Note: This blog contains excerpts from the “Weapons of Mass Corruption” report.
Today, the Enough Project released a new report, Weapons of Mass Corruption: How corruption in South Sudan’s military undermines the world’s newest country. This fifth installment of the Political Economy of African Wars Series describes the system of corruption within the South Sudanese army (the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, SPLA). The report shows how corruption within the army is part of the larger system of violent kleptocracy in South Sudan which perpetuates conflict and the commission of atrocity crimes against civilians.
As the report notes, competitive corruption surrounding control of resources, particularly among military actors, has been a defining feature of South Sudan’s system of violent kleptocracy for many years. When the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) emerged as the leading political and military group in pre-independent and then independent South Sudan, battlefield alliances and loyalties contributed to the formation of powerful and problematic patron-client networks. For a brief time in South Sudan, when there was oil money, the system of armed and previously violent competition was stable or played out in political, not military, contexts. However, the loss of oil money in recent years and ultimately the large-scale economic collapse that has both contributed to violence and been worsened by the violence in South Sudan, has caused the power networks to disintegrate and the violence and competition for money, control of the state, and military dominance to intensify.
“For a long time, both local and international observers of South Sudan’s military, have identified that corruption is prolific in military ranks. Ghost soldiers on the payroll and considerable delays in paying salaries are some of the most visible effects of this corruption. This paper adds to that knowledge by exposing inherent flaws in the system, which if addressed, could make the SPLA an efficient and respected force.” – Brian Adeba, Enough Project Associate Director of Policy
Weapons of Mass Corruption shows how an opaque military budget is financially enabling the violent kleptocratic system in South Sudan. A large share of this disproportionately high and rising military budget goes to salaries that are tied to a bloated army roster—which is stacked with what is believed to be thousands of ghost soldiers. With soaring inflation, salaries for soldiers (a fraction of those for commanders) fail to cover basic costs of living, increasing the likelihood of soldiers taking their pay by force—through violence and looting that further harms South Sudanese people. The system of corruption in South Sudan’s military also reinforces inefficiencies, expels reform-minded actors, and rewards those who perpetuate the system that serves private interests at the South Sudanese public’s expense.
The violence in South Sudan disproportionately targets civilians in horrific atrocity crimes that risk becoming genocide.
The report identifies the following ways the international community, including the United States, can create consequences for the actors who perpetuate this predatory system:
- The U.S. government should issue a new executive order on South Sudan that makes public corruption and misappropriation of state assets grounds for sanctions, as current U.S. sanctions programs do for Belarus, Burma, Libya, Syria, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, and Ukraine/Russia.
- U.S. lawmakers should leverage U.S. anti-money laundering authorities by having the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and other financial intelligence units issue advisories and investigative requests related to South Sudanese military transactions. Because many documented financial transactions involving South Sudanese leaders are carried out with U.S. dollars, the United States has leverage to stop or limit some of these transactions.
- The United States should bring pressure and levy stiff penalties on banks, wealth managers, and others who facilitate financial transactions for clients—including South Sudanese parties—who have any assets associated with criminal activity that touch U.S. financial institutions and are thus subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
Additionally, while the report acknowledges that those in power are unlikely to make reforms that diminish their power and access to resources, there are a number of practical measures that could be taken to improve resource management. These measures include:
- Implementing salary adjustments for budget managers, recalibrating the SPLA payroll to better fit realities, and ordering the disbursement of public funds in smaller sums;
- Passing the country’s procurement bill and actively promoting implementation of the bill’s provisions; and
- Exploring proposals to increase taxation of government contracts for procurement and developing other proposed measures to stimulate private sector activity.