Renk County, Upper Nile

General information

2016 population projection: 190,525

Major population centers: Renk town, temporarily the capital of Upper Nile State after Malakal fell to anti government forces.

Major ethnic group: Padang Dinka. Just across the White Nile, Manyo County to is majority Shilluk. Prior to the 2013 conflict, there were also members of Shilluk, Nuer and other ethnic groups living in Renk County. It is not clear how many remain after the recent sustained violence and displacement.

Displacement risk:

High risk of conflict related displacement. OCHA and UNHCR consistently reported significant displacement in Renk County since the national conflict started in 2013.  By January 2014, OCHA estimated 20,000 people were displaced in the county.  From November 2015 through February 2016, OCHA reported the area around Renk town as a displacement “hotspot.”  Renk County is also on the receiving end of displacement from violence in the neighboring Blue Nile region in Sudan.  OCHA designated Renk’s border with this region a displacement “hotspot” as recently as March 2016.  As of April 2016, OCHA reports that nearly 240,000 South Sudanese have fled north to Sudan and more than 280,000 to Ethiopia, many from Upper Nile State.

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

* about this map

Economy & livelihoods

Renk county’s primary economic activities include fishing, agriculture, charcoal making, gum Arabic production, and raising livestock.  The county is home to a number of rain fed, mechanized cereal (or, sorghum) production farms that make it one of South Sudan’s most productive food producing counties.  In 2016, the FAO estimated that 38 percent of Renk County’s households were farmers.  Farming and trade patterns have historically been closely linked to Sudan, with an estimated 50 percent of sorghum production destined for northern markets.  Following conflict with Sudan in the border areas of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, however, there has been a reorientation towards Juba and southern markets (with some loss of productivity after the departure of most of the Sudanese workforce).   Since the beginning of conflict in the Greater Upper Nile in 2013, agriculture production, trade, and livelihoods have severely deteriorated.

Renk County is also an important transportation hub, lying along the eastern banks of the While Nile River and the international border with Sudan. Additionally, the oil pipeline from Paloich, the country’s only remaining active oil field, runs through Renk County.  As such, retaining control of the county and Renk town in particular has been a priority for the SPLA.

Finally, Renk County has also experienced the effects of disruptions in traditional cattle migratory routes, a dynamic that has exacerbated local tensions and imperiled livelihoods across the country.  These disruptions occur on two levels.  First, there has been large scale and long distance displacement of livestock from the conflict affected states into agricultural zones outside their traditional pastoral domains, including from southern Upper Nile State into Renk County.  Second, the areas where these herds have re located have witnessed intensive and continuous movements of livestock concentrated in small areas.  This was also evident in reports of abnormal livestock movements in Renk County (FAO 2015).  The arrival of large numbers of livestock into nontraditional areas has taxed natural resources and altered disease patterns.  In Upper Nile State, pastoralist groups report significant decreases in the overall livestock populations.

IPC projection for Jan-Mar 2016

IPC project food security in Renk County to be “stressed” for the period of January through March 2016. This is up from the original projection that the county would experience only “minimal” food insecurity during these months. The IPC projected that all other counties in Upper Nile State, including neighboring Monyo County would experience “crisis” food insecurity.

Historical context

Dominant Control during conflict:  SPLA/M, working with Padang Dinka militias in the area.  Johannes Okiech’s Tiger Faction New Forces (TFNF) are based just across the White Nile in Manyo County.

Since February, 2016, Renk County (and the east bank of the West Nile generally) has been firmly under the control of the SPLA and its associated militia forces.  Neighboring Manyo County, on the west bank of the river, remains largely under the control of Johannes Okiech’s Shilluk TFNF.  Renk town experienced significant violence between November 2015 and February 2016 as TFNF forces in Wadokona and government forces in Renk shelled and attacked each other from their respective bases.   

The SPLA’s 1st Division, widely regarded as the country’s best fighting force, is stationed in Renk.  Renk town became the temporary state capital after Malakal fell to rebels in 2015.  Holding Renk is a priority for the SPLA partially because the oil pipeline from Paloich runs through the county. 

Upper Nile State has seen some of the most intense fighting during the current civil war but the alliances between groups are dynamic and shifting.  From December 2013 through March 2015, Shilluk forces worked with the SPLA (and its recruited Padang Dinka militias) to drive the mostly Nuer SPLA IO out of south and north Upper Nile State.  In other words, local aims temporarily aligned with SPLA priorities.  In May 2015, however, Olony’s Agwelek forces in southern Upper Nile State defected after a series of antagonistic alterations with Padang Dinka militias and perceived bad faith mediation by the government.  They took control of Malakal and campaigned north, before being stopped by the SPLA 1st Division coming down from Renk.  Only a few months later, Okiech and the TFNF defected from the SPLA in Manyo County.  

Okiech was previously one of the leading Shilluk SPLA commanders in Upper Nile.  He defected in October 2015, in reaction to President Salva Kiir’s decree to divide South Sudan’s ten states into 28.  Okiech renounced the decision as supporting Dinka land grabbing of Shilluk territory in Upper Nile State and declared the TRFNF would fight the government until it is revoked.  The TFNF has not formally joined the SPLA IO, but the group has worked in concert with Johnson Olonyi’s Agwelek forces.

Kiir’s tripartite division of Upper Nile State comes after — and is consistent with — a decade of administrative and political attempts to consolidate power along the White Nile.  Since 2005, Dinka and Shilluk communities have contested areas throughout the state, frequently with reference to distant historical claims.  Okiech’s TFNF is not strong enough to take Renk town, but unified Shilluk support for Okiech and Olonyi’s rebels and deep seated discontent with Kiir’s decree, suggests that the Nile banks are likely to remain an active combat theater for the foreseeable future.

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


Chemmedi, Geger, Jalhak, North Renk, South Renk

Geographical features

Renk County is the northernmost county in South Sudan.  It borders Sudan to the north, the Blue Nile region to east, Melut and Maban Counties to the south, and Manyo County to the west.  Renk and Manyo Counties are separated by the White Nile River.  The county also includes several other rivers, lakes and marshlands in the east and south. 

Main roads

Renk town lies along the White Nile, a major source of riverine transport from Malakal to Sudan.  A major road also runs along the eastern bank of the river, connecting Renk to Paloich, Melut, and Malakal, before continuing on to Bor and Juba.  Secondary roads travel west across the county, connecting Renk town and El Galhak to Sudan.  The logistics cluster has not noted any physical warnings for movement along the river or road since the outbreak of conflict in 2013; however, the cluster explicitly does not account for political or security risks.   The UN and other actors have complained that armed actors have frequently blocked both routes.

All season fixed-wing airstrips

Renk town


Information last updated: 26/08/16

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