“We have no leverage.” “All of this leader’s money is parked elsewhere in Africa, in Dubai, or Europe.” “Sanctions do not work.”
These are just a few of the views one often hears from observers of crises in Africa and, more worryingly, senior U.S. and foreign diplomats assigned to try to resolve them. Through the Enough Project’s engagement with these officials, my colleagues and I regularly encounter such opinions. It is increasingly clear to us that there is a broad lack of familiarity with the array of tools that policymakers have at their disposal to address seemingly intractable conflicts or murderous warlords. These tools have not been a consistent part of the policy discussion concerning how to resolve crises, or when they have, the institutional barriers to action have been too high. So it is no wonder those tools are often used improperly, ineffectively, or not at all.
As investigations by The Sentry and related policy analysis by Enough demonstrate, the opposite is true: the international community, and in particular the United States, possesses many options to exert leverage that could impact the calculations, behavior, or material position of elites who drive large-scale violence and their accomplices. The fact is that almost none of this leverage has been deployed, especially in some of the direst cases, like South Sudan.
This paper summarizes more than 15 different options that can be used to change this dynamic: strategies for the international community, especially the U.S. government, to exert leverage through use of financial pressure tools and related diplomacy. These options are premised on four key findings from The Sentry’s investigations:
• Key officials in East and Central Africa responsible for conflict and atrocities reap significant financial benefits from their business dealings in multiple economic sectors and through work with facilitators and enablers within the region and across the globe;
• These officials work through interconnected business networks involving dozens of companies on which they, their family members, and business proxies serve as shareholders and owners;
• These companies and their business sectors operate largely in the U.S. dollar, which provides the U.S. government with jurisdiction over many of the transactions;
• The structure of these networks and their conduct of business in U.S. dollars resemble the structures of the networks that the U.S. government and international community have dealt with in responding to other threats, from Iran to Myanmar to narcotics trafficking.
In light of these findings, and the urgency of the crises throughout East and Central Africa, the following options should urgently be explored. Each tool must of course be adapted for the specific circumstances. These tools must also be used not simply for their own sakes or to punish bad actors in a vacuum, but with a clear connection to over-arching foreign policy strategies focused on achieving peace. Although it is always preferable for the United States to act in concert with other countries or international organizations, these are also tools that can—and should—be used unilaterally, if only to propel others to join.