Implications for the international community

Humanitarian assistance has become a central part of the government’s strategy to control the population of Unity state. The humanitarian sector has obfuscated the political dimensions of such assistance. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report on the inter-agency assessment conducted in Rotriak on 13 May, for instance, contains absolutely no conflict-sensitivity analysis or assessment of the political situation, and is narrowly focused on a needs-based evaluation of the situation (UNOCHA, 2023). While the IDPs in Rotriak are in a penurious state, an overly formal obsession with needs enables the political elite to all too easily instrumentalize humanitarian support, sowing the seeds for future conflict and exacerbating politically determined inequality (Craze and Luedke, 2022).

Such faux neutrality, which fails to address the political dimensions of population movement, is also apparent in a donor push to support government roads currently under construction from Rotriak to Kaikang, and Bentiu to Mayom. These roads would establish a path from the government’s centre in Rubkona county to its military bases in Mayom county, and enable troops to move into a contested territory (Rotriak), potentially inflaming tensions with the RAA, and permit the passage of Bul Nuer forces into Rubkona county, from where they could attack into southern Unity. It is, of course, true that improved roads allow improved humanitarian assistance as well as military assault. In this way the goals of the political elite that support Nguen and the humanitarian sector are consonant.