Executive Summary and Recommendations
President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Kenya and Ethiopia comes at a time of deep crisis in neighboring South Sudan. American contributions to the massive humanitarian response and support for the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) mediation effort to end South Sudan’s 19-month war have been considerable. However, the peace process has been undermined by competing mediation efforts by various African interlocutors which allows the warring parties to “forum shop” and demonstrate a complete lack of will to implement anything they agree to, particularly a string of agreements to cease hostilities.
The recently expanded IGAD Plus mediation structure will hopefully address the forum-shopping concerns. However, much more work is needed to develop the essential ingredient for a durable and lasting agreement: the leverage necessary to alter the calculations of the parties from pursuing war to pursuing peace. The leaders of the two sides fight on in the belief that there will be no personal consequence, and outside actors collaborate in the destruction of this embryonic state through their military support and collusion in vast corruption, both past and present. Without a wider strategy of leverage-building financial pressures and a push to secure regional and broader international cooperation for that approach, it will be difficult to address the deep political divisions fueled by a violent struggle for the spoils of a corrupt state.
In South Sudan, corruption and illicit financial flows, the offshoring of assets by elites, large-scale abuse and mismanagement of the extractives industry, security sector fraud, the convergence of licit and illicit systems, disguised beneficial ownership, and regulatory evasion have all combined to create a kleptocratic governing system. President Obama’s trip offers an opportunity to reorient U.S. government policies to move beyond threats and focus on a much more robust strategy of disrupting and ultimately dismantling this system, which is funding, fueling, and profiting from the conflict in South Sudan.
While in Kenya and Ethiopia, President Obama should take the following steps:
- Asset Freezes, Travel Bans, and an Arms Embargo: Urge President Uhuru Kenyatta and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to work with the United States in support of a multilateral arms embargo and the imposition of an escalating set of high-level sanctions designations against politically influential individuals and their enablers. Also, encourage the Kenyan and Ethiopian leaders to enforce the existing sanctions designations by freezing the assets and restricting the travel of the six military commanders who are already designated by the U.N. Security Council. Make it clear that if the presence of any of the designated individuals is required for the peace process, the government of Ethiopia can request a case-by-case exemption from the U.N. Sanctions Committee as provided under U.N. Security Council Resolution 2206. This push in the region should be coupled with a directive to the Departments of State and Treasury as well as to other relevant agencies to intensify their efforts to collect information and develop dossiers on potential additional targets for sanctions. These targets may include South Sudan’s high-level political leaders and their financial backers, in the region and beyond. This strategy could lay the foundation for a rapidly escalating targeted sanctions regime that begins to finally create a cost for those making the decisions to continue the war or fund and profit from it.
- Kleptocracy Asset Recovery and Return: Urge Kenya and Ethiopia to contribute actively to a transnational effort to trace, seize, freeze, and return the proceeds of corruption to the people of South Sudan by sharing intelligence through the Asset Recovery Inter-Agency Network of Eastern Africa. At the same time, prioritize U.S. inter-agency support to the Department of Justice’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative as it seeks to identify actionable cases of grand corruption with a strong connection to the United States. Work with the U.K.’s Proceeds of International Corruption Unit and with Europol, Canada, and Australia to pursue this agenda internationally.
- Capacity Building for U.N. Sanctions Enforcement: Offer to expand the U.S. government’s existing effort to build the technical capacity of East African financial institutions beyond the Treasury Department’s current emphasis on anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing support to also include capacity-building assistance for more effective U.N. sanctions enforcement. Prioritize the programs that enhance the operational capacity of regional financial intelligence units in Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia to coordinate asset freezes. Urge President Kenyatta and Prime Minister Hailemariam to submit member state reports on Kenyan and Ethiopian efforts to enforce U.N. Security Council Resolution 2206. These reports should include a discussion of Kenyan and Ethiopian domestic sanctions implementation frameworks.
- Beneficial Ownership Transparency: Ask Kenya, Ethiopia, and other African states to adopt regulatory reforms to increase transparency about the beneficial owners of corporate assets and trusts. Connect the proliferation of shell companies and secrecy jurisdictions in Africa with the broad problem the continent faces with illicit financial flows and the recent U.N. decision to redouble efforts to combat these practices. At the same time, urge the U.S. Department of Treasury to incorporate expanded control requirements and a look-back provision into the U.S. government’s proposed beneficial ownership rule, set to be released in August.
- Connecting Regional Infrastructure Projects to Peace: Make clear that the U.S. government is ready to work with Chinese President Xi Jinping to lead a comprehensive review of bilateral and multilateral funds earmarked for regional infrastructure projects in East Africa to assess the viability of such investments given the conflict in South Sudan. Regional sanctions enforcement should be made a criteria in an overall risk mitigation strategy governing the disbursement of donor funds, foreign investment, and technical assistance to implement these important infrastructure development projects.
- Accountability for Pillage and Grand Corruption: Build on the U.S. government’s May 2015 pledge of $5 million for justice and accountability in South Sudan and on both warring parties’ February 2015 commitment to a hybrid court by urging the immediate creation of a hybrid court for South Sudan with an investigative wing to begin work even before the conflict ends. The court should have jurisdiction over crimes against humanity, human rights abuses, economic crimes—including pillage, as a war crime—and grand corruption. While in the region, also amplify the U.S. government’s push for the African Union Peace and Security Council to consider and release the AU Commission of Inquiry’s report on South Sudan.
- Empowering Anti-Corruption Civil Society Actors: Meet with civil society, especially anti-corruption campaigners from Kenya, Ethiopia, and South Sudan. In the longer term, the United States should prioritize funding to civil society groups in South Sudan that are actively engaged in anti-corruption campaigns to improve transparency and accountability in government spending. In South Sudan, which recently ratified the U.N. Convention Against Corruption, laws already criminalize corruption and require elected officials to disclose their assets and corporate interest. South Sudanese civil society groups can advocate that these provisions be enforced.