Warrap is the birthplace of Salva Kiir and the seat of his power. The state is home to many of the leading generals and politicians in his coalition, including—most notably—Akol Koor Kuc, the director general of the Internal Security Bureau of South Sudan’s National Security Service (NSS), a man so feared he is seldom referred to by name. Yet despite Warrap’s centrality to Kiir’s regime, since the signing of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) in 2018, the state has seen little in the way of development. The money obtained by Kiir’s commanders tends to remain in Juba, or else flow out to regional capitals, rather than being invested in Warrap (Craze, 2022b; 2023b).[1] Rather than developing the state, politicians have plunged it into violence. In the period April–June 2023, there was an 18 per cent increase in the number of violent incidents in South Sudan compared to the same period in the previous year, with Warrap being the state overwhelmingly most affected, with nearly 300 violent incidents (UNMISS HRD, 2023).

Since 2018, the national government has increasingly withdrawn from the provision of wages and services in South Sudan, even in areas that it relies on for political support, such as Warrap. Absent even the appearance of a developmental state, the notion of government—haukuma—has become almost exclusively associated with political positions and the resources and power they bring with them.[2] This has produced a narrowed national compact in which political positions are thought of as properties, to be owned by one or another group, intensifying intrasectional competition.[3] Such rivalries challenge analysis that characterizes the conflict in South Sudan as a struggle for Dinka supremacy (Pinaud, 2021): the collapsing national compact in South Sudan has created conflict between Dinka sections just as much as it has set different ethnic groups against each another.

The violence that has convulsed Warrap since 2018 has three central catalysts:

  • In response to the technocratic dictatorship instantiated by the power-sharing ratios of the R-ARCSS (Craze and Markó, 2022), in which political appointments are made according to a calculus developed in Juba, politicians have mobilized local constituencies to fight against their opponents as a means of undermining their enemies’ status in the capital. The forces so instrumentalized are gelweng cattle guards (Pendle, 2021), which the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army has long used as a supplementary military force (Pendle, 2015; Kuol, 2017).[4]
  • Given the ethnic and sectional composition of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) and NSS active in Warrap, the state’s communities do not see the army and other organized security forces as representatives of a putatively neutral state government, designed to defend the South Sudanese people against aggression, but rather as partisan representatives of particular commanders and their communities. In the absence of security stemming from state forces, it is the gelweng that have taken on the role of protecting not just cattle, but their communities as such. This has led to intercommunal fighting between gelweng forces that see their struggles in existential terms and respond to attacks from other communities with the same levels of extreme violence that has been meted out to them. Increasingly, the absolute logic of militarized conflict has undermined the moral codes that customarily governed conflict between Dinka sections (Craze, 2022b, pp. 55–59).
  • While politicians instrumentalize the gelweng and sections struggle against each other, communities also struggle against the state itself. Long shorn of any overarching legitimacy in Warrap, the state survives by dividing Dinka sections and setting them against one another. In this context the gelweng cattle guards have emerged as a mode of resistance to the state, just as much as politicians have instrumentalized them as fighting forces. As South Sudan moves ineluctably towards elections, it is likely that this logic of conflict will intensify, as communities rise up to contest a fundamentally illegitimate state apparatus.


[1] As set out in a recent Small Arms Survey Briefing Paper (Craze, 2023b), South Sudan’s financial income is increasingly centralized in the office of the president. In the proposed budget for the 2023–24 financial year, for instance, the allocation for the Ministry of Presidential Affairs is SSP 32.6 billion, while that for Warrap is SSP 13.8 billion (Radio Tamazuj, 2023).

[2] The most thoughtful treatment of changing senses of government and governance in South Sudan remains Leonardi (2007).

[3] The Rek, Twic, and other Dinka groups in Warrap are divided into sections, and these sections are further divided into subsections. A full table of the Dinka sections in Warrap is available in Craze (2022b, pp. 45–50).

[4] Cattle guards in Warrap were originally referred to as titweng. Both gelweng and titweng translate as the protectors or guardians of livestock: titweng is used among the northern Dinka, while gelweng is used further south and has become the common term for both groups (Pendle, 2015). This Situation Update will use the term gelweng to refer to both groups.