Wau, South Sudan

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Huts outside Wau,Sudan.jpg
Huts outside Wau, 2008
Arabic: واو نار English:(Wau Naar Wau Nuur Wau mayi Nom) Wau is Fire,wau is light,wau shall not sleep
South Sudan adm location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Location in South Sudan
Coordinates: 07°42′00″N28°00′00″E / 7.70000°N 28.00000°E / 7.70000; 28.00000 Coordinates: 07°42′00″N28°00′00″E / 7.70000°N 28.00000°E / 7.70000; 28.00000
Country South Sudan
Region Bahr el Ghazal
State Wau State
County Kwajieno County
433 m (1,420 ft)
 (2014 est.)
Time zone GMT+3

Wau (Arabic: واو Wāw; also known as Wow, Waw, or Wau Town) [1] is a city in northwestern South Sudan, on the western bank of the Jur River, that serves as capital for Wau State. [2] It lies approximately 650 kilometres (400 mi) northwest of the capital Juba. [3] A culturally, ethnically and linguistically diverse urban center and trading hub, Wau is also the former headquarters of Western Bahr el Ghazal.

South Sudan Country in Africa

South Sudan, officially known as the Republic of South Sudan, is a landlocked country in East-Central Africa. It gained independence from the Republic of the Sudan in 2011, making it the most recent sovereign state with widespread recognition. Its capital and largest city is Juba.

Jur River river in South Sudan

The Jur River is a river in western South Sudan, flowing through the Bahr el Ghazal and Equatoria regions. About 485 kilometres (301 mi) long, it flows north and northeast, joining the Bahr el Ghazal River on the western side of the Sudd wetlands. The Jur River is part of the Nile basin, as the Bahr al-Ghazal flows into the White Nile.

Wau State State in Wau, South Sudan

Wau State is one of the 28 states of South Sudan that formed on 2 October 2015. It is located in the Bahr el Ghazal region, and was part of the former state of Western Bahr el Ghazal. Wau State borders Aweil State, Gbudwe State, Gogrial State, Lol State, and Tonj State.



Wau was initially established as a zariba (fortified base) by slave-traders in the 19th century. During the time of condominium rule, the city became an administrative center.


A zariba is a fence which is made of thorns. Historically, it was used to defend settlements or property against perpetrators in Sudan and neighbouring places in Africa. An example would be as a pen to protect cattle and other livestock from predators such as lions, albeit often unsuccessfully.

Slavery in Sudan

Slavery in Sudan began in ancient times, and recently had a resurgence during the 1983 to 2005 Second Sudanese Civil War. During the Trans-Saharan slave trade, many Nilotic peoples from the lower Nile Valley were purchased as slaves and brought to work elsewhere in North Africa and the Orient by Nubians, Egyptians, Berbers and Arabs.

Anglo-Egyptian Sudan Joint British and Egyptian rule between 1899-1956

The Anglo-Egyptian Sudan was a condominium of the United Kingdom and Egypt in the eastern Sudan region of northern Africa between 1899 and 1956, but in practice the structure of the condominium ensured full British control over the Sudan with Egypt having local influence instead. It attained independence as the Republic of the Sudan, which since 2011 has been split into Sudan and South Sudan.

Burr and Collins in 1994 described Wau: [4] as follows:

No one has ever been "at home" in Wau. It is surrounded by a host of disorganized and diverse peoples . . . It was and remains a town belonging to no single ethnic group, deriving its importance only from its position as a commercial and administrative center . . . Located in the midst of the vast Nilotic plain hundreds of miles from nowhere, it was miserable under the best of circumstances . . .

During the Second Sudanese Civil War, it was a garrison town of the Khartoum-based Sudanese Armed Forces, and was the scene of extensive fighting in the spring of 1998. Battles erupted again in the town in the spring of 2007, killing several hundred people.

Second Sudanese Civil War civil war

The Second Sudanese Civil War was a conflict from 1983 to 2005 between the central Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army. It was largely a continuation of the First Sudanese Civil War of 1955 to 1972. Although it originated in southern Sudan, the civil war spread to the Nuba mountains and the Blue Nile. It lasted for 22 years and is one of the longest civil wars on record. The war resulted in the independence of South Sudan six years after the war ended.

