Why Making Ruweng An Administrative Area Is Important

"As the national first Vice President, Dr. Riek should focus on supporting the people of Ruweng and help them by rekindling strategies of reconciliation and trust building among all the people across ethnic divides of the former Greater Unity State."

By James A. Mayik

The people of Ruweng communities have been unanimously asking South Sudan’s Presidency to curve their territory out of Unity State and make them an independent administrative area since 2014.

This quest for an independent administrative area was motivated by a pattern of horrific insecurity which traces as far back as 1991.

By declaring Ruweng an Administrative Area (RAA) on the 14th of February 2020, it is critically important to acknowledge that the Presidency of South Sudan has positively responded to the popular demand of the Ruweng people which was launched in 2014.

My sincere thank goes to President Salva Kiir, 1st Vice President Taban Deng Gai, and Vice President, Dr. James Wani Iga. This decision which formed RAA will save so many lives and help the Ruweng Dinka rebuild their shattered past.

An Administrative Area, in accordance with the popular definition of South Sudan’s social context, and for those who may not be in the know, is administered directly under the national Presidency. Its leadership is the equivalence of a State governor and reports directly to the President of the Republic.

Below is the ethnography and context of the Ruweng people in relation to the wider South Sudanese communities.

Ethnography of the Ruweng Dinka:
Little to no literature is available on all the ethnic groups of South Sudan. The reason for lack of research literature on the people of South Sudan is not accidental. It can be attributed to the fact that the people of this part of the world, South Sudan in general, have been at war with each other for decades. South Sudan had been at war with the Sudan government since 1955.

Ruweng Dinka people, on their part, are no exception. As a result of wars, most parts of South Sudan are impenetrable due to lack of roads and infrastructure.

South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011 after its people voted overwhelmingly in an internationally supervised referendum.

In South Sudan, Ruweng is home to Dinka Panaruu and Alor Kur Kuot. They are members of the many Dinka language groups of South Sudan.

Although Dinka nationalities form the majority among South Sudan’s 64 ethnic language groups, the Ruweng Dinka territory of Panaru and Alor had been contained within Unity State.

Unity State is dominated by the western Nuer ethnic group in the Republic of South Sudan. The Ruweng Dinka, as Douglas Johnson stipulated in his briefing over the Heglig oil dispute between Sudan and South Sudan back in 2012, is neighbouring the Ngok Dinka (Johnson, 2012).

Long time ago at some point in the past, they were administered as part of Kordofan Province. In Johnson’s own account, the Ruweng Dinka’s current location in Unity State, and the disputed location of Panthou/Heglig, is the outcome of a series of administrative transfers in the early twentieth century.

The independence of South Sudan forced the Ruweng Dinka to be geographically lumped into the Western Nuer who subsequently had been at each other’s throats with them for decades.

Whoever claims that the Ruweng Dinka and their neighbors had co-existed peacefully since time immemorial is not telling the full truth. There are times when this co-existence had been peaceful but there are also times when it had been bloody, just to tell the truth. Crude traditional weapons had been used to hack each other to death over grazing pastures and cattle rustling.

These conflicts were worsened when modern weapons emerged as tools to fight the civil war between South Sudanese and the Sudan government. It is in this context that mistrust and fear has built up to a level where I feel, in my opinion, that time is needed for unity to be made attractive again.

Why is it Important for Ruweng Dinka to have their own Administrative Area?
Owing to a long period of running ethnic violence in South Sudan which is marred by revenge killings between the Dinka and Nuer, the Ruweng people have paid a hefty cost of being Dinka minority among the Nuer majority in Unity State.

Their quest for an independent administrative area is not because of the huge oil reserves lying under their land. It has a lot to do exclusively with the personal security of their people.

Before South Sudan’s independence during the civil war with the Sudan, the freedom fighters who hailed from Panaru and Alor were administered under Dr. Riek’s zonal command. Dr. Riek Machar, the current opposition leader of the SPLMIO, was the commander of the north western front.

When Dr. Riek split off from the SPLM/A movement in 1991, a twisted tribal undertone affected so many fighters and their families from the Ruweng Dinka. Most of them (members of the Ruweng Dinka) were rounded up and killed in cold blood.

This tribally motivated killings worsened when a huge number of attackers from the Western Nuer crossed over to the Ruweng land. Although such attacks were short of what can be described as genocide at the international standard, the horrors were deplorable.

When peace came in 2005, the euphoria of the peace agreement engendered reconciliations and the two ethnic groups lived side by side again until 2013.

In December 2013 at the onset of South Sudan’s ongoing civil war, teachers, professionals, lawyers, police officers, army personnel, State government officials including law makers, and executives who hailed from the Ruweng Dinka were rounded up and killed in cold blood.

With these recent horrors and those dating back to 1991, the questions of trust and personal security of the Ruweng Dinka within Unity State have been raised to South Sudan’s Presidency. It is important to know that this decision taken on the 14th of February 2020, was not abrupt. It has been given a thoroughly regurgitated thought for over six years.

Below is one of the many South Sudan’s ethnic maps featuring the original location and home of the Ruweng Dinka –(unable to post the map at the moment).

The Ruweng Dinka territory was part of the greater Unity State until 2015 when South Sudan’s Presidency split the country into 32 administrative units or States as the many strategies used to manage the civil war. Like many other places, Ruweng territory also became one of the 32 States.

