Demystifying the White Army: Nuer Armed Civilians’ Involvement in the South Sudanese Crisis

Article posted in ACCORD Conflict Trends Magazine, 2014/13, by PRIO Researcher Ingrid Marie Breidlid, and Michael J. Arensen.


The article argues that although the conflict erupted as a result of division within the SPLM, the mass mobilization in opposition areas, e.g. of Nuer civilian fighters, illustrates this is not only a political dispute, but also a crisis of governance. A durable solution to the ongoing crisis would therefore have to address local grievances and rebuild the relations and trust between the state and the society.



Less than three years after gaining independence, South Sudan faces a new civil war. Since December 2013, over a million people have been displaced and more than 10 000 killed in fighting between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO), led by former vice president Riek Machar. Political divisions within the ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), quickly devolved into violent clashes within the army (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army – SPLA) in the capital Juba, and subsequent army defections. Atrocities committed by government forces against the Nuer in Juba during the same period triggered a mass mobilisation of Nuer civilians in Greater Upper Nile and revenge killings of Dinkas in areas captured by the SPLM/A-IO. Reinforced by politicised ethnic rhetoric, the brutal targeting of civilians by both sides has since continued, resulting in condemnations from the region and international community. The involvement of armed civilians in carrying out such atrocities, and their relations with the conventional forces, is poorly understood. In particular, the White Army – Nuer civilian fighters aligned with the opposition – have gained notoriety. Media reports have perpetuated popular narratives of the White Army as a ferocious, tough and brutal group of uncontrollable Nuer youth. This article intends to demystify the White Army by examining its history, role in Nuer society, structure and cooperation with the SPLM/A-IO. Increased comprehension and engagement with armed community structures, such as the White Army, is necessary to facilitate a durable solution to the current conflict.


For the full article, click here.


This article is an outcome of the PRIO project “Youth and Violence in South Sudan” which is funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. More results from this project is available in the two PRIO briefs below:

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