Garrison military base; collective term for a body of troops stationed in a particular location

Garrison is the collective term for any body of troops stationed in a particular location, originally to guard it, but now often simply using it as a home base. The garrison is usually in a city, town, fort, castle, ship or similar. "Garrison town" is a common expression for any town that has a military base nearby.

Khartoum City in Sudan

Khartoum or Khartum is the capital and largest city of Sudan. The city is also the capital of the state of Khartoum. It is located at the confluence of the White Nile, flowing north from Lake Victoria, and the Blue Nile, flowing west from Ethiopia. The location where the two Niles meet is known as al-Mogran or al-Muqran. The main Nile continues to flow north towards Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea.

In 2010 the Ministry of Housing, Physical Planning and Environment (South Sudan) proposed to reshape the city as a giraffe. [5]

The Ministry of Housing, Physical Planning and Environment is a ministry of the Government of South Sudan. The incumbent minister is Jema Nunu Kumba, while Mary Nyawulang serves as deputy minister.

South Sudanese Civil War

The refugee camp at Wau town's Catholic cathedral, where around 8,500 IDPs had found shelter during the 2016-18 Wau clashes. Wau refugee camp 2.png
The refugee camp at Wau town's Catholic cathedral, where around 8,500 IDPs had found shelter during the 2016–18 Wau clashes.

Following the outbreak of the South Sudanese Civil War, the town has experienced numerous clashes, massacres, and much destruction at the hands of anti-government as well as government forces. In April 2014, Nuer soldiers belonging to the local SPLA garrison mutinied after hearing of a massacre at Mapel. They clashes with SPLA loyalists, and then fled into the Bush, joining a long march of other deserters to Sudan. [7] About 700 Nuer civilians subsequently sought protection at Wau's UNMISS base; most of them were family members of the deserted soldiers, while others were students. [8]

South Sudanese Civil War conflict in South Sudan between government and opposition forces; began on 14 December 2013

The South Sudanese Civil War is an ongoing conflict in South Sudan between forces of the government and opposition forces. In December 2013, President Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar and ten others of attempting a coup d'état. Machar denied trying to start a coup and fled to lead the SPLM – in opposition (SPLM-IO). Fighting broke out between the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and SPLM-IO, igniting the civil war. Ugandan troops were deployed to fight alongside the South Sudanese government. The United Nations has peacekeepers in the country as part of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). In January 2014 the first ceasefire agreement was reached. Fighting continued and would be followed by several more ceasefire agreements. Negotiations were mediated by "IGAD +". A peace agreement known as the "Compromise Peace Agreement" was signed in August 2015. Machar returned to Juba in 2016 and was appointed vice president. Following a second breakout of fighting within Juba, the SPLM-IO fled to the surrounding and previously peaceful Equatoria region. Kiir replaced Machar as First Vice President with Taban Deng Gai, splitting the opposition, and rebel in-fighting has become of major part of the conflict. Rivalry among Dinka factions led by the President and Paul Malong Awan have also led to fighting. In August 2018, another power sharing agreement came into effect.

The Nuer people are a Nilotic ethnic group primarily inhabiting the Nile Valley. They are concentrated in South Sudan, with some also found in southwestern Ethiopia. They speak the Nuer language, which belongs to the Nilo-Saharan family. As one of the largest ethnic groups in southern Sudan, the Nuer people are pastoralist who herd cattle for a living. The cattle of the Nuer people serve as companions and a lifestyle. However, they refer to themselves as "Nath".

Sudan Peoples Liberation Army

The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) is the army of the Republic of South Sudan. The SPLA was founded as a guerrilla movement against the government of Sudan in 1983 and was a key participant of the Second Sudanese Civil War. Throughout the war, it was led by John Garang.