The Issue of Internal Boundaries:
South Sudan’s opposition claims that making Ruweng territory an independent administrative area will engender more disputes because of unclear ethnic boundaries. The rationale for their claim is that Ruweng has no clear boundaries with their Western Nuer neighbors. This argument is illogical because the problem of boundaries is not only limited to the Ruweng Dinka and their Nuer neighbors alone. It is a common problem of all South Sudanese and Sudanese on the other side of the border.

Even the international boundaries between South Sudan and Sudan are not yet agreed upon. A lot of areas are still disputed. In line with an agreement signed on March 13, 2012 between Sudan and South Sudan and mediated by the African Union, demarcation was promised.

That promised demarcation of the boundaries, however, has been put on hold for many reasons some of which are attributed to disputed boundary lines.

In accordance with the aforementioned agreement, the demarcation process was or will take into account African best practices which shall seek to maintain the sanctity and cohesion of communities in order to foster peaceful co-existence between the neighbors (African Union,

That means, talking about unclear boundaries as the reason to put the physical security of the Ruweng people at risk by returning them to Bentiu after the horrendous ethnic cleansing of 2013 and 1991 clearly shows the opposition is tribal in character.

As shown in the map above (not yet posted but available), every ethnic group in South Sudan knows their traditional boundaries.

It is my personal conviction that the discovery and production of oil resources in the area has fuelled these tribal territorial conflicts. These fights over the land royalties received from the oil companies must be separated from the fears of insecurity and distrust created by the recent historical violence of a revengeful nature.

The latter, security from revenge attacks is the main reason why Ruweng Dinka folks want their own independent administrative area.

As a fragile State, fractured by layers of so many ethnic conflicts, South Sudan can go back to war any time.

The former (royalties from the oil companies) cannot be the reason why the Ruweng Dinka need an independent administrative area because after all, those royalties have hardly ever come through to the local people who deserve them the most.

Dr. Riek Machar’s Statement on the Formation of RAA:
In reaction to the compromised position of the government of South Sudan, made public by the Presidency, to revert the country back to 10 States plus 3 independent Administrative areas on the 14 of February, 2020, Dr. Riek Machar made the following observations about RAA in particular: “Ruweng Administrative Area is part of Unity State.”

Dr. Riek continued to claim that, Ruweng Administrative Area, as per the 32 States, has serious boundary issues with the neighboring communities of Leek Nuer, Bul Nuer, and Jikany Nuer. Dr. Riek’s final statement is serious and must be seen with a keener eye because it is tribal and blatantly partial - “It
(Ruweng Administrative Area) has annexed northern areas of Bul, Leek, and Jikany,” (Machar, 2020).

First of all, Dr. Riek Machar himself does not come from Jikany, Leek, or Bul. Who has given him the right to fight for a tribal land? He comes from Dok Nuer (Leer) and should not be involved in petty fights of the neighboring villages.

This statement seriously compromises Dr. Riek Machar’s position as an impartial national leader everyone should look up to for impartial judgements. This statement is supposed to simply come from a lightweight Nuer villager called Riek Machar Teny-Dhorgun from Bentiu. It shouldn’t come from our national First Vice President designate. Statements like these increase fears of the people of Ruweng that Dr. Riek Machar’s leadership has been tribal in character and content all along.

In conclusion, curving out the Ruweng Dinka territory as an independent administrative area should not be such a stumbling block capable of preventing the formation of South Sudan’s Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGONU).

As Dr. Luka Biong Deng advised Dr. Riek Machar (the opposition leader), “unlike other minority ethnic groups in other states, the people of Ruweng were exceptionally affected by incidents in 2013 and that created great mistrust (Biong, 2020).”

Dr. Biong made a great point here in that having their own administration, the Ruweng people will administer themselves while gradually building trust with their neighbors.

As the national first Vice President, Dr. Riek should focus on supporting the people of Ruweng and help them by rekindling strategies of reconciliation and trust building among all the people across ethnic divides of the former Greater Unity State.

The oil revenue from the area should be used to support projects of reconciliation, human development, and local economic reconstructions.

This decision from the Presidency which formed RAA was in line with the demand of the people of Ruweng. It should not be twisted as a partisan politically motivated decision. If the opposition’s claim to be fighting for democracy is genuine, its leaders, therefore, need to understand that meeting the demand of the Ruweng people fits the democratic standard they claim to be fighting for and in accordance with the best international practice.

Johnson D. (2012) BRIEFING: The Heglig oil dispute between Sudan and South Sudan
African Union (2012) Agreement between the Republic of the Sudan and the Republic of South
Sudan on the Demarcation of the Boundary.’’ Addis Ababa, March 13, 2012
Biong L. (2020) Advise to Dr. Riek Machar on the way forward.
Sudan Government Gazette. ‘‘Alteration of Boundaries between Kordofan and Upper Nile
Province,’’ 546. May 15, 1931. Sudan Archive Durham vol. 1931; The National Archives, Kew,
FO 867/43.
Machar R. T. (2020) Press Statement on President Salva Kiir’s Resolution on the Meeting of the
Presidency of ITGNU on the Number of States and their Boundaries.

Posted in: Home, Opinions
RSS comment feed
18/02/2020, 6:37 PM
 - Posted by Aru mayendit
I appreciated your article, very informative and concise.
Riek machar from day one is tribalist.
Add Comment

Name (required)

Email (required)


Enter the code shown above in the box below
Designed and built by Brand X