Equality, Justice, Freedom and Democracy

Sep 16, 2018 by

In South Sudan, a child sits by a wall painted with the flag of the world’s newest nation.
In South Sudan, a child sits by a wall painted with the flag of the world’s newest nation. Tim Freccia / Enough Project
By John Prendergast 
More than any other factor, war has driven and shaped human history. Superficially, many wars appear to be senseless. Look beneath the surface, and there is one common denominator: unchecked greed. War may be hell for the people in conflict-ridden countries, but it is very profitable and politically beneficial for a small group of ruthless opportunists.
This is hauntingly true in the region I’ve lived in or worked on throughout the past 35 years: East and Central Africa — the deadliest war zone globally since World War II — which includes Darfur, South Sudan, Rwanda, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It is unchecked greed that created this “looting machine” in East and Central Africa. For war profiteers, crime pays. And violence — even genocide — has a purpose: to maintain or gain power in order to control the primary sources of wealth.
And boy, is there ever wealth. East and Central Africa has some of the richest troves of natural resources in the world. Oil, gold, diamonds, ivory, tin, tantalum, tungsten, copper, cobalt, timber and arable land mean that the “scramble for Africa” continues, as American, European, Asian, Middle Eastern and African companies and governments collaborate with local power brokers and armed groups to extract — often violently and illegally — these riches.
What results is a state that is captured by officials who repurpose governing institutions for their own benefit. These kleptocracies are the root cause of the dictatorships and wars in Africa today.
International responses have done little to counter these insidious power arrangements. This leads to a bizarre phenomenon in which taxpayers and philanthropists in the United States and around the world send billions of dollars a year in aid to Africa, while African kleptocrats and their international accomplices spirit billions of dollars a year in stolen assets out of Africa into shell companies, bank accounts and real estate.
Current efforts to bring peace and prevent atrocities in the region aren’t working because they don’t build leverage to disrupt the source of the conflicts. A more effective strategy would target the financial networks profiting from and funding war and human rights abuses, isolating these kleptocratic networks from the international financial system and creating real consequences.
If the primary motive for the system is unchecked greed and the accumulation of wealth, then the solution is obvious: Go after the money.
Genocide, mass atrocities and conflict can be effectively countered and stopped. Let your representatives know that they can help end extreme human suffering in places like South Sudan and Congo. Going after the illicit assets of those enriching themselves from the violence would alter the incentive structure from war to peace, from corruption to transparency, and finally give meaning to the post-Holocaust refrain: “Never again.”
John Prendergast is the founding director of the Enough Project, and with George Clooney he co-founded and runs the Sentry, which follows the money of the networks funding and profiting from genocide and other atrocities. He is the co-author of the forthcoming book, “Congo Stories: Battling Five Centuries of Exploitation and Greed.”

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