EconoMatters

Dateline South Sudan: Grand Corruption’s Partners

World leaders dare not ignore today’s grand corruption.

Credit:Pavel L Photo and Video/ Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • Global leaders should read The Sentry report on corruption in Sudan. If they did, the world would be a better place.
  • Sudan and South Sudan are countries that George Clooney says the world’s leaders have ignored at grave humanitarian costs. He is spot on.
  • The idea of an International Anti-Corruption Court remains a dream of its proponent, US federal judge Mark Wolf in Boston.
  • Fighting corruption takes time. Sadly, this is something that the people who are the victims of grand corruption do not have.
  • World leaders will only be shaken out of their complacency when young people voice their concerns for a more civilized world.

South Sudan, a desperately poor country, pops up in global headlines only very intermittently. This was the case in the run-up to independence in 2011 and then in the civil war that has gripped the country since 2013.

But don’t make the mistake to believe that such a desperately poor country cannot be the terrain in which people can enrich themselves grotesquely.

In fact, if you wonder how local kleptocrats and their international partners — including a cast of Chinese-Malaysian oil giants and British tycoons to networks of traders from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya and Uganda — can accumulate billions of dollars, look no further than South Sudan.

The Sentry

How the process works is described in a new report published by The Sentry – “The Taking of South Sudan — The Tycoons, Brokers, and Multinational Corporations Complicit in Hijacking the World’s Newest State” spells it all out in the appropriate detail.

The Sentry is a Washington-based non-governmental organization that specializes in investigating corruption and humanitarian crises in Africa.

Every single one of the leaders attending the UN meetings this week should read this compelling report. If they actually did do so, then the world would have a better shot at becoming a more civilized place.

This applies all the more so as it isn’t just South Sudan. The Congo, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Myanmar and Afghanistan are a sample of the other countries where such criminal activities take place every day.

While we look at these countries as humanitarian disasters, what we frequently fail to see is that this misery is driven by the desire of powerful politicians (kleptocrats at national levels, or war-lords governing territories within nations) to vastly increase their personal wealth.

They pursue their crimes by working with shadowy characters and corporations to extract the maximum loot.

Clooney and Prendergast

The report was released in London on September 19, 2019 by the co-founders of The Sentry, film star George Clooney and human rights activist and founder of the advocacy group, The Enough Project, John Prendergast.

Sudan and South Sudan are countries that George Clooney says the world’s leaders have ignored at grave humanitarian costs. He is spot on.

That leaves all of us facing a simple question: How dare we stand idle in the face of these atrocities?

If we continue to fail to respond sufficiently, then our passivity makes us complicit by facilitating the difficulties in obtaining authoritative evidence. It takes courage to investigate in these countries.

The report adds to public understanding that grand corruption almost only flourishes when kleptocrats and their associates forge business alliances with organized crime, multinational corporations, including banks, and sometimes with foreign governments willing to turn a blind eye to horrendous events.

Specifically, The Sentry asserts that:

A multinational oil consortium in South Sudan controlled by China National Petroleum Corporation and Malaysia’s state-owned oil company, Petronas, provided material support to a pro-government militia that went on to commit atrocities, including burning of entire villages, targeting civilians, and an attack on a U.N. protection-of-civilians site.

It added, as another example, “Two British citizens formed an oil company with a warlord accused of forcibly recruiting thousands of child soldiers.”

Exacting detail

The report lists names of government and military officials in South Sudan, and business executives and arms dealers intent upon doing deals irrespective of the humanitarian atrocities and the vast thefts of financial resources that have become a feature of South Sudan’s administration in recent years.

Specific relationships between the country’s civilian and military leaders and many external governmental and business interests are examined to build a convincing case. The report includes more than 200 footnotes that reinforce the credibility of its findings and allegations.

All of the events described in this report are transnational, but the International Criminal Court has failed to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The idea of an International Anti-Corruption Court remains a dream of its proponent, U.S. federal judge Mark Wolf in Boston.

Official multilateral efforts to impound stolen assets have largely failed because of a lack of political will by the U.S. and European governments and the skills of high-paid lawyers on behalf of their kleptocratic clients.

In search of remedies

The Sentry provides a mountain of exacting detail in this report in order to support its call for remedies. This call urgently needs to be taken up by the governments of major Western nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations and central banks in some sub-Saharan African countries, as well as their governments.

The Sentry calls for robust trade and financial sanctions, multilateral investigations and enforcement of actions to recover stolen assets. In its efforts to encourage such measures it uses language that is just too diplomatic.

For too long, Western justice departments, finance ministries and government aid agencies have been highly aware of the activities of kleptocrats across the world, the many corporations that aid them and the banks and international consultants that enable the thieves to launder their dirty cash.

The responses by the international community fall far short of what is needed given the economic and humanitarian costs of the kinds of developments that are detailed in this new report.

And so we turn to the forthcoming conclave in New York. This year, as so often in the past, as the prime ministers, presidents and other delegates engage over fine cocktails and lavish banquets and sit through endless speeches that are just modest updates of speeches given often before, the deadly nexus of grand corruption and human atrocities will be ignored.

Some national leaders will come to New York with large delegations, who will have substantial “official” expense accounts to hire limousines, stay in the best hotels and spend their days in the luxury department stores without ever going near the U.N. building.

Who can act?

Reports like this new one need to be as widely disseminated as possible.

If world leaders are to be shaken out of their complacency, then I believe this will only happen when young people everywhere voice their concerns for a more civilized world through exchanging information and views on social media, calling for major public demonstrations and demanding to be heard.

I have been involved in anti-corruption campaigning for more than 25 years. My experience tells me that reports like this new one, and the leadership of very high-profile celebrities like George Clooney, can make a difference.

Sadly, it takes time, and this is something that the people in South Sudan and in many more countries, who are the victims of grand corruption, do not have.

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About Frank Vogl

Frank Vogl is co-founder of Transparency International and author of Waging War on Corruption: Inside the Movement Fighting the Abuse of Power. [Washington D.C., United States]

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