Yambio County, Western Equatoria

General information

2016 population projection: 192,219

Major population centers: Yambio town is the capital of Western Equatoria state.

Major ethnic group: The vast majority of the population in Yambio is Zande/Azande. Some Boguru is also spoken in Bagasu payam.

Displacement risk:

High risk of conflict related displacement.  Initially, Western Equatoria State saw comparatively little displacement after the civil war began in Juba in December 2013.  Beginning in May 2015, however, tensions escalated between local populations, new Dinka cattle keepers, armed groups, and the SPLA, especially in neighboring Maridi and Mundri counties.  By July, Yambio County had received more that 7,000 IDPs and, by August, more than 93,000 were displaced statewide as conflict escalated throughout the Western Equatoria (OCHA).  In September 2015, Arrow Boys attacked Yambio town, displacing thousands.  Arrow Boys are loosely coordinated groups of primarily young men that are periodically organized throughout the Equatorias to protect their communities.  OCHA designated neighboring counties to the east (Tambura, Ezo and Nzara) as displacement “hot spots” throughout late 2015 and early 2016.  The most recent clashes between government forces and South Sudan National Liberation Movement (SSNLM) n Yambio on 21 January 2016 left 15 people dead and displaced more than 4,000 people. 

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

* about this map

Economy & livelihoods

The majority of households (75 percent) in Yambio County are farmers (FAO 2016) and the main crops grown are maize, groundnuts, sweet potatoes and cassava.  Yambio town is the state capital and a major trade center.  However, the heavy fighting that flared up in May 2015 in Maridi County and then spread to other counties of the State have disrupted trade flows from Juba to Yambio and reduced the functioning of Yambio market.  Grain prices, already on the rise since February 2015, doubled between April and June 2015.  Price shocks in the area transmit to other parts of the country.  The Greater Bahr El Ghazal Region, for example, saw 40 and 50 percent increases in grain prices in Aweil and Wau in 2015.

In addition, the livestock market was especially volatile in 2015.  Selling livestock is an important source of income for pastoralists, largely determining their capacity to purchase food items.  Prices generally follow seasonal patterns; however, since early 2015, Western Equatorian markets generally experienced increasing price volatility due to national inflation and market disruptions due to insecurity.  Variations in prices in Yambio were more than three times higher than in 2014.

IPC projection for Jan-Mar 2016

The IPC projected “minimal” insecurity for Yambio County for January through March 2016. The only period during which IPC’s designation of food insecurity for Yambio County increased to “stressed” was from August to September 2015. Nearby counties (including Ezo, Nagero, Tombura and Wulu) have at times been designated as one classification of greater food insecurity higher than Yambio county.

Historical context

Dominant Control during conflict: SPLA/M originally.  Control (and security) deteriorated as local militias and community defense forces challenged SPLA/M, including “Arrow Boys” and the South Sudan National Liberation Movement (SSNLM).

Conflict in the Equatorias has followed a trajectory distinct from that in the Greater Upper Nile region.  When civil war broke out in Juba in 2013, Equatorian governors actively recruited for the SPLA and advocated for national conflict resolution through federalism.   The Equatorian States saw comparatively little fighting and only limited displacement from other conflict-ridden States.  By early 2015, however, an unusually large influx of Dinka cattle herders from conflict-ridden states exacerbated preexisting tensions between local farmers and migrating pastoralists in nearby Maridi and Mundi counties.  As inter-communal fighting escalated, perceptions that the SPLA favored the Dinka cattle herders only increased and spread the conflict.   It further buildt upon more general dissatisfaction with the August 2015 peace deal, which many felt insufficiently addressed the grievances of smaller ethnic groups, and perceptions that the government is “Dinka dominated.”    

In September 2015, a local self-defense group called the Arrow Boys (not then SPLA-IO members) attacked Yambio town.  The attack was the first assault on a major Equatorian city since the initial conflict moved out of Juba in early 2014.  Tensions had been high in Yambio County after the removal of the popular state governor Joseph Bakosoro in mid-August and following sporadic clashes involving government forces, the national police, Arrow Boys, and other local young people throughout the month.  More shootings were reported in October with rumors of the recruitment of hundreds of young people to armed groups.  The SPLA responded aggressively, suppressing rebellions in Yambio town, as well as Wonduruba, Mundri, Ri-Ringu and Gangura, and attacking the Zande Arrow Boys.

Arrow Boys are loosely coordinated groups throughout the Equatorias of primarily young men organized to protect their communities.  The moniker references a popular local civil defense force that previously played a pivotal role in containing the Lord’s Resistance Army.  At the height of fighting in Zandeland (Yambio, Ibbo, Ezo, Nzara and Tombura counties) in late 2015, the Zande “Arrow Boys” were loosely divided into two large groups, one led by Alfred Futiyo, the other by Victor Wanga. 

Futiyo’s group is the largest, in both membership and operational areas, with two brigades active throughout the central and western parts of Western Equatoria.  It formally joined the SPLM/A-IO in December 2015.  Wanga’s group, the SSNLM/A, was most active around Yambio throughout 2015.  While formerly in the SPLA, in defecting Wanga refused to ally with the SPLM/A-IO.  He believed Machar brought the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to Western Equatoria, a common view in the area.  In late 2014, the SSNLM/A entered into negotiations with the government, signed a preliminary agreement, and assembled in Gangura for unification into the SPLA.  However, final terms could not be agreed and, in late January 2016, the SPLA twice attacked the SSNLM/A’s assembly area, killing Wanga and displacing thousands in Yambio.  Thereafter, some SSNLM fighters joined SPLA-IO affiliated Arrow Boys around Ezo; a smaller group remains independent; and a third group signed an April peace agreement with the government.  The exact relationship between local armed groups and the SPLA-IO, generally, is shifting and opaque even though affiliations have important implications on groups’ eligibility to join the cantonment process under the national Peace Agreement.

UNMISS also has a base in Yambio town.  Equatorian frustrations with the mission have increased, however, as the peacekeepers there repeatedly refused to open the gates to civilians seeking protection on its base.  This is contrary to other mission bases throughout the country, which now serve as “PoC camps.”  The failure to offer a more consistent protection policy has led to perceptions that UNMISS only cares about the Dinka-Nuer conflict and the Upper Nile region.

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


Bangasu, Gangura, Ri_Rangu, Nadiangere, Yambio Town

Geographical features

Ibba County borders DRC to the south, Lakes States to the north, Ibba County to the east and Nzara County to the west.  Two rivers cross the state:  River Tonj in the north and River Sue in the south.

Main roads

Yambio town is connected by main roads to Wau (through Tambura) in the north and Juba (through Maridi, Mundi or Yei) to the east.  The logistics cluster issued a consistent warning for the Yambio-Wau road from May 2015 to February 2016.  The route was designated as “passable with difficulties” and with “many critical spots” in late 2015.  Another warning was issued for the northern portion of this route, Tambura-Wau, in late April and May the road was designated as “passable with warning.  The Yambio-Juba road was similarly stated to be “passable with difficulties” and with several “critical spots” along the way from November 2015 to February 2016.  A secondary road also runs north from Yambio towards Rumbek. 

All season fixed-wing airstrips

None.  The only fixed wing airstrip is in Western Equatoria is in Nzara.


Information last updated: 26/08/16

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