Nzara County, Western Equatoria

General information

2016 population projection: 82,826

Major population centers: Nzara town lies at the intersection of several roads. A main road connects Wau and Tambura to Yambia and Juba, through Nzara town. A secondary road runs from Lakes State to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) through Nzara. Nzara is also the only town in Western Equatoria with a fixed wing airstrip (UNHAS 2015).

Major ethnic group: The predominant ethnic group in the county is Azande.

Displacement risk:

High risk of conflict and food insecurity related displacement.  In August 2015, OCHA reported dramatic increases in displacement in Western Equatoria, with numbers exceeding 92,000 statewide.  This included both displacement within and from Nzara, as well as the arrival of refugees from neighboring countries.  Since October 2015, more than 11,000 South Sudanese refugees have arrived in DRC, mostly from Nzara and Ezo Counties.  Some 5,000 of the IDPs live in spontaneous camps in Doruma. From December 2015 through February 2016, the county was designated as a displacement “hotspot.”  The displacement is a result of both conflict and increasing food insecurity.

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

* about this map

Economy & livelihoods

As a part of the country’s “Green Belt,” the vast majority of households in Nzara (90 percent) are farmers (FAO 2016).  The main crops grown include maize, sorghum, groundnuts and cassava (FAO 2016).  The county borders Yambio County and the State capital, Yambio town.  Traditionally Yambio town is an important market center; however, heavy fighting throughout the state in 2015 has disrupted trade flows, increased grain and livestock prices, and imperiled livelihoods.

IPC projection for Jan-Mar 2016

The IPC projected “minimal” food insecurity for Nzara County for January through March 2016. The county was recently designated as “stressed” from August to September 2015.

Historical context

Dominant Control during conflict:  SPLA/M originally.  Control (and security) deteriorated as local militias and community defense forces, or “Arrow Boys,” challenged the SPLA/M.  Some subsequently aligned with the SPLA IO.

Conflict in the Equatorias has followed a trajectory distinct from that in the Greater Upper Nile region.

Large scale violence first reached Western Equatoria in May 2015, when tensions escalated between ethnic Dinka cattle herders and non Dinka farming communities.  Initial flare ups around Mundri town moved west across the State in late 2015.  Heavy handed responses by the SPLA only reinforced perceptions that the government favored the Dinka cattle herders. 

In December 2015, persons fleeing rising violence in Nzara and Ezo Counties began arriving in large numbers to the DRC.  In early January 2016, the South Sudanese government began a military operation called “Opening the Road” that targeted armed groups in the western part of Western Equatoria.  In additions to Ezo County sites, the SPLA attacked locations near Yambio, Saura, Li Rangu, Tambura, and Source Yubo.  Human Rights Watch reports that SPLA fighters have carried out numerous killings, enforced disappearances, rapes, and other abuses in the Western Equatoria region during the expanded fighting.  Local armed groups there have also reportedly committed serious abuses. 

The violence spurred (re)mobilization of community defense forces, called “Arrow Boys,” throughout the Equatorias. Arrow Boys were originally set up in the 2000s to fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).  While some Arrow Boys have publicly aligned with the SPLA IO, giving them a role in the broader conflict, others have remained unaffiliated, and at least one group has sought a separate peace deal with the state government.

Ugandan armed forces (UDPF) are also active in the area.  Nzara served as the operational headquarters and logistics hub for the Ugandan contingent, in its capacity as part of the Regional Task Force (RTF) authorized by the AU to fight the LRA in 2012.  Though the Peace Agreement called for the withdrawal of Ugandan forces from South Sudan (which was completed in October 2015), it made an exception for UPDF serving with the RTF.

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


Basukangbi, Nzara Centre, Ringasi, Sakure, Sangua

Geographical features

Nzara borders DRC to the South, Lakes State to the north, and, Ezo and Yambio Counties to the west and east, respectively.  Three rivers cross the county including the River Sue, which partially flows along the county’s border with Ezo County. 

Main roads

A main road runs from Wau to Yambio and Juba through Nzara town.  The logistic cluster issued a consistent warning for the Yambio Wau route from May 2015 to February 2016.  The route was designated as “passable with difficulties” and “many critical spots” in late 2015.  A secondary road crosses Nzara as it runs from Lakes State to DR Congo. 

All season fixed-wing airstrips

The only fixed wing airstrip is in Western Equatoria is in Nzara.


Information last updated: 26/08/16

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