Dinka called “MTN,” in South Sudan

This article is part of the Dangerous Speech Project’s research brief series, “Examples of Dangerous Speech.”

“MTN,” or Mobile Telephone Network, is the name of the largest telco operator in Africa. The company’s slogan, “everywhere you go,” meant to refer to ubiquitous mobile phone reception, was given a new meaning in South Sudan – that members of the Dinka tribe were encroaching on the lands of other ethnic groups – and the letters MTN became a dangerous, coded way to spread fear about the Dinka.

Date(s): South Sudanese, especially those living in the country’s Equatoria region, began using the term “MTN” that way when the Civil War expanded into that region in 2016.[1] It is still used occasionally by South Sudanese fighting inter-communal conflicts and others who are living in refugee camps in Uganda.[2]

Country: South Sudan

Language: Multiple (English as well as indigenous languages of Sudan including Nuer)

Message: Non-Dinka South Sudanese people used the term “MTN” to refer to people from the Dinka ethnic group. Because MTN’s well-known slogan is “everywhere you go,” use of the company’s name to refer to people from the Dinka group suggests that they are encroaching on other groups’ territory to graze their animals “everywhere.”[3] Example:

30 JULY 2018 11:53, BY jubaone South South Aryan jienge kudwal kudwal. Yes, we have to liberate ourselves from tailless jienge monkeys who have flocked our towns and villages like uncontrollable weeds and flies. As long jienges don't move any longer like vagabonds and unmanned street digs, I've no problem. Our boys/girls are doing a great job. Move out of Juba and you are a dead MTN. Case closed.


The term was used on social media as a slur and also spoken in person – primarily by rebel fighters. There are many accounts of armed groups stopping public transport vehicles travelling on the main roads coming out of Juba (the country’s capital) and asking if there are any “MTN” on board. If the passengers replied that there were, the Dinka they had identified were taken off and killed.[5]

The meaning of the message “MTN” is highly context dependent, like most dangerous speech. The company MTN operates in 21 countries[6] and in nearly all of them, its name is innocuous, so the company continues to use the name and the slogan for vigorous marketing, including a 2020 contest for young Nigerian musicians called “MTN Y’ello Star.”[7]


Threat to Purity and Group Integrity.

In this example, the assertion that the Dinka are  “everywhere you go,” conveys a sense of threat to the integrity of the groups and territories of non-Dinka people of South Sudan.

Target Group

Members of the Dinka ethnic group


The use of “MTN” to refer to Dinkas first proliferated in 2016 in the Equatoria region of South Sudan. Though it is populated by people from many different ethnic groups, the area stayed relatively peaceful during conflicts that tore through other parts of the country in 2013.[8] When fighting broke out in Equatoria in 2016, rebels (against the then-President) frequently used the term “MTN” to identify and spread fear about Dinka living in, and traveling through, their communities. Some of the rebels were authoritative speakers because of their social status, and they derived extra influence, of course, from being armed.


The Dinka, who are pastoralists, have long been in competition for water and grazing land, as well as in conflict over politics, with the Nuer group who are also pastoral.[9] In 2015, a large number of Dinka cattle-herders moved into lands traditionally inhabited by non-Dinka groups in search of more fertile grazing land.[10] War has also moved people: the 2016 conflict drove many non-Dinka to Ugandan refugee camps.[11]  All this displacement, combined with state-sponsored violence against non-Dinkas, contributed to the idea that the Dinka posed a threat to non-Dinka living in the Equatoria region.


South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, gained independence from Sudan in 2011. In 2013, a conflict began between the country’s president Salva Kiir Mayardit and opposition forces. Originating as a political conflict when Salva Kiir accused his rival, former Vice President Riek Machar, of attempting to stage a coup d’etat, the conflict quickly assumed an ethnic character – a battle between the Dinka who supported President Kiir, and the Nuer, loyal to Machar.[12] Machar and Kiir signed a peace deal in 2015, but it didn’t work. Instead, state-led forces committed forced displacement, torture, and murder of non-Dinka people in the country who were thought to be part of the opposition.[13] In retaliation, opposition forces based in the Equatoria region of South Sudan killed Dinka who were living there.[14] This history of conflict made accusations against Dinka even more dangerous.

