Don’t take the whole generation for a ride: A controversial view about the Red Army Foundation


JUBA, South Sudan – On March 19, 2013, I went to Nyakuron Cultural Center in Juba, South Sudan to meet a friend, but to my surprise, the center was filled with young South Sudanese which is unusual unless there is a big event taking place. When I paused and look around, I heard someone calling my name, and as I looked further into the crowd, I spotted a group of friends sitting together so I went over to them. After greeting them and accepting a seat at the table, I asked them about the event that brought everybody to the center. One of the friends explained to me that all those who gathered at the center were members of the Red Army and they were there to register for the upcoming Red Army’s general elections. When I heard that, some questions naturally clicked in my mind, and they include questions such as what is the definition of the Red Army and who are the Red Army? What is the purpose of the Red Army Foundation? How do you differentiate or reconcile the Red Army Foundation with the Lost Boys Association in the United States? And what about the SPLM Youth League? Such questions are still lingering in my mind and I decided to elaborate on them in this piece.

What is the Definition of the Red Army, and who are the Red Army?

 Internationally, the term ‘child soldier’ refers to a soldier below the age of 18. Child soldiers are common in African civil wars, and usually on the rebel side. For example, during the Ugandan civil war (1981-1986), there were child soldiers who fought on the side of the Ugandan rebel army, the National Resistance Army (NRA). These child soldiers later became known as the Kadogos, or the small ones in Kiswahili. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) which waged a two-decade (1983-2005) war against the government of Sudan is no exception. The SPLA had its own child soldiers which it referred to as the Red Army, or Jesh Amer in Arabic.

The SPLA Red Army is anybody who is below 18 years of age who joined the SPLA during the war of liberation.  Thus, there is the Red Army of Koryom, the Red Army of Muor Muor, the Red Army of Cuba, the Red Army of Dima, the Red Army of Itang, the Red Army of Polataka, the Red Army of Pinyudo, the Red Army of Majak  Agoot (a fully trained and active serving unit of the Red Army of Pinyudo), and the list goes on. Thus, which SPLA Red Army is forming the Red Army Foundation? In another word, what is the qualifying factor/factors for the membership of the Red Army Foundation?

The term Red Army was first used in Russia, therefore it is important to note that the writer is referring to the SPLA’s Red Army in this piece


How do you differentiate, or reconcile the Red Army and the Lost Boys?

The Red Army of Pinyudo was comprised of young South Sudanese boys who the SPLM/SPLA collected and sent to Pinyudo refugee camp in Ethiopia. This group lived in Pinyudo camp from 1987 until 1991 when they were forced out by the fighting between the Ethiopian government’s forces and the rebels. After being forced out of Ethiopia, the Red Army of Pinyudo returned to South Sudan, and eventually moved on to Kenya where they settled in Kakuma refugee camp.

When they were in Ethiopia, the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR) planned to resettle this group in the United States and this process continued in Kakuma camp. In late 2000, the resettlement of more than 3,000 members of this group to the United States commenced. When they arrived in the US, these boys were nick-named by journalists as Lost Boys mainly because of the fact that they roamed the East African jungle without parents.  

While in the United States, the lost Boys formed a nationwide Lost Boys association with branches in states with a good number of Lost Boys living there. The biggest and the most memorable event held by the Lost Boys Association was the 2004 Lost Boys Convention held in Phoenix Arizona. The event attracted thousands of Lost Boys from all over the United States, and attended by high SPLM/SPLA delegation, including the then Chairman of the movement, the late Dr. John Garang. Up to date, the Lost Boys still maintain the Lost Boys Association, so how does one reconcile the Red Army Foundation with the Lost Boys Association?  To me, they are different entities formed by the same group and their functions may conflict in the near future if not now.

An example of the conflicting interest between the two organizations is currently at hand. The recently elected Chairman of the Red Army Foundation, Mr. Deng Bol Aruai was once, or is still a member of the Lost Boys Association who contributed extensively to the success of the Lost Boys Center in Phoenix Arizona. In addition to their Chairman, many members of the Red Army Foundation are members of the Lost Boys Association. So what is the different between the two organizations?

What is the motive of the Red Army Foundation?

As explained above, the SPLA Red Army is composed of many groups of South Sudanese young men who joined the army when they were below 18 years of age, and some of these boys started their active military service as earlier as 1984. Such is the case of the Red Army of Koryom and Muor Muor. Therefore, some of the initial Red Army members are now old and serving in high government positions. Some are serving with Non-governmental Organizations, while others are serving in the Private sectors. Lost Boys are already doing some Philanthropic work in South Sudan; for instance, they are running public clinics such as the Lost Boys clinic in Duk County, in Jonglei state. Lost Boys are also building several primary schools across South Sudan.  So what is the Red Army foundation going to achieve that has not been achieved by the already existing Red Army’s organizations such as the Lost Boys Association?

What about the SPLM Youth League?

Who are the members of the SPLM Youth League, and who are the members of the intended Red Army Foundation? During the civil war, all members of the Red Army became members of the SPLM by default. After the signing of the CPA, the government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) was formed and the Youth fell under the SPLM’s youth league. Now, the Red Army Foundation is another youth League/foundation, so which youth league or foundation is subordinate to which?


I have to send my congratulations to the recently elected Chairman of the Red Army Foundation, but at the same time, it is my privilege as a member of the Red Army by any definition, to express my dissatisfaction with the formation of such a foundation without a popular consultation with the concerned major or mini groups and members of the Red Army. My advice is that, if the previous leadership of the Red Army Foundation in Juba had not done so, the newly elected Red Army Foundation leadership should consider the above raised questions, along with other suggested and yet to be raised questions and complaints by the members  of the SPLA Red Army worldwide. This will reduce misunderstanding and possibly tensions among the members of the Red Army and among different Red Army organizations.

*Thon Agany Ayiei holds an MA in Security Studies from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California and works in Juba. He can be reached at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.






More Articles By This Author