South Sudan's President Salva Kiir met with his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo on Tuesday to discuss strengthening ties between the two African nations. Kiir thanked Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi for supporting his government and positively reinforced the implementation of the peace deal to end the country's civil war, Egypt's state media reported.
Sisi's meeting with Kiir comes in the wake of a recent visit to Uganda where he met with President Yoweri Museveni, who is a close ally of the South Sudanese president. However according to anonymous sources close to exiled opposition leader Riek Machar's rebel group, the meeting between Sisi and Kiir is part of greater efforts to strike a "dirty deal".
"There is a dirty deal going between Kiir and Sisi," the sources claimed. "The issue of the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is one of the main deals being finalised in Cairo."
Ethiopia is currently building the dam on the River Nile near its source in the Ethiopian highlands. This has raised fears in Egypt that the flow of the river will be limited; it depends on Nile water for agriculture, industry and domestic water supplies. Egypt is trying to prevent such a reduction in supply by racking up support from its allies.
The government in Addis Ababa has denied that the dam will result in a reduction of water supplies to other countries. The dam, it insisted, will produce 6,000 megawatts of electricity, making it the powerhouse of Africa, and will provide additional water for the downstream countries, including Sudan and Egypt.
Egypt is keen to have South Sudan and Uganda as allies for the purpose of advancing its "covert sabotage campaign" against the dam. The meeting with Kiir is likely to be used to get South Sudan to exert pressure on Ethiopia. According to the sources, this "dirty deal" has been brokered by Uganda's Museveni and will allow Kiir to receive weapons and ammunition from Egypt to wage a "full-scale war against the armed opposition."
Indeed, South Sudan's armed opposition (SPLM/A-IO) accused Cairo and Juba earlier this week of working on a secret deal to keep Kiir in power. According to SSNA, the three-day meeting between the Egyptian and South Sudanese presidents is all about Egypt's interests in East Africa, a military deal though Uganda and ways to maintain peace in South Sudan in case the current Transitional Government of National Unity collapses. The aim is to isolate even further rebel leader Machar.
When Sisi met with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki in Cairo last month, it was also seen as a deliberate move against Ethiopia. The two met to discuss ways to enhance bilateral relations across all levels, including fishing and agriculture projects, but is seen widely as putting further pressure on Addis Ababa to be more flexible in dealings about the dam.
Ethiopia in turn accused Egypt and neighbouring Eritrea of supporting the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front, and provoking an unprecedented wave of protests that led to the country's six-month state of emergency. One Ethiopian minister said that there is "ample evidence" that Egypt provided training and financial aid to the group, which is viewed as a terrorist entity by Ethiopia. There were also "elements in the Egyptian political establishment" which were fomenting rebellion and seeking to reinforce promote "historical rights" over access to the River Nile.
Saudi Arabian officials caused controversy last year by visiting the controversial dam in Ethiopia, putting further strain on relations between Cairo and Riyadh.