In addition to political strife, environmental changes have also increased the strain between groups in South Sudan. The Dinka have traditionally lived in territory that now makes up the northwestern states of South Sudan (the Bahr el Ghazal Region), but that region is subject to flooding, so they have pushed south into Equatoria, the country’s agricultural belt.[15] This has increased competition for resources between the pastoral Dinka and the other non-Dinka groups living in Equatoria who make their livings through agriculture. It has also reinforced the notion that the Dinka are invaders who are now “everywhere you go.”


The term “MTN” was spoken between people in person, and it was widely used on social media, especially on Facebook through live videos, posts and comments.[16] There have been many reports that the term was frequently used by rebels at checkpoints along the roads leading to and from the capital city of Juba to identify Dinka who were traveling.[17] Once identified, rebels often killed them on the spot.


[1] PeaceTech Lab. 2016. “Social Media and Conflict in South Sudan” https://static1.squarespace.com/static/54257189e4b0ac0d5fca1566/t/5b0f0c321ae6cf107119712e/1563308852571/South+Sudan+Lexicon+-+PeaceTech+Lab

[2] Personal communication with the authors, September 17, 2020.

[3] Ferroggiaro, Will. 2019. “Social Media and Conflict in South Sudan II: A Lexicon of Hate Speech Terms 2017-2018.” PeaceTech Lab. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/54257189e4b0ac0d5fca1566/t/5c799e9424a694995f583879/1551474335039/PeaceTech+Lab+-+South+Sudan+Lexicon+II.pdf

[4] Comment on the news article:  https://sudantribune.com/spip.php?article65949 July 30, 2018.

[5] United Nations. 2016. Letter dated 15 November 2016 from the Panel of Experts on South Sudan established pursuant to Security Council resolution 2206 (2015) addressed to the President of the Security Council.” http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_2016_963.pdf


[7] https://www.mtnonline.com/yellostar/

[8] Patinkin, Jason and Simona Foltyn. 2017. “The war in Equatoria.” The New Humanitarian. https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/special-report/2017/07/12/war-equatoria

[9] “Conflict between Dinka and Nuer in South Sudan” n.d. Environment, Conflict, and Cooperation (ECC) Library.


[10] “Foltyn, Simona. 2015. Horrific attacks prompt South Sudan’s communities to form armed groups.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/dec/07/south-sudan-horrific-attacks-prompt-communities-take-arms

[11] Biryabarema, Elias. 2016. “Hatred spills beyond South Sudan along with refugees.” Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-southsudan-uganda-refugees/hatred-spills-beyond-south-sudan-along-with-refugees-idUSKBN1441QU

[12] United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 2018. “South Sudan: Ethnic Conflict and Civil War.” https://www.ushmm.org/genocide-prevention/countries/south-sudan/case-study

[13] Pedneault, Jonathan. 2017. ““Soldiers Assume We Are Rebels”Escalating Violence and Abuses in South Sudan’s Equatorias.” Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/08/01/soldiers-assume-we-are-rebels/escalating-violence-and-abuses-south-sudans#_ftn30

[14] Patinkin, Jason and Simona Foltyn. 2017. “The war in Equatoria.” The New Humanitarian. https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/special-report/2017/07/12/war-equatoria

[15] Tiitmamer, Nhial. 2020. “Resolving climate change-induced migration and conflict in South Sudan.” Africa Portal. https://www.africaportal.org/features/resolving-climate-change-induced-migration-and-conflict-south-sudan/

[16] Personal communication with the authors, September 9, 2020.

[17] United Nations, Security Council. 2016. “Letter dated 15 November 2016 from the Panel of Experts on South Sudan established pursuant to Security Council resolution 2206 (2015) addressed to the President of the Security Council.” http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_2016_963.pdf; Pallares, Gloria. 2017. “Social networks ignite the war that puts the country on the brink of genocide.” Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), South Sudan. http://cepo-southsudan.org/news/social-networks-ignite-war-puts-country-brink-genocide