again, resulting in there being a threat of another possible collapse to South Sudan's peace.

“Unfortunately, the tribal affiliations were not put aside upon the independence of Sudan to allow for the new born state to stand fast and firm on solid feet,” Halima said.

On 9 January 2011, the people of South Sudan went for a referendum that provided overwhelming support for independence from the north of the country. Prior to the split, Halima - as a diplomatic envoy - was working to promote the continued unity of Sudan. He, however, knew that the chances to stop the separation were not at all high.

“We tried very hard to encourage reforms that would have increased the call for unity but it did not work; the people of South Sudan were really marginalised and they suffered what one could safely qualify as ethnic discrimination from the ruling regime in Khartoum,” Halima said. “They also suffered from the wish of the regime of [the now-ousted Sudanese President Omar Bashir] to impose Islamic Shariaa on the [predominantly non-Muslim] population of the south,” he added.

Halima is not sure whether or not an earlier ouster of Sudan's former dictator, which inevitably happened in April 2019, could have kept the unity of Sudan. He also is not so certain whether a longer transition - than the six-month period that allowed for announcement of the South of Sudan on 9 July 2011 - would have made a difference in creating a setting that would have prevented the power struggle in the new state that still persists until this very day.

He, however, is certain that today is the time for all possible partners to try and establish as strong a relationship with Juba as possible to help promote peace and development.

The South Sudan peace partners, Halima argued, are still not fully resolved as it seems to succumb to all that it takes to secure permanent peace and stability. The regional context in East Africa, he added is also not helping.

“There are signs of a surge of militant activities, there are many foreign permanent and non-permanent military bases in the region and in the Red Sea, there is also ethnic squabbling in some neighbouring countries as well as border fighting between some of these neighbouring countries,” Halima said. This, he argued, could reflect very negatively on a country that has yet to recover from the ailments of civil fighting.

Egypt, Halima said, is certainly in a place to help South Sudan hang on to the chances of peace and prosperity. Sudan too has an interest in helping its southern neighbour, he added.

Last November, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi visited Juba and appealed for political, economic and security cooperation. In the next few hours, El-Sisi is expected in Khartoum with a similar agenda.

“Egypt has a big interest in working with both Juba, and of course with Khartoum. Their cooperation could serve in range of issues from the River Nile to the security of the Red Sea and from regional security to joint trade and economy cooperation,” said Halima. “So far, Egypt has mostly focused on medical and humanitarian cooperation as well as having launched some investments, but there is room for a lot more,” he added.

According to Halima, with “the launch of solid infra-structure for transport between Egypt and Sudan, there is also room for expansion to South Sudan. The three countries are joined by the River Nile; they share a lot of common interests and they have human and natural resources thus, there is ample opportunity for three-way cooperation in addition to the bilateral collaboration that has already been established,” he added.