The circumstances that lead to the occupation of Akobo by the Lou Nuer

By J. Ojoch

March 04/2006

Do the Lou Nuer have legitimate claims of Akobo land and citizenship? What events and circumstances lead to the displacement of the Anyuak from Akobo County?

These are very important questions that come to the minds of the strangers when Anyuaks talk of losing land to their wild neighbors. The answers are easily apparent by going a short distance into the past.

There is no evidence to suggest that the Nuer took Akobo by their own power. If so the Nuer had no reason to stop at Ciro only. The Nuer just is to take the whole Anyuak country. To this day they continue to plan to march forward in spite of peace in the Sudan. Most of them do not recognize the GoSS because they take it as a Dinka government that marginalizes the Nuer. Much more they hate the name ‘SPLA’. It smells Dinka to them. The Nuer attitude is for war with the GoSS and the small tribes around them.

The Anyuak have historical records about their land which are neither written by the Nuer or the Anyuak. All foreign scholars agree that the Anyuak have a specific habitat in the Sudan and Ethiopia. Over the years conflicts, including the two Sudan Civil war periods, almost destroyed the Anyuak social and political fabric. The Nuer, the Anyuak traditional rival, took advantage of the Anyuak vulnerability. Even then Akobo remained intact except during the civil wars. The land of the Anyuak, and all the attempts by the Nuer to completely take it, is described by Roberts O. Collins, 1971:

“The plains of the Sobat tributaries—the Pibor, the Akobo and the Baro—were the homeland of the Anuak from which they raided the Nuer tribes to the north and west. This was a long and bloody struggle which the Sudan government had failed to resolve by punitive patrols and only settled in the 1920s by establishing a watchful administration over the Anyuak.”

 The British watchful administration over the Anyuak meant that the Nuer were on the run and needed protection. However, in 1860-1900, the Nuer had their day against the Anyuak. The attacks and counterattacks were intense during that period. The Anyuak suffered as the Lou and the Jikany combined raided them intensively. The Nuer deeper and final thrust into the Anyuakland was completed within that period. Collins [also see Kelly] wrote:

“East of the Lau country stretched swampy plains intersected by the rivers and streams which flow down the Ethiopian escarpment to form the Sobat tributaries. Here dwell the Anuak who during the last half of the nineteenth century had been raided with increasing frequency by the Lau and the Jikaing Nuer who themselves had been driven eastward from the Bahr az-Zaraf by yet another wave of migrating Nuer. During the Mohdiya these raids culminated in a Nuer invasion up the Akobo and the Oboth in which the Anuak villages were destroyed, including the populous village complex of Ukaadi. The Nuer appear to have driven all the way to Ubaa and the sacret rock of Abula in the southeast extremity of Anuakland, and probably would have settled had not their cattle suffered heavy losses from the tsetse fly along the shady streams. The Nuer consequently retired to the treeless plains, the Lau and the Jikaing to the north, but left the Anuak shattered…….. The Nuer never thrust so deeply into Anuak country again.”

The above shows the victory over the Anyuak in that particular period. But the Nuer did not settle. They lost their cattle and could not stay without milk in the face of frequent attacks even though the Anyuak were devastated. There was famine in the land but the Anyuak had grain hidden in underground silos. So the Nuer left the Anyuak country and went home forever.

The bloody story did not end there. Collins continues with the following at the beginning of 1900 when the Anyuak had their day also in the field of war.

“At the end of the century the Anuak appeared near extinction. They were saved by a technological revolution. Gradually, the Anuak acquired firearms from Ethiopia…….. As the Anuak became proficient in the use of the firearms, they were better armed than the Nuer who relied upon shield, spear and surprise. Moreover, this technological revolution was accompanied by political changes which contributed greatly to the military effectiveness of the Anuak…………”. By 1911: “In April, Akwei attacked the Lau Nuer leader Shen Bos, and in May and June other raids were carried out on Quick and Wang of the Jikaing Nuer to be followed by more violent assaults in July and August, culminating in an invasion in October of some four hundred Anuak under Akwei. They penetrated as far as Fas on the Bahr az-Zaraf. The raiders devastated the country and returned with several Lau women and children and thousands of cattle.”

This time the Nuer were defeated and were driven beyond Lou. The Anyuak made a base in Lou from which to continue attacking the scattered Lou people. They would have settled for a long time had the British not salvaged the situation. The Nuer were relieved. Collins had this to say:

“Having learned of the Anuak invasion, Capt. F. D. Dickson steamed up the Sobat and Akobo with 140 officers and men in two steamers, hoping to cut off Akwei’s raiders. Dickson was too late. By the time his flotilla had reached the Akobo-Pibor junction, Akwei had crossed the river to the south and reached his capital of Adonga. The patrol had to content itself by burning down Anuak villages along the Akobo and Pibor rivers before retiring empty-handed to Tawfiqiyah. The British authorities could hardly expect to intimidate the Anuak with a handful of burned villages, and a larger expedition was assembled to penetrate into the heart of Anuakland, destroy Akwei’s power, and end his raid on the Nuer”.

The Nuer had no chance to conquer the Anyuak at any one time in the past leave alone settling to become citizens anywhere in the Anyuak land in the Akobo region. The British had to do something to protect the Nuer. The British themselves were afraid as the administration was frustrated and could not govern from far. The Anyuak did not give the Nuer any rest in the presence of the British at Pibor post.

