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
Burr and Collins in 1994 described Wau: 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.
In 2010 the Ministry of Housing, Physical Planning and Environment (South Sudan) proposed to reshape the city as a giraffe.
In 2016, Wau experienced heavy clashes that displaced much of its Fertit population and led to widespread destruction.
The city of Wau is the headquarters of Wau State, in which it lies. It also served as the capital of the erstwhile Western Bahr el Ghazal State, one of the original ten (10) states which constitute the Republic of South Sudan. The city is a culturally, ethnically and linguistically diverse urban center.
Its residents include peoples of Fertit, Dinka, Luo, and Arab ethnicity.
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.
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. In 2011, the city's population was estimated at about 151,320.
Wau is a vibrant economic center by the pauper standards of the newly established Republic of South Sudan. The major contributors to the local economy include:Buffalo Commercial Bank branch
Equity Bank (South Sudan) branch
Ivory Bank branch
Kenya Commercial Bank (South Sudan) branch
Catholic University of South Sudan, Wau campus
University of Bahr El-Ghazal
Wau County Government
Wau state Government
RCS - Radio & Satellite Communication
Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (South Sudan Subsidiary Comp.) expected shortly
Wau is the terminus of a narrow gauge branch line of the Sudan Railways. A plan exists, as of 2008, to open a standard gauge line north from Gulu in Uganda to Wau. Through trains from Khartoum to Mombasa would be possible only if one of the lines was regauged.
Wau Airport - The airport, (IATA: WUU, ICAO: HSWW) has a single paved runway which measures 2,500 metres (8,200 ft) in length.
The city hosts University of Bahr El-Ghazal and many secondary and primary schools.
The Catholic University of South Sudan maintains a campus in the city.
Wau Stadium - A soccer stadium in the middle of town
The Cathedral in Wau is known as the Largest of former Sudan
There are five (5) main roads out of town:
B38-North leads directly north to Gogrial, South Sudan
B43-South leads southeast to Tonj, South Sudan
A44-South leads directly south to Tumbura, South Sudan
B41-West leads west to Raga, South Sudan
B43-North leads northwest to Aweil, South Sudan
Southern National Park - Located about 100 kilometres (62 mi), by road, south of Wau along A44-South
Wau 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:
Some of the notable people from Wau includeLuol Deng - NBA basketball player
Longar Yak Jiel - National basketball player
Khamis Leyano - South Sudanese footballer and captain
Longar Longar - former University of Oklahoma basketball player and NBA D-League player
Thon Maker – NBA basketball player
Clement Mboro - veteran politician
Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako - Retired archbishop of Khartoum archdiocese (Sudan, then including South Sudan)
Prof Barri Arkanjelo Wanji - veteran Anya Anya /SPLM/A soldier and long serving politician
Alek Wek - World model
Joseph Ukel - veteran politician