In 2016, Wau experienced heavy clashes that displaced much of its Fertit population and led to widespread destruction. [9] In April 2017, Dinka soldiers of the SPLA and Mathiang Anyoor militiamen carried out a massacre of non-Dinka civilians in the town, killing up to 50 people, [10] [11] and displacing thousands. [12]


The population of Wau is ethnically diverse. Most of the inhabitants are Dinka and Fertit, as the town lies on the tribal boundary between these two peoples. [13] Furthermore, minorities belonging to the Luo, Jur Modo/Jur Beli, Balanda Boor/Balanda Bviri, [14] [15] and Nuer peoples can be found in Wau. [16] Due to its diversity, Wau has repeatedly suffered from ethnic violence. [6] [14] [15]


In 2008, Wau was the third-largest city in South Sudan, by population, behind national capital Juba and Malakal, in Upper Nile State. At that time, the estimated population of the city of Wau was about 128,100. [17] In 2011, the city's population was estimated at about 151,320. [18]

YearPopulation [19]


Its Cathedral of St. Mary (built 1905, before the erection of the former Apostolic Prefecture of Bahr el-Ghazal) is the episcopal see of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wau, which serves the province's religious majority.


Wau cattle market, 2008 Cattle market Wau.jpg
Wau cattle market, 2008

Wau is a vibrant economic center by the standards of the newly established Republic of South Sudan, and serves as hub for trade between Darfur, Bahr al Ghazal, and Equatoria. [13] The major contributors to the local economy include:

Transport and infrastructure

St Mary Cathedral in Wau St Mary Cathedral, Wau.jpg
St Mary Cathedral in Wau

Geography and climate

Wau has a tropical savanna climate (Köppen climate classification Aw). The city has two seasons: a dry season from November to March, and a rainy season the rest of the year, as depicted in the referenced box below:

Climate data for Wau, South Sudan
Record high °C (°F)41.1
Average high °C (°F)35.5
Daily mean °C (°F)26.8
Average low °C (°F)19.1
Record low °C (°F)9.3
Average precipitation mm (inches)1.3
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.1 mm)
Average relative humidity (%)29263548627176777469483554
Mean monthly sunshine hours 288.3246.4229.4228.0220.1204.0182.9192.2204.0223.2264.0294.52,777
Mean daily sunshine hours
Percent possible sunshine 79746261605447505660758263
Source: NOAA [23]

Notable locals

Some of the notable people from Wau include

See also

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2016–19 Wau clashes

Heavy armed clashes have been ongoing in Wau State since late June 2016, between the Dinka-dominated Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and local opposition forces, consisting of tribal Fertit militias as well as fighters claiming allegiance to Riek Machar. It is unclear to what extent these rebels are actually part of the SPLM-IO or acting independently while using the SPLM-IO's name. So far, the clashes resulted in the arrest of the state's governor, Elias Waya Nyipuoc, widespread death and destruction in the state capital, Wau town, and the displacement of up to 150,000 people.

Mathiang Anyoor, also spelled Mathiang Anyur, also known as Dot Ke Beny, is a Dinka-affiliated militia group in South Sudan. Originally an ad-hoc volunteer force founded in 2012, the militia was transformed into a private army to protect President Salva Kiir Mayardit and army chief Paul Malong Awan. However, the SPLA claim that it is just another battalion. Much of the ethnic violence against non-Dinkas in the South Sudanese Civil War is attributed to the militia.

Peter Par Jiek was a brigadier general of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), and veteran of the Second Sudanese Civil War. In the course of that conflict, Par fought under Riek Machar with several rebel and pro-government groups, and eventually became a powerful militia commander in Western Upper Nile. In that region, he established his own fiefdom and gained some notoriety for his rivalry with another rebel leader, Peter Gadet. Even though he had followed Machar during the whole Second Sudanese Civil War until 2005, Par sided with President Salva Kiir Mayardit upon the outbreak of the South Sudanese Civil War in 2013. Leading pro-government counter-insurgency forces in Wau State since 2014, Par was eventually ambushed and killed by SPLM-IO rebels loyal to Machar in 2017.

