The commodification of abductions

The raid into the GPAA was characterized by significantly more abductions—which form part of Lou Nuer attacks on the Murle—than usual. This caused disquiet in Juba, especially as many of those abducted women and children were from the home village of David Yau Yau, the former chief administrator of the GPAA and an ally of Kiir’s regime. The government took the decision to buy the liberty of the abductees.

The government used Benjamin Bol Mel’s ARC Resources company to carry out the transactions. Bol Mel is a close associate of Kiir, and his companies—many of which, like him, are under US sanctions—are involved in the economic reproduction of the regime (The Sentry, 2021). Appointed a senior presidential advisor in December 2022, and then deputy secretary general of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement’s (SPLM) National Liberation Council in March 2023, Kiir is thought to be grooming Bol Mel to be his successor, according to rumours in the capital.

In January, Bol Mel purchased the freedom of 61 abductees, for SSP 400,000 each (roughly USD 500).[1] The abductees then flew to Pibor on a chartered flight. Officially, the Jonglei state government has denied these purchases. Government and Lou Nuer White Army sources have confirmed, however, that they occurred.[2] Some of the revenue was used to purchase further materiel from SSPDF Division 8 soldiers.[3]

The purchases have been widely criticized due to the risk of creating a market for abductions, with revenue generated being used to perpetuate a cycle of violence, raids, and abductions. Lou Nuer communities are now requesting financial compensation for the return of abductees.

Abductions have long been a part of conflict in Jonglei and reflect a pastoral political economy in which control of people is more important than possession of land. Customarily, abductees are absorbed into new families, whether Nuer, Dinka, or Murle; however, if abductees are merely commodities, and not potential future family members, their status changes. The year 2023 has already seen an intensification in the sexual violence meted out to abductees, highlighting the potential dangers posed by the creation of a new market in human beings. On 20 April, the Upper Nile state government, with the material assistance of at least one international NGO, purchased the release of 41 Shilluk abductees from the Gawaar Nuer prophet, Tut Makuach, who was in Ayod County, Jonglei, indicating that such a market has already been created.[4]


[1] Telephone interviews with Lou Nuer White Army members, UN officials, international humanitarians, and Bor Dinka traders, January–May 2023.

[2] Telephone interviews with politicians in Jonglei and White Army members, January–April 2023.

[3] Telephone interviews with Bor Dinka and Lou Nuer informants, January–April 2023.

[4] Telephone interviews with informants in Upper Nile and Jonglei, April 2023.