Political challenges and cooperation

As South Sudan prepares for elections in 2024, the governor’s political ambitions at a national level are not yet known, although he is said to be seeking a bigger role. An Atuot Dinka from Yirol, Rin Tueny has built a solid resume; he served as deputy director general of the External Bureau of the National Security Service from 2012 to 2015, as governor of Eastern Lakes state under the 32-state framework from 2015 to 2016, and, finally, as chief of military intelligence from 2019 to 2021.

His appointment to the SPLM Political Bureau in December 2022 is a clear indication of his status within Kiir’s inner circle and suggests the possible pursuit of a national role. In March 2023, political observers saw Rin Tueny as a potential replacement to Angelina Teny, following her dismissal as minister of defence.[1] The position was eventually given to Chol Thon Balok—the Padang Dinka former governor of Upper Nile state.

There are two possible reasons for Rin Tueny not being named as minister. One is that the SPLM party leadership in Juba feared that his departure as governor would hasten the return of elevated levels of violence in Lakes, thus complicating the SPLM’s electoral prospects there in 2024. Another possible reason is that President Kiir lost confidence in the governor following Rin Tueny’s apparent downplaying of a politically sensitive situation in Rumbek town, involving his handling of housing demolitions. The episode received national media attention and painted the state government in a scandalous light[2]—marking a rare moment in Rin Tueny’s political career where he faced open political opposition and public scrutiny of his leadership.

On 3 March 2023, a ceremony was held at the Rumbek National Secondary School to draw attention to pending construction at the site, and to highlight the government’s commitment to improving secondary education in Lakes and across the country. In the presence of national media, attendees included Awut Deng Achuil, the minister of education, the governor, and school pupils set to benefit from the improvements (Yang, 2023). The problem for Rin Tueny arose days later, when demolitions began to make way for school improvements. Houses around the schoolyard, which state officials said were built illegally by internally displaced people, were destroyed.[3] Protests immediately ensued, with residents claiming the homes were legal and that they had land ownership documents to prove it.

Rin Tueny downplayed the protests and continued with the demolitions, but violence later erupted; security personnel fired on protestors, some of whom were allegedly wielding sticks and stones, and civilian casualties and hospitalizations were reported (Radio Tamazuj, 2023b). The event spiralled into an uncomfortable situation for the governor, with protestors claiming that state corruption and Rin Tueny’s personal business interests were behind the demolitions. After continued protests, Rin Tueny tried to pacify the situation by registering those affected by the demolitions and promising relocation assistance.[4] Notwithstanding the governor’s agreement to dispense compensation, the protests highlighted growing political discontent, and showed that public acquiescence to Rin Tueny’s regime has breaking points.


[1] Interviews with political observers in and from Lakes state, Rumbek and Juba, April 2023.

[2] Interview with a civil society figure, Rumbek, Lakes state, April 2023.

[3] Interview with government security agents from Lakes state, Juba, April 2023.

[4] While it is only speculation that the incident contributed to Rin Tueny not being nominated as minister of defence, Chol Thon’s appointment on 29 March, a day after the protester’s death, led people to link the two events.