The recent fighting in South Sudan surprised several analysts with the rapid spread in the conflict between Forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and those who maintained loyalty to the recently ousted Vice-President Riek Machar. It is now clear since the cessation of hostilities was signed in Addis Ababa that tensions are still rife. But one force decided to take this time to reemerge on the scene, with potential to further pollute the already violent atmosphere.
The force that people should be concerned with is the White Army, ( not the Pro-Czarist Forces that existed after the October Revolution of 1917). This White Army is a loosely armed Nuer tribesmen without any formal organization or command structure. Today, with white spread of cell phones, the group can organize on an instant of a click of a bottom. The White Army gained its non de gurre notoriety by having to smear themselves with white ashes in an effort to prevent bug biting. The group of course follow no any specific political ideology within or outside the country. The group is rather a free agent, prone in responding during crisis or perceived threats to maintain Nuers prestige, loot the booties obtain from the battle or conduct cattle raid. Such, dangerously exposed the group to political manipulation, where they can respond to any perceive threats, real or imagine.
The first emergence of this force on the scene was in early 1990s, about the same time that an influx of arms into the eastern part of the Upper Nile Province split the SPLA (Sudan People's Liberation Army) into two factions. One Faction was led by the recently ousted Vice President Risk Machar and the other faction was led by the late John Garang, who is considered to be the "Father" of South Sudan newly emerged nation.
The nexus of support for the Machar Faction of the SPLA came from two primary sources. They were from those who deserted the faction of Mr. Garang, who feared outright control by the Dinkas and also for ideological reasons, while the second group came from other Militias that were backed by the Islamist Government in Khartoum. It was during this time where the Neur cattlemen, though full participants of the war, they were never absorbed into any formal command structure by any of the other armed groups. In essence this so-called White Army was a "Free Agent" force to reckon with. This is a formula that would haunt South Sudan in its infancy of independence as a nation.
It was assumed that after the 2006 Declaration which saw several Pro-Khartoum Militias absorbed into the SPLA that the White Army would disappear. In many cases the Neur Population were pleased to see the integration of the Militias as the General Neur Population. It was then assumed that the White Army and other Militias were destroyed by through professionalization within SPLA forces.
However, all these assumptions changed in late of 2011, when tribal cattle rustling between the Nuer and Murle were on increase, the White Army reemerged more powerful than ever before. Particularly, in a response to a Murle raid, which left several hundreds Nuer dead and thousands herds of cattle stolen, the White Army mobilized in their thousands with one aim to annihilate the Murle tribe. Although it is generally accepted that Riek Machar is the founder of White Army, while a vice president, Riek Machar plea for peace to the White Army was squarely defied. The group claimed Riek Machar was not their leader and they marched on in his face to plunder Murle land.
In this current crisis, the White Army resurfaced once again as a force to reckon with. On December 15, after alleged failed coup by Machar in Juba, Gen. Peter Cadet, a Nuer divisional Commander in state of Jonglie and a purported ally of Machar acted swiftly by taking over Bor, the capital of Jonglei. The government counter attacked and took the town back. Then, a UN surveillance revealed thousands of thousands of White Army marching toward Bor. They were reacting on allegation of Nuer getting killed in Juba. The breaking of the news of the marching of such a force alone brought back memories of Bor massacre of 1991, under the hands of the White Army, and the same feelings might have also jolted among the White Army who were marching into Bor. The residence of Bor panicked and those who could quickly got away ended up fleeing, while the rest remained victims. On the White Army arrival, the SPLA manning the town could not hold the fire, hence, they bolted. The White Army reclaimed the town and defended it by fighting bravely and fiercely for weeks until they were defeated.
Now, the questions are as follows: Does Riek Machar has supremacy over the White Army forces? He claims so and that is yet to be proven along with its further implications. Another pressing question, who supply the White Army with weapons? As far as recently, the reports by Small Arm Group and others suggest that the White Army was getting supply from Khartoum, however, on the current issue, there is no evidence to suggest that Khartoum is in support of White Army. The challenge remains as to how the White Army will play on recently signed cessation of hostilities and in the future of South Sudan.
Steve Paterno is the author of The Rev. Fr. Saturnino Lohure, A Romain Catholic Priest Turned Rebel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Scott Morgancomments on US Policy in Africa and the struggle for Human Rights in Africa. He is a contributing writer to www.frontpageafrica.com and other sites.