The golden boy

Tensions have long simmered in Raga county over the activities of the SPLM-IO county commissioner, Addison Arcangelo. In January 2023, the SPLM party secretary in the county, Awad Ismail, ordered the SSPDF commander to disarm Arcangelo’s bodyguards after the commissioner indicated his concern about Ismail’s mobilization efforts in the county, which remains an SPLM/A-IO stronghold. At the root of these tensions is Arcangelo’s role in the gold trade in Boro Medina and elsewhere in the county. Artisanal gold mining in the state is largely unregulated, as elsewhere in South Sudan (Hunter and Opala, 2023), and revenue from such mining bypasses the state government in Wau.

On 7 January 2023, the state parliament summoned two state ministers and Arcangelo to Wau to answer questions about gold mining, after apparently receiving complaints from chiefs in Boro Medina that foreigners were mining in the area at the behest of the commissioner. On 11 January, the state assembly issued a directive confining Arcangelo to Wau until an investigation was finalized, leading to complaints from Raga town. Although an investigative committee visited Boro Medina, the investigation itself soon ran into bigger issues.

Informal gold mining in Boro Medina is organized through a collection of local power brokers, including the popular SPLA-IO commander of Division 6B, Musa Dakumi, as well as Arcangelo, and members of the SSPDF and NSS. These figures function as brokers for powerful politicians in Juba, including, reportedly, members of Kiir’s family, Rizik Zachariah Hassan (still the most important politician from Raga), and Akol Koor Kuc, the director general of the NSS. For Kiir’s regime—and the patrimonial machine that it relies on to survive—it is essential that as much income remains off the books as possible. Thus a shadow state administration has been created comprising figures with state power, but engaged in private relations of resource extraction and self-enrichment. The miners working for these shadowy figures include Darfuris from Sudan, South Sudanese, and Congolese civilians with experience of mining.

This machine of private patrimonial politics, underwritten by national state power, is the true engine of politics in South Sudan, against which the protestations of the parliament in Wau are relatively powerless. After the finalization of the investigatory committee’s report, Arcangelo was allowed to return to Raga county, and mining operations continued as before.