Maiwut County, Upper Nile

General information

2016 population projection: 109,252

Major population centers:

Major ethnic group: Nuer Jikany

Displacement risk:

Medium to unknown risk of displacement.  Throughout the conflict, displaced persons have traveled to Maiwut County for refuge or through it into Ethiopia.  OCHA consistently reported the presence of a number of IDP and refugee sites along the Maiwut and Ethiopian border.  As of April 2015, OCHA reports that more than 280,000 people fled to Ethiopia, many from Upper Nile State (April 2016).

*National Bureau of Statistics, Population projections for South Sudan by County

* about this map

Economy & livelihoods

Maiwut County is an agro pastoral area with the majority of households involved in farming (60%, according to FAO 2016), raising livestock, and fishing.  The main food groups grown include maize, sorghum, cowpeas, pumpkins and okra and the main livestock reared are cattle, goats, and chicken.  Agriculture is rain fed with harvests in March.   Trade is mainly oriented towards markets in Nasir, Malakal and Juba; however, the access to Ethiopia also traditionally provided a market for surplus maize and livestock in nearby Gambella.  Fishing in the River Sobat, its ponds and tributaries is largely seasonal. Maiwut County also traditionally sees seasonal migrations of pastoralists and cattle into the area, in search of water and pasture during the dry season.  Because of the diversified sources of livelihoods, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network Northeastern reported the area to have a low risk of food insecurity in 2013.  As in other areas of the country, major hazards to livelihoods include floods, drought, pest damage to crops, and intercommunal violence.

The violence that erupted in December 2013 disrupted the farming cycle and livelihoods of most people in the area.  National cattle movements have been significantly disrupted by the violence, with large scale and long distance displacement of livestock from the conflict affected states.  In 2015, FAO reported that abnormal movements continue, with herders traveling east from Nasir County into Maiwut and towards Ethiopia.

IPC projection for Jan-Mar 2016

The IPC projects “crisis” levels of food insecurity for Maiwut County for the period of January to March 2016. This is consistent with IPC projections for the county for most of the recent conflict, although the organization reported “emergency” levels of food insecurity from August to September 2015.

Historical context

Dominant Control during conflict: SPLA/M IO and the “white army” forces 

Part of the Upper Nile State’s largely Nuer south, Maiwut’s population aligned with the SPLA IO.  Fighting between the SPLA and SPLA IO throughout southern Upper Nile State was one of the principle theatres of violence in the country.  During the first four months of the civil war, neighboring Nasir County was the wellspring for SPLA IO recruitment of so called ‘white army’ forces, Nuer militias originally created to defend local communities.  By May 2014, however, the SPLA had seized control of Nasir town, and it has maintained (periodically contested) control ever since.  The army’s relationship with the surrounding population throughout southern Upper Nile State, however, is turbulent and often violent.  The SPLA largely sees itself (and is perceived by locals) as an occupying force in the area.  It responds to attacks from local armed Nuer groups aggressively, burning down settlements, and perpetuating violent altercations. 

In March 2015, the SPLA began a sustained attack on SPLA IO forces throughout the south.  It moved north and east from Nasir town towards Maiwut and Longochuk Counties, razing villages along the way. The SPLA IO did not have sufficient forces in southern Upper Nile to mount a significant military challenge to the SPLA during the dry season. However, given the local population’s hostility towards government forces, it proved extremely difficult for the SPLA to actually hold the southern counties, including Maiwut.

SPLA and SPLA IO positions in the southern Upper Nile have remained relatively stable since August 2015.  The SPLA IO largely controls the south (especially rural areas), but the SPLA is entrenched in Nasir town and several other towns in the region.  President Kiir’s October 28 states decree creates a new state, Latjor, out of the majority Nuer counties, including Maiwut, Nasir, Longochuk, and Ulang.  The demarcation follows a more general pattern wherein South Sudan’s Nuer communities are separated out from other groups and given their own mono ethnic states.  While the measure, on the one hand, accedes to demands for greater federalism, it notably also cuts off the Nuer community from any of the oil reserves in Upper Nile State.

In late April 2016, Maiwut County received several dozen refugees from Ethiopia.  Ethiopian authorities report that Murle gunmen from South Sudan attacked 13 villages in neighboring Gambella, killing 182 (or 200, reports vary) and abducting more than 100 children.  The victims belonged to the Nuer tribe.  New reports have described the raid alternatively as ethnic fighting, a cattle raid, or spillover of South Sudan’s crisis into Ethiopia.

About the map *

This map follows the administrative county boundaries 2005-2015. Our aim is to identify key geographic, demographic and historical features of the area, rather than political/administrative issues. In doing so, SSHP expresses no view on the development of the 28 state policy

Geography & logistics


Jekow, Jotoma, Kigila, Maiwut, Olang, Pagak

Geographical features

Maiwut County shares a long eastern and southern border with Ethiopia.  It also borders Longochuk and Nasir Counties.  The River Jokou follows along the international border and eventually feeds into the River Sobat.  Located in Upper Nile State, along the Nile’s eastern flood plain, the area is characterized by grasslands, forests and swamps.

Main roads

A major road connects Maiwut town southeast to Gambela in Ethiopia and northwest to Melut (through Mathiang and Gul Guk).  The logistic cluster reported that the Maiwut Gul Guk portion of the route was closed for all traffic from June 2014 through January and again from May 2015 through January 2016.  Additionally, the river flowing along Maiwut’s southern border serves as an important route for riverine traffic, eventually flowing into the Sobat River.

All season fixed-wing airstrips



Information last updated: 26/08/16

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