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Violent Kleptocracies: How they’re destroying parts of Africa and how they can be dismantled

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Violent Kleptocracies: How they’re destroying parts of Africa and how they can be dismantled

Posted by John Prendergast on October 18, 2016


The Problem: Mass Atrocities and Hijacked States

Millions of people have suffered and perished in the ongoing wars in East and Central Africa, including Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, and the Central African Republic. The big prize in these deadly conflicts is the control of a hijacked state and the natural resource wealth of the country. This enables mass looting of state resources and diverting state budgets into military and security spending to perpetrate wars and to maintain power by any means necessary.


Corrupt networks are at the root of terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and organized crime. Corruption also drives and influences war and mass atrocities, but much less is known about this nexus. Research by the Enough Project and The Sentry in East and Central Africa confirms how kleptocratic networks[1] have captured the state, at times using extreme violence to achieve their objectives. Wars are begun, extended, or deepened as a result. International facilitators enable those who steal and commit atrocities. At every level, there are incentives for corruption, secrecy, state capture, illicit movement of money, and deadly violence.

African collaborators in the kleptocracy

  • Armed leaders and family members with large stakes in lucrative businesses
  • Government officials and family members with large stakes in lucrative businesses
  • Government bookkeepers, paymasters, and other financial administrators
  • Businesspeople who make large profits—often from government contracts—and who provide minimal goods and services
  • State companies/parastatals
  • Regional traffickers and transporters of illicit natural resources

International collaborators in the kleptocracy (whether inadvertent or not)

  • Banks
  • Oil, mining, and construction companies
  • Transnational traffickers and transporters of illicit natural resources
  • Arms dealers
  • Law and accounting firms
  • Money transfer service providers
  • Foreign investors who are willing to pay bribes
  • Sympathetic outside governments and armed forces with vested interests

Enabling environment

  • War and instability
  • Mass atrocities
  • Lack of accountability
  • Undermining and manipulation of the rule of law
  • Military repression, intimidation of independent voices and reformers
  • New or weak institutions
  • Authoritarian governance
  • Severe poverty and extreme economic inequality
  • Unregulated and compromised extractive resource sector
  • Opportunistic alliances and rivalries of competing political and military actors

Methods of corruption

  • Contract fraud and contract inflation
  • Bribery
  • Theft from the treasury
  • Offshoring the profits of natural resource extraction
  • Use of shell companies
  • Tax evasion
  • Use of hidden bank accounts

With the help of international enablers in these unstable and authoritarian settings, state institutions are captured and state resources are siphoned into private bank accounts, while remaining resources go primarily to fund security networks to maintain power and expand extraction.

Download the full report to read Part Two and Part Three.

[1] Enough defines violent kleptocracy as a system of state capture in which ruling networks and commercial partners hijack governing institutions for the purpose of resource extraction and for the security of the regime. Ruling networks utilize varying levels of violence to maintain power and repress dissenting voices. Terrorist organizations, militias, and rebel groups can also control territory in a similar manner.