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The Nuer White Army, sometimes decapitalised as the "white army", is a semi-official name for a militant organisation formed by the Nuer people of central and eastern Greater Upper Nile in modern-day South Sudan as early as 1991.[1] According to the Small Arms Survey, it arose from the 1991 schism within the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) for the dual purpose of defending Nuer cattle herds from neighbouring groups and fighting in the Second Sudanese Civil War between the SPLM/A and the Sudanese government.[4]

Nuer White Army
Participant in the Second Sudanese Civil War and the South Sudanese Civil War
Nuer White Army Flag.svg
IdeologyEthnic nationalism
LeadersBordoang Leah
HeadquartersYuai, Uror County, South Sudan
Area of operationsSouth Sudan
AlliesSouth Sudan Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition
Opponent(s)South Sudan Government of South Sudan

The White Army was so named due to the Nuer practice of smearing one's skin with a light-coloured ash as a protection against biting insects, according to a Small Arms Survey report published in June 2007, though other sources contend the name was merely intended to draw a distinction between the Nuer militia and the Sudan Armed Forces.[4]

History of activityEdit


During the Second Sudanese Civil War, White Army fighters mainly from the Lou Nuer subtribe backed the breakaway SPLM/A faction led by Riek Machar, known as SPLA-Nasir, in attacks on the Dinka majority. They were partly responsible for the Bor massacre, in which at least 2000 people were killed in 1991.[5] However, the fighters never formed long-term alliances with other factions in the war, acting for short-term benefit only. Among their most regular enemies were the Murle people, a rival tribe competing for land and cattle in the states of Jonglei and Upper Nile.[4][6]

During the war, though the term "White Army" could refer collectively to Nuer youth militants, there was rarely any functioning central authority for the disparate fighters, and a number of White Army factions based around different cattle camps operated autonomously or semi-autonomously of one another. The ranks of leadership had a reportedly high rate of turnover.[4]


After the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 between the government of Sudan and the SPLM/A, which formed the Autonomous Government of Southern Sudan, the Nuer White Army lost its remaining coherence. By February 2006, Nuer elders interviewed by Small Arms Survey workers acknowledged they had little or no control over the armed youths and said the incidence of cattle theft and other miscreant behaviour on the youths' part was increasing. Riek Machar, the White Army's erstwhile wartime ally, announced the White Army would be disbanded amidst a SPLM/A disarmament campaign in the region. However, it was not until a major defeat in May 2006 near Motot, in Jonglei's Uror County, in which 113 White Army fighters were reportedly killed for the loss of a single Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) soldier, that the fighters gave up their attempts at resistance, according to the Small Arms Survey.[4] The news service IRIN reported that more than 1,000 Lou Nuer men and boys in Akobo County who had been part of the White Army voluntarily surrendered their weapons to authorities in July 2006.[7]


In late December 2011, several months after South Sudan gained its independence, The Upper Nile Times reported that the Nuer White Army had reformed and had issued a threat on Christmas Day 2011 to "wipe out the entire Murle Tribe on the face of the earth as the only solution to guarantee long-term security of Nuer's cattle". The statement also declared the White Army's intention to fight the SPLA and the United Nations, which has a peacekeeping mission in the country. The declaration marked an escalation in the ongoing clashes between the SPLA, the Murle, and the Lou Nuer in Jonglei and Upper Nile, which began when armed Murle fighters under the influence of George Athor's South Sudan Democratic Movement launched a cattle raid against the Lou Nuer in Jonglei state.[8][9][10] UNMISS responded by deploying peacekeepers to Pibor town and urging both the Murle and Lou Nuer to lay down their arms.[11]


  1. ^ a b "South Sudan: 'White Army' militia marches to fight". USA Today. 28 December 2013.
  2. ^ "South Sudan forces battle White Army". The Daily Star. LB. 29 December 2013.
  3. ^ "25,000 rebels march on strategic South Sudan town". IR: Press TV. 29 December 2013. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e Young, John (June 2007). "The White Army: An Introduction and Overview" (PDF). Small Arms Survey. Retrieved 30 December 2011.
  5. ^ "South Sudan: White Army 'abandons war march' on Bor town". 29 December 2013. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  6. ^ No one to intervene: gaps in civilian protection in southern Sudan. Human Rights Watch. 2009. pp. 8–9.
  7. ^ "Armed youth voluntarily disarm in Jonglei". IRIN. 22 August 2006. Retrieved 31 December 2011.
  8. ^ Jonathan, Bith (26 December 2011). "Nuer Youth White Army plans a massive attack on Murle Tribe, UN warns". The Upper Nile Times. Retrieved 30 December 2011.
  9. ^ "S Sudan youth 'planning to attack tribe'". News24. 27 December 2011. Retrieved 30 December 2011.
  10. ^ "South Sudan army denies participation in Jonglei conflict". Sudan Tribune. 29 December 2011. Retrieved 30 December 2011.
  11. ^ "South Sudan: UN blue helmets deploy to deter ethnic violence in key town". UN News Service. 30 December 2011. Retrieved 30 December 2011.