Changes at the top

In November 2022, Salva Kiir made two major political changes in Warrap. Peter Mayen Majongdit, the Rek Dinka minister for humanitarian affairs, was removed from his position. More consequentially, Kiir’s dismissal of Aleu Ayieny Aleu, the storied military commander and governor of Warrap, brought to a close the latter’s almost two-year reign in charge of the state. Using the same techniques as his colleague—and rival—in Lakes state, Governor Rin Tueny Mabor, Aleu had attempted to stamp his authority on Warrap through extrajudicial killings, the detention of customary authorities, and the targeting of dissident populations.[1] After assuming the governorship in January 2021, Aleu went on a ‘peace tour’ of Warrap, leaving bodies in his wake, as state security forces made partisan interventions in intrasectional rivalries, while engaging in the harassment of rival communities to Aleu’s Noi section of the Rek Dinka (Craze, 2022b, pp. 39–41). Rather than stem intrasectional violence, Aleu’s interventions exacerbated it. During his tenure as governor, Warrap remained convulsed by violence, despite his promises that clashes would be stamped out. Many assumed that it is his failure to reduce violence in Warrap that led to his dismissal as governor on 16 November 2022.

Kiir replaced Aleu with Manhiem Bol Malek, a veteran military commander and the son of Bol Malek, the paramount chief of the Luachkoth, a Dinka section that is part of the Greater Ananatak of Tonj East county. Some hoped that Manhiem’s background would enable him to mediate between the Luanyjang and the Greater Ananatak, after clashes between the two groups in 2020–22. Manhiem’s accession to the governorship, however, was not about bringing peace to Warrap, but due to a power struggle between Aleu and Akol Koor Kuc, the head of the NSS. In May 2022, Agor Malang Agor, the Tonj South county commissioner, shot an NSS officer during a drunken brawl and had to be replaced.[2] Aleu’s candidate for the commissionership, Deng Chirillo, had previously been a close ally of Akol Koor, but the two men had fallen out after Chirillo backed Paul Malong, the former minister of defence. Akol Koor was strongly opposed to Chirillo’s appointment as the commissioner of Tonj South. Despite this opposition, Aleu went ahead with Chirillo’s nomination. While Aleu had been appointed at Akol Koor’s behest, by 2022, he had emerged as a threat to the director general’s control of Warrap.

A further contention between the two men was over the oil-for-roads programme—the single largest destination of public funds in South Sudan and one of the principal ways that Kiir’s regime gets funds off the book and into the hands of its associates (Craze, 2023b, p. 10). Central to this endeavour is Bol Mel, a businessman appointed as Kiir’s senior presidential special envoy for special programmes in December 2022, and whose companies the United States has sanctioned for their role in corruption (The Sentry, 2021). Aleu was trying to evade Bol Mel’s control over the oil-for-roads programmes in Warrap by using his own companies, thus diverting revenue away from the coterie of Bahr el Ghazal Dinka politicians around Kiir.

Akol Koor’s relationship with Aleu broke down in early 2022, due to the disagreements over the oil-for-roads programme and the Tonj South county commissionership. These contentions led Akol Koor to back Lewis Anei Madut’s attempts to remove Aleu from his position as the chairperson of the Tonj community. The ending of Aleu’s governorship was abrupt. Earlier in November, Aleu had reshuffled his cabinet, and he had just arrived in Juba in preparation for the governors’ forum, before Kiir removed him. The former governor remains in Juba, bitter and brooding, and has subsequently been outspoken in his criticism of corruption in South Sudan’s Ministry of Finance.[3]

[1] For details on Lakes state, see Pospisil (2023).

[2] Author telephone interviews with Warrap political observers, December 2022–July 2023.

[3] Author interviews with Warrap politicians, Juba, August 2023.