Rubkona County, Unity
2016 population projection: 143,513
Major population centers: Bentiu
Major ethnic group: Nuer (Nuer Lek); some Dinka (Dinka Ruweng)
There has been significant internal displacement in Rubkona due to conflict, with heavy fighting between Government and Opposition forces around Bentiu a key driver for displacement. Thousands of IDPs sought refuge at the UNMISS base in Bentiu beginning in January 2014, with more arriving as the conflict dragged on. By April 2016, there were an estimated 116,000 IDPs in Bentiu.
Economy & livelihoods
Residents traditionally practice agro pastoralism and also supplement their diets through fishing and foraging. However, this mix of livelihoods varies according to the payam. For example, Nhialdiu payam residents are fully dependent on livestock rearing and fishing for their livelihoods. Overall, 42 percent of residents rely on farming, 42 percent livestock, and 15 percent fishing for their livelihoods, according to a 2013 IOM survey. The main crop cultivated is maize, with more limited quantities of groundnut also being planted. There is also some sorghum, sesame and vegetable production, but at a very limited scale.
A September 2015 IPC report found residents from Abiemnhom, Mayom, Pariang, Panyijiar and Rubkona counties relying on the following sources of income: sale of firewood, charcoal or grass (35.7 percent); sale of livestock and livestock products (14.5 percent); sale of alcoholic beverages (12.7 percent); sale of fish (9.2 percent), agriculture (9.2 percent); casual labor (6.7 percent; gifts, borrowing, begging or sale of food aid (3.6 percent).
Bentiu, the state capital, is located in Rubkona and is a hub for trade and commerce. Prior to the national conflict which erupted in December 2013, its market was the largest in Unity State, with around 10,000 traders. Like other northern trade hubs, Bentiu imported most of its goods from Sudan (southern towns tended to import more from Uganda). There were at least 1,000 Sudanese traders in the city during the outbreak of conflict who subsequently lost their stock. The county is also strategically important as it contains the Unity oil fields, which by 2013 was estimated to be producing 30 percent of the country’s crude.
IPC projection for Jan-Mar 2016
The County is classified as “Emergency” for this time period. According to the Annual Needs and Livelihood Analysis 2014 2015** report, the County had a deficit of 19,150 tons of cereal in 2015. Major fighting around Bentiu and elsewhere in the county led to mass displacement and disruption to people’s livelihoods. The majority of residents did not cultivate any crops at all in 2015 due to insecurity.
**A collaborative effort by the Republic of South Sudan, UN agencies and development partners
Dominant Control during conflict: SPLA
Home to the state capital, Rubkona County has been a major theatre of contention between Government and Opposition forces since the outbreak of conflict in December 2013. However, the Government has been the predominant force within the county.
Shortly after fighting erupted in Juba, the SPLA 4th Division based in Bentiu splintered into factions. Fighting erupted in Bentiu town on December 20, 2013. The 4th division commander defected the following day and appointed an interim administration with himself as governor. However, the SPLA managed to recover Bentiu on January 10, 2014, driving the SPLA IO from the city. Heavy fighting ensued around Bentiu in the early months of the year, with the state capital changing hands several times. Fighting continued in areas surrounding Bentiu throughout the conflict, however clashes took the form of intermittent skirmishes, rather than pitched battles. From May 2014 onwards the SPLA largely maintained control of Bentiu, though it was never able to completely dislodge the Opposition from their positions just south of the capital, from which they continued to shell and attack Bentiu well into 2015. The two sides also battled for control of the Unity oil field in the county’s north. Intermittent clashes were reported 2014 March 2016, with the government reportedly retaining control over the field.
Bentiu received and hosted tens of thousands of IDPs when Unity State became engulfed in conflict. Displaced people began arriving in Bentiu in early January 2014 and by March, the UNMISS base at Bentiu was hosting 43,000 IDPs (out of a total of approximately 100,000 seeking shelter at UNMISS bases across the country at that time). While some IDPs reportedly chose to leave voluntarily, as the conflict continued even more arrived at the Bentiu protection of civilians (PoC) site so that the number of IDPs at the camp steadily increased in 2014. The SPLA’s southern offensive which began in April 2015 led to a further 50,000 displaced people arriving in Bentiu by August 2015bringing the total number of people in Bentiu alone to 121,194. By April 2016, there were still approximately 116,000 IDPs in Bentiu.
Bentiu also saw a massive influx of livestock during the conflict. By July 2015, the town reportedly had no civilians apart from those sheltering at the UNMISS base but was hosting approximately 70,000 100,000 animals. It is believed these herds were the SPLA’s spoils of war from their southern campaign that year, as well as cows belonging to government loyalists (the government previously announced that all citizens loyal to Juba should bring their livestock to Bentiu for protection).
Both main parties have been accused of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in their operations during the conflict, including in Rubkona. For example, UNMISS said the SPLA IO’s attempt to re take Bentiu on April 15, 2014 resulted in “horrific massacres of civilians”. The PoC site was also not shielded from conflict, as Opposition forces attempted to re take the capital and the two sides clashed near the site’s perimeter. In one incident in March 2015, for example, a rocket propelled grenade exploded inside the protection site and injured nine IDPs.
Geography & logistics
Bentiu Town, Budaang, Dhorbor, Kaljak, Ngop, Nhialdiu, Panhiany, Rubkotne, Wathjaak
The eastern half belongs to the Nile Sobat Rivers livelihood zone and the western half falls under the Western Flood Plains zone. The County has flat plains with a mix of savannah grassland, bushes and forest. The eastern areas of the County have permanent swamps and grasslands which flood in the rainy season, though flooding is also common in the Western Flood Plains zone. The soil in the County’s western areas is black clay and the soil in the eastern areas is black cotton soil. Both types of soil are suitable for cultivating a variety of crops but flooding often becomes an impediment to agricultural activities. The River Bahr el Ghazal runs through Bentiu and across Rubkona County.
Bentiu connects to Mayom, Pariang and Leer towns by primary roads, which also eventually lead to Northern Bahr el Ghazal State at its west, Upper Nile State at its east, and Lakes State to its south. The roads to Mayom and Pariang are passable for all vehicles, but only in the dry season. The road to Leer (passing through Koch County) is also open to all vehicles year round, until just south of Wathiech port, Koch County, when the remaining segment becomes a dry season track only. A primary road also runs north out of Bentiu and into Sudan, eventually connecting to Heglig (Panthou) town. It is passable year round for all vehicles.
All season fixed-wing airstrips
Information last updated: 26/08/16
For more information, please contact us