The Army of Peace was a large alliance of Fertit tribal militias in Western Bahr el Ghazal during the Second Sudanese Civil War. Although initially armed by the Sudanese government in order to fight against South Sudanese separatists, the Army of Peace became especially notorious for massacring Dinka civilians. These mass killings grew so excessive that the group even came into violent conflicts with other pro-government forces. The militia was mostly disbanded in 1988, though a rump faction continued to be active and joined the Popular Defence Forces in 1989, and later the South Sudan Defense Forces (SSDF) in 1997.

South Sudan Patriotic Army

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The 2014 retreat from Western Bahr el Ghazal, also called the long march north, was an unorganized withdrawal by hundreds of Nuer Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) deserters who sought to flee from Bahr el Ghazal to Sudan during the South Sudanese Civil War. After longstanding tensions between SPLA soldiers belonging to the Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups escalated on 25 April 2014, leading to a massacre of Nuer soldiers at Mapel in Western Bahr el Ghazal, a large number of Nuer SPLA soldiers deserted to escape ethnic prosecution and loyalist SPLA forces. Though some deserters joined SPLM-IO rebels or surrendered to the government, a large number of them marched northward, joined by other SPLA defectors from Northern Bahr el Ghazal. After covering over 400 kilometres (250 mi), this trek eventually arrived in Sudan on 4 August 2014, where they were disarmed.


  1. PSI et al. (2014), p. 4.
  2. Fighting in Wau; Red cross calls for civilians to be spared Archived 2016-08-18 at the Wayback Machine Radio Tamazuj
  3. calculate travel time. "Estimated Road Distance Between Juba And Wau". Travelmath.com. Retrieved 2013-04-11.
    • Burr, J.M. and Collins, R.O. (1994) Requiem for the Sudan: War, Drought and Disaster Relief on the Nile. Westview Press, Boulder, CO, USA, p. 74
  4. A city shaped like a giraffe? Toronto Star, Wed Aug 18 2010, by Maggie Fick, Associated Pres
  5. 1 2 "Thousands of South Sudanese IDPs Take Shelter at Wau Church". Voice of America. 13 December 2016. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  6. Small Arms Survey (2014).
  7. "UNMISS denies that refuge-seekers in Wau were turned away". Radio Tamazuj. 16 May 2014. Retrieved 11 August 2018.
  8. "President Kiir fires Wau state governor". Sudan Tribune. 24 June 2016. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  9. "South Sudan: Civilians killed in Wau fighting". Al Jazeera . 10 April 2017. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  10. Malia Zimmerman (13 April 2017). "South Sudan's silent slaughter: Dinka massacre unchecked by regional, international groups". Fox News . Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  11. "IOM: 8,000 people displaced by Wau violence". Radio Tamazuj. 13 April 2017. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  12. 1 2 "South Sudan: Gunfights within Bahr el Ghazal capital". Radio Tamazuj. 27 April 2014. Retrieved 2 July 2018.
  13. 1 2 "South Sudan: Civilians killed in Wau fighting". Al Jazeera. 10 April 2017. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  14. 1 2 Michael Atit; John Tanza (10 April 2017). "Gunmen in Government Uniforms Go on Massacre in Wau Town". Voice of America . Retrieved 22 May 2017.
  15. "Governor strongly denies Mapel massacre claims". Radio Tamazuj. 28 April 2014. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
  16. "Estimated Population of Sudanese Cities & Towns In 2010". World-gazetteer.com. Archived from the original on 2012-05-23. Retrieved 2013-04-11.
  17. "Estimated Population of Waw In 2011". Wolframalpha.com. Retrieved 2013-04-11.
  18. "Estimated Population of Wau (1973 - 2010)". World-gazetteer.com. Archived from the original on 2012-05-23. Retrieved 2013-04-11.
  19. Riungu, Catherine (2011-01-17). "East Africa: Equity Bank Plans Further Expansion in Southern Sudan". The East African (Nairobi). Retrieved 2017-07-06.
  20. KCB Expands Branch Network In South Sudan [ dead link ]
  21. Sean, Michael (2010-11-11). "Catholic University Maintains A Campus In Wau". Ncronline.org. Retrieved 2013-04-11.
  22. "Wau Climate Normals 1961–1990". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration . Retrieved January 16, 2015.