Editor's Note: This op-ed originally appeared in Foreign Policy and was written by Enough Project Founding Director John Prendergast.
Throughout history, war may have been hell, but for small groups of conflict profiteers it has also been very lucrative. Today’s deadliest conflicts in Africa — such as those in Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, northern Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo — are sustained by extraordinary opportunities for illicit self-enrichment that emerge in war economies, where there is a visible nexus between grand corruption and the instruments of mass atrocities. State armies and rebels use extreme violence to control natural resources, labor, and smuggling networks. Violence becomes self-financing from pillaging, natural resource looting, and the theft of state assets with connections that extend to New York, London, Dubai, and other global financial centers.
During the final year and a half of his presidency, President Barack Obama has a real opportunity to make a difference in helping to stop these wars — a cause he committed to during his recent trip to Africa. “If African governments and international partners step up with strong support, we can transform how we work together to promote security and peace in Africa,” Obama said in a July 28 speech in Ethiopia. He also threatened consequences for those who are unwilling to make peace. Speaking on Aug. 4 about a peace deal aimed at ending the South Sudan war, he warned that the United States would have to “recognize that those leaders are incapable of creating the peace that is required” and find a new way forward if the country’s warring leaders miss an Aug. 17 deadline. But if the war economies that keep them going are not addressed, peace processes and counterterrorism efforts like the ones he focused on in South Sudan and Somalia during his trip stand little chance of success.