Panyikang County, Upper Nile

General information

2016 population projection: 33,271

Major population centers: Panyikang town

Major ethnic group: The vast majority of the population in Panyikang is Shilluk, with some Abiliang Dinka communities in the east. It is unclear how the recent conflict has affected these demographics.

Displacement risk:

Medium risk of conflict related displacement.  OCHA reported significant displacement in the County throughout the conflict, especially in areas in Panyikang’s northwestern region and in areas close to Malakal town.  In early 2014, Toga, Owachi and Lelo towns in Panyikang were all reported to be displacement “hotspots” (OCHA).  Among the thousands of IDPs still living on the protection site in nearby Malakal, several are from Panyikang County.  As of March 2016, more than 300,000 persons are displaced in Upper Nile State as a whole.

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

* about this map

Economy & livelihoods

The Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) classified Panyikang County as part of the  “Nile Sobat Rivers” Livelihood Zone (Sept 2013).  The primary livelihood in the area is rain fed agriculture, supplemented by rearing livestock, fishing, and foraging.  The main crops are sorghum and maize, as well as pumpkin, cowpeas, sesame, and garden vegetables.  Better off households keep cattle, goats and sheep.  Fishing from the many rivers in the County is seasonal, taking place primarily in the swamps towards the end of the rainy season and into the dry season.  The main local market is in Panyikang town, and other nearby markets include Malakal, Akoka and Ulang towns.

In 2013, FEWS NET reported low food insecurity in the region given the diversified sources of livelihood.  Prior to the renewed conflict, the principle livelihood hazards were crop pests, livestock disease and flooding. However, the violence in the region since December 2013 has induced large scale displacement, disrupted normal farming cycles, and severely imperiled livelihoods. In 2015, IRNA reported that systematic looting of animals by fighters in the areas has left the Panyikang population with few livestock.  Fishing and farming has become the main source of livelihood, though the effects of the conflict have reduced the yields for both as well.  Additionally, the FAO reported abnormal cattle migrations across the county, as pastoralists traveled west across Panyikang towards Sudan.

IPC projection for Jan-Mar 2016

The IPC projected “crisis” levels of food insecurity for Nasir County for the period January through March 2016.  This is down from the “emergency” levels initially projected for the county for this period.  Throughout the conflict, the IPC reports of food insecurity in the county alternated between “crisis” and “emergency levels.”  It reported “emergency” levels for May through August 2014 and August through September 2015.

Historical context

Dominant Control during conflict:  Currently, Panyikang County is largely under Agwelek control; however, the SPLA controls nearby Malakal town and the opposite banks of the Sobat and White Nile Rivers.  The county was a site of contested control between SPLA and SPLA IO forces during the first years of the conflict. 

Panyikang County and much of the west bank of the White Nile has been under the control of Shilluk forces since February 2016.  Johnson Olonyi’s Agwelek forces are in Panyikang and Fashoda Counties and Johannes Okiech’s Tiger Faction New Forces (TFNF) in Manyo County.   The east bank of the river is firmly under the control of the SPLA and its associated (Dinka) militia forces.  Better armed, the SPLA has forced Olonyi’s Agweleks to withdraw from the immediate riverbank – which deprives Shilluk civilians of sorely needed access to a river – and has also used its air power to attack military (and civilian) positions on the west bank, including Owachi in Panyikang county.

In the first year and a half of the recent civil war, Panyikang County was a site of contested control between SPLA and SPLA IO forces.  During this time, the local aims of Olonyi—to secure the Shilluk kingdom—and the national aims of the army—to defeat the SPLA–IO— temporarily aligned.  Olonyi was an SPLA commander, recently re integrated from a prior rebellion.   Initially, he and other Shilluk leaders fought in support of the government and helped to drive the SPLA IO into Sudan.  Following the (local) defeat of the SPLA IO, however, underlying tensions between the Upper Nile State’s Shilluk and Padang Dinka communities reemerged.  After a series of antagonistic alterations with SPLA supported Padang Dinka militias and perceived bad faith mediation by the government, Olonyi defected from the SPLA, formed the Agweleks, and attacked Malakal on 15 May 2016.  Agweleks forces took (temporary) control of Malakal and campaigned north, before being stopped by the SPLA 1st Division.  Okiech defected in October 2015 following President Kiir’s 28 states decree and formed the Tiger Faction New Forces (TFNF). Conflict between the Shilluk forces and the SPLA has continued since.

Under President Kiir’s 28 states decree, Panyikang County is a non contiguous southern part of a new Western Nile State.  Panyikang is separated from the new state’s northern portion – composed of Fashoda and Manyo Counties – by Malakal County, which is instead allotted to the new Eastern Nile State.  Kiir’s proposal would weaken Western Nile’s State ability to govern itself and leave its Shilluk population reliant on Eastern Nile for safe passage between its two halves.   More generally, the Shilluk community views the plan as only the most recent iteration of a long history of government supported Dinka land grabbing of Shilluk territory in Upper Nile State.

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


Anakdiar, Dhetiem, Pakang, Panyidwoi, Panyikang, Tonga

Geographical features

Panyikang County stretches along the western half of Upper Nile State’s border with Unity and Jonglei States.  It also borders Sudan and Malakal and Baliet Counties.  The White Nile divides the county east and west before continuing onto Malakal town.  The Rivers Sobat and Fulus flow along the county’s eastern borders before flowing into the White Nile.

Main roads

Several roads intersect in Panyikang County before continuing on to Malakal town, Upper Nile State’s capital.  These include the Malakal Bor Juba, Malakal Waat Pibor, Malakal Nasir, and Malakal Bentiu.  The logistics cluster issued cautions for the southern routes through Jonglei State for much of the recent conflict.  The routes were alternately “closed for all traffic” or “passable with difficulties.” 

All season fixed-wing airstrips

Closest air strip is outside Malakal town (Malakal County)


Information last updated: 26/08/16

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