The war of the camps

Since the signing of the R-ARCSS, both parties have engaged in recruitment in Unity state (Craze, 2020, pp. 79–90). In January 2023 the SPLA-IO forcibly recruited more than two hundred youth in Panyijar county, as rumours circulated that Kiir would unilaterally replace Majok Bol with an SPLM commissioner. The government has also been on a series of recruitment drives. The terrible floods that have devastated Unity state in recent years displaced people into Bentiu town, providing the government with waves of new recruits. In January 2022, for instance, the Joint Police Force, formed with UNMISS’s support, forcibly recruited men outside the Bentiu IDP site. Another such recruitment occurred in January 2023. Such recruitment drives are also a revenue source for Nguen. In January 2023 conscripted traders were allowed to buy their freedom if they purchased a trading licence from the government for SSP 15,000–20,000 (USD 15–20).

While the Bentiu IDP camp is a source of revenue for Nguen, it is also a source of opposition, with much of its population composed of those who fled government assaults on their homes. As such, the IDP camp constitutes a valuable political constituency for Tor Tungwar. Flood-related displacement beginning in August 2021 offered an opportunity to Nguen to create his own IDP camps and position himself as a benefactor of displaced Leek Nuer populations, as a way of trying to undermine Tor’s support base.

In August 2021 Nguen moved IDPs from Nhialdiu in southern Rubkona county to IDP sites in Bentiu; government forces then prevented these IDPs from leaving, creating a captive population that was assisted by INGOs. Not to be outdone, Taban Deng Gai also gave supplies to further IDP camps for Jikany Nuer displaced by flooding in Guit county.[7] In each case an elite politician manipulated population movements to create captive constituencies, and then called on the humanitarian sector to support these politically induced settlements. The sector acquiesced.

[7] Author telephone interviews with international humanitarian staff and local informants, April–June 2023.