“The post at Pibor had been established to assure the Nuer, but it had failed to prevent Akwei from slaughtering them.”

The British led an expedition into Anyuak country in March, 1912 with the help of 400 Nuer carriers. The results were disappointing to the British. Other expeditions were planned but could not happen because the war in Europe changed the course of events. The British must yet do more to protect the Nuer if the administration had to collect taxes from them. The British adopted a wider plan of action over the entire region to include the Dinka.

“Here in the land beyond the rivers in these beginning decades the Sudan government in fact did not rule, and simply hoped to contain intertribal warfare. Peace and the status quo was what the British officials sought to achieve by two parallel chains of posts—one on the low ridge of land stretching from Bor on which were placed the posts of Kongor, Duk Faiwil, Duk Fadiat and Ayod--- designed to keep the Nuer and the Dinka apart; while a second line of stations was established to the east along the Sobat and its tributaries to Akobo and Pibor Posts with the intention of keeping the Anuak and the Nuer from one another. It was from these islands of authority that the Sudan government was later able to extend its control over the vast plains and swamps that stretched beyond the rivers.”

Obviously the Nuer present claims have no base. The Nuer never settled in Akobo [aka Ciro] before or even during the British rule. The language employed by the Nuer today is one often employed by warlords having the upper hand in the game of war. When you are strong and arrogant you can say: I shot you and missed you. Pay back my bullet. It is one of bullying to frustrate the Anyuak.

To answer the questions posed at the top of the pages the following exposes the time and methods employed to evict the Anyuak from Akobo to this day.

The posts of control between Nuer and Anyuak provided a gap of more than 50 miles to keep these tribes apart. Between Waat and Akobo the border was and is at Dwa-Achan; between Akobo and Nasir the border was and is at Wanga-Ading.

The Nuer close to those borders had no permanent source of water for them and the cattle. The leaders of Mor clan approached the British to make an arrangement for water. The Anyuak chiefs were consulted by the British to allow the Nuer to drink water in the dry season. At that time the British mediated local agreements for the Nuer to go to Akobo for water during the dry season and to return to Lou by the first drop of rain. The Anyuak agreed on humanitarian basis. This order continued well into early 1960s when law and order broke down in the Sudan. It was the active start of the South-North civil war.

 By 1962 the Anya-Nya I activity took root in the Anyuak country. The Anyuak were severely devastated by the Arab regime on suspicion of hiding the Anya-Nya I elements. More than 700 men were tethered and killed in one day. Ariini of Nyikwar village never recovered to this day. The Anyuak became vulnerable to the delight of the Nuer who were waiting for an opportunity. The Nuer went to the river without control. The Arabs did not care. After all the whole Anyuak tribe was seen as an outlaw. Nuer attacks became frequent. The Arab took advantage of the tribal feud to let the Nuer go against the Anyuak at will. This caused massive displacement of the Anyuak population around Akobo and the environs.

The Addis Ababa Agreement [1972] relieved the Anyuak and returned to Akobo region. The Nuer numbers were not yet overwhelming. Those attacks and counterattacks continued on and off. The Anyuak were not shaken.

In 1982/3 Addis Ababa agreement started to fail and with it came the lawlessness once again. The SPLA bases in the Anyuak country became a reason for the Arabs to intimidate the Anyuak once more, this time more devastatingly through the length of the entire 21 years of war. The Nuer presented complaints to Commissioner Thijin Banak that the Anyuak had harmed them. Thijin told the Nuer chiefs to go and deal with the Anyuak [David Mai Tang, 2005].  The chiefs disagreed but Thijin used the regular Nuer police to disarm and kill the Anyuak. Accordingly more than 250 civilians were massacred in the town of Akobo alone. Survivors of that killing are alive today and can testify in a court of law with the names of the prominent killers among the Lou elite.

Since then the Nuer-Arab militias hunted the Anyuak. The Nuer got the Arab gun on pretext to fight the SPLA. But they went to the Anyuak with those guns. The Arab would not care. It is no secret that the Nuer are in Akobo today. This is what they have longed for through the ages. But, historically, there is nothing to suggest that the Nuer were present in Akobo before the British at any time except during the civil wars. The Anyuak consider the 1956 borders legitimate. All the Nuer claims of land and citizenship are baseless. Their main argument is that “we took the Anyuak land by force”, therefore the “Anyuak must take it back by force”.  Talking about war means the Nuer are living in the past when there was no law and order. Generally, the Nuer do not accept the legitimacy and power of the GoSS to find a peaceful resolution. It is a matter of time, however. Akobo is a temporary camp for the Nuer and their cattle. It is time to go home to Lou.


Collins, Robert O.
1971. Land Beyond the Rivers: the Southern Sudan, 1898-1918. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Evans-Pritchard, E. E.
1940. The Political System of the Anuak of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan: London School of Economics Monographs on Social Anthropology. Volume 4.

Kelly, Raymond C.
1985. The Nuer Conquest: The Structure and Development of an Expansionist System. The University of Michigan Press.

Tang, David Mai
2005. Sharing Power and Working for Harmony the Nuer have Shown Dedication to Fairness and Equality. SPLM-Diaspora, posted 12/15/2005.

2000. LirLiir People-to-People Peace and Reconciliation Conference [Resolutions]. May 15,2000.

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