Today, Enough’s initiative The Sentry published its latest report, Making a Fortune while Making a Famine: The Illustrative Case of a South Sudanese General. It examines documents concerning Lt. Gen. Malek Reuben Riak, who was recently promoted to deputy chief of defense staff, and is one of the senior generals that the U.N. Security Council’s Panel of Experts has identified as responsible for the violence in Unity state that directly led to the famine. A close examination of these documents helps illustrate the warped incentives that are presented to senior military officials in South Sudan.
Information provided to The Sentry after publication of its September 2016 report, included in this new report, provides more clarity about the nature and extent of Lt. Gen. Reuben Riak’s business operations in South Sudan and his links with multinational corporations, banks, and foreign politicians. This report uses this new information to take a closer look at Lt. Gen. Reuben Riak’s business activities. One important finding is that the documents reviewed by The Sentry indicate that Lt. Gen. Reuben Riak appears to control a private business called Mak International Services that sells explosives to private companies operating in South Sudan—an arrangement that has been not only been endorsed but also promoted on an exclusive basis by the military in which he holds a key leadership role. According to other documents reviewed by The Sentry, Lt. Gen Reuben Riak also sits, along with several other senior generals, on the board of a holding company that has joint ventures with foreign investors and appears to be active in South Sudan’s mining and construction sectors. This Sentry report also reviews documents detailing how Lt. Gen. Reuben Riak’s family members appear to be representing his interests on several commercial ventures, often alongside the family members of other senior government officials in South Sudan. This report also examines documents that purport to show that Lt. Gen. Reuben Riak and members of his family jointly own businesses with members of the political elite in neighboring Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda.
John Prendergast, co-founder of The Sentry and Founding Director at the Enough Project, said: “The documents revealed in The Sentry report concerning Lt. Gen. Reuben Riak illustrate a broader pattern in South Sudan in which powerful officials work closely together in a relatively small network and preside over the country’s violent kleptocratic system of government. The documents indicate that, by using international facilitators, these officials can get rich while the rest of the country suffers the consequences of a brutal civil war and a horrific famine. Network sanctions should be imposed on Lt. General Reuben Riak, his companies, and his associates, in order to send a strong message to the South Sudan government that business as usual is no longer acceptable, and going forward there will be steep and escalating consequences.”
This case shows how these generals’ business interests often intersect with one another and with those of officials in neighboring countries, undermining the credibility of diplomatic processes designed to promote peace and possibly compromising those involved in negotiations.
The new documents concerning Lt. Gen. Reuben Riak do not just support the proposition that top South Sudanese officials are getting rich off of conflict, they also illustrate the significant untapped leverage held by the international community vis-à-vis these officials. Documents reviewed by The Sentry indicate that Lt. Gen. Reuben Riak has used international banks to move millions of U.S. dollars and he conducts business with international investors. Foreign governments—especially the U.S. government—are in a position to curb his network’s ability to access the international financial system through measures such as:
- Impose economic sanctions on Lt. Gen. Reuben Riak and his network of companies and business associates
- Issue advisories and related investigative measures that target the flow of the proceeds of corruption by South Sudanese generals
- Pressure Kenya, Uganda, and other regional actors to take action against the use of their financial systems as havens for South Sudanese corruption, especially as Kenya prepares for international evaluation of its anti-money laundering system.