Difficulties at the borders

As much as violence has scarred Warrap internally in 2023, the state’s fiercest clashes have occurred in conflicts with communities outside the state. As set out in a prior HSBA publication this year (Craze, 2023a), the clashes between the Ngok Dinka of the Abyei Administrative Area and the Twic Dinka of Warrap state that began in February 2022 are fundamentally economic in nature and are over control of the once-populous border market of Annet and the former humanitarian hub of Agok. Despite a series of agreements between the two sides, the Twic Dinka have maintained a rhetorical stance that lays claim to the territory of southern Abyei, even though it was delimited as the territory of the Ngok Dinka by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2009 (Craze, 2013). The Twic have tried to ensure that this area has remained depopulated, following the displacement of the Ngok Dinka inhabitants of the territory after Twic attacks in February–March 2022. In 2023, the Ngok Dinka have taken a more aggressive stance: their youth forces have repeatedly attacked Twic county, with the Twic responding with raids into southern Abyei. In August–September 2023, the Ngok Dinka attacked Ajakuac payam, Twic county, while clashes continued around Agok, where the Ngok Dinka have attempted to maintain a presence, despite Twic warnings that the south of Abyei is a disputed territory (Craze, 2023a).

Further difficulties have occurred on the border with Unity state. Since the signing of the R-ARCSS, the Bul Nuer of Mayom county (Unity state) and the Rek Dinka of Aliek, Alabek, Akop, and Marial Lou payams of Tonj North county (Warrap) have raided each other. Kiir’s inner circle put pressure on the then-county commissioner, Manime Gatluak—the brother of Kiir’s influential security advisor Tut Kew Gatluak— to prevent raids into Warrap from Mayom. In 2019, Manime attempted to prevent such raiding, leading to clashes between his bodyguards and the Nuer spiritual leader Gatdeng. This alienated core parts of the Bul Nuer, some of whom joined Stephen Buay’s rebel South Sudan People’s Movement/Army, while others connected to Buay fled to Ajakuac payam, Twic county, Warrap, with the spiritual leader Gai Machiek, whose mother is a Twic Dinka. Gai Machiek, who is the third of his line to be possessed by the spirit Diu, has subsequently been active in Warrap and remains close to Buay’s rebel forces.

Further complicating matters is the fact that Bul Nuer have fought on both sides of the Twic–Ngok Dinka conflict, with wild rhetorical claims made by Ngok and Twic politicians about Buay’s participation in the clashes. Underlying what amount to conspiracy theories, however, are more prosaic concerns.

The interest of the conjoined Bul Nuer–Rek Dinka political elite is to maintain an orderly border between Warrap and Unity, keeping together the government coalition—even if, as is the case, some members of this class benefit from interstate raiding. Young cattleguards do not benefit from this political arrangement, however. As a result, short-term goals, including acquiring livestock through raiding, trump the concerns of the political class. Thus, while the new Mayom county commissioner, John Bol Mayik, has had some success in negotiating with Gai Machiek, raids continue—including, for instance, a Bul Nuer raid on Pandit village, Twic county, on 25 September 2023.[1]

[1] Author telephone interviews with international observers, September 2023.