Intervention has reproduced this report below from This Is Africa, not so much on the basis of its belief in its veracity or otherwise but the so many issues it raises for and about Africa – Editor
By This Is Africa, (September 13, 2016)
Whatever happened to African countries looking out for each other? Some Africans love talking up the existence of a vast Western conspiracy to loot the continent by fueling ethnic conflicts. Turns out African countries are just as good at that game themselves. A new explosive report by watchdog group The Sentry, has revealed how Kenya and Uganda have for years looked the other way as South Sudan’s leaders have stashed billions of stolen wealth in their banks and real state markets, all the while spilling the blood of innocents back home. If President Salva Kiir, former vice president Riek Machar and their generals, all have blood on their hands (which they do), then so do Kenya and Uganda for taking their money
On paper, South Sudan is Africa’s youngest democracy. In reality, South Sudan is the world’s most ruthless Kleptocracy. Kleptocracies typically involve a rapacious ruling class that embezzles funds from the public till to enrich itself at the expense of the wider population. Leaders in some Kleptocracies make a show of offering honest service to the people.
According to a damning new report released by The Sentry, an American watchdog group founded by actor George Clooney, South Sudan’s political and military leaders have decided to do away with such pretenses all together and set up a Kleptocracy in its purest form. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, South Sudan’s, is a “government of the corrupt elite, by the corrupt elite, for the corrupt elite.” As John Prendergast and J R Mailey, two of the people closely involved in the investigation that produced the explosive report put it, grand corruption in South Sudan is not a not a bug in the system, it’s a feature.
Making a killing from war
The Sentry report – entitled “War Crimes Shouldn’t Pay” – is chock full of explosive revelations. One revelation that is bound to have wide-felt reverberations in the region is the degree to which South Sudan’s leaders have for years used financial institutions in Kenya and Uganda to siphon plundered wealth. The stolen wealth is then used to buy upmarket residential and commercial properties in Nairobi and Kampala, right under the the noses of presidents Uhuru Kenyatta and Yoweri Museveni, two East African leaders who know better than most the human carnage that the conflict in South Sudan has produced.
The report details various million dollar transactions done by South Sudan’s leaders through Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB), which appears to be the bank of choice for the country’s elite. For example, the report shows how Gen Malek Reuben Riak, the South Sudan army’s deputy chief of staff for logistics, transacted $3 million through his personal account with the Kenyan bank between 2012 and 2016. Gen Malek’s annual salary is $32,000.
“The stolen wealth is then used to buy upmarket residential and commercial properties in Nairobi and Kampala, right under the the noses of presidents Uhuru Kenyatta and Yoweri Museveni”
A more egregious example, because he was subject to United Nations financial sanctions at the time, is that of army field commander Gen Gabriel Jok Riak. Though KCB should have known better with a little due diligence, it allowed him to transact $367,000 through his personal account. How Gen Jok Riak managed to get his hands on such impressive sums on an annual salary of $35,000 is explained somewhat by the apparently shady dealings of another company incorporated in Kenya, Dalbit International.
Dalbit transferred $308,524 to Gen Jok Riak’s account but it denies any wrong doing. It claims that it was merely reimbursing the general for a fuel supply deal that didn’t go through. “This was neither a business transaction nor relationship between Dalbit and the General,” argues the company.
In its report, The Sentry is reluctant to exonerate the Kenyan companies from wrong doing in the transactions. The fact is they are a vital cog in machine that is facilitating endless conflict in South Sudan while helping to protect the leaders and their families from the consequences of their actions:
“The hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments from multinational oil and construction companies that apparently passed through the accounts of Gen Malek Reuben Riak and Gen Gabriel Jok Riak raise serious questions; whether they know it or not, companies that make payments to those responsible for looting and killing in South Sudan play an integral part in facilitating the violent kleptocracy,” reads the reporting. “The banks that processed the transactions, meanwhile, also play a role. These banks, either wittingly or unwittingly, have facilitated the apparent ability of government officials to divert significant sums that could be used to benefit some of the poorest people in the world.”
“The fact is they are a vital cog in machine that is facilitating endless conflict in South Sudan while helping to protect the leaders and their families from the consequences of their actions”
The good life
In careful detail, the report reveals the extent to which the families of South Sudan’s top leaders have turned Nairobi and Kampala into playgrounds even as a bloody civil war has raged back home. With photographic evidence, the report does a masterful job of illustrating how the families of the butchers and looters of South Sudanese are living in the kind of ostentatious excess that would make Caligula blush.
For the families of South Sudan’s leaders, money is no object. With the help of lawyers and bankers, the leaders have set up opaque financial machines to funnel funds to the accounts of their children and spouses. Salva. Kiir’s healthy brood, in particular, appears to have its fingers in a lot of pies. This includes a 12-year-old son who displays a precocious appetite for “investments”.“How do President Kiir’s children afford to live in such apparent luxury? Corporate records for Combined Holding Limited (CHL), a South Sudanese holding company incorporated in February 2016, provide one clue. These records reveal basic information about the company: the date of incorporation, names of shareholders, their contact information and a copy of their passport.”
“With photographic evidence, the report does a masterful job of illustrating how the families of the butchers and looters of South Sudanese are living in the kind of ostentatious excess that would make Caligula blush”
“One of CHL’s shareholders is a 12-year-old child with the surnames “Salva Kiir Mayardit” whose passport lists his occupation as “Son of President.” But, this hardly makes this child unique among members of President Kiir’s immediate family. In total, The Sentry found that at least seven of President Kiir’s children have held stakes in a wide range of business ventures, especially in the extractive and financial sectors.” Having easy access to money means that Kiir’s child want for nothing. That includes the best education the world has to offer, international holidays and partying at the Villa Rosa Kempinski, the pricey hotel where President Barack Obama stayed when he visited Kenya in 2015.
“One of his [Kiir’s] children posted photos and videos on social media showing a vacation throughout Europe with stops in Paris, Munich, Oslo, and Milan. Social media accounts reveal several of the same children of the president and their friends riding jet skis, driving in luxury vehicles, partying on boats, clubbing and drinking in the Villa Rosa Kempinski—one of Nairobi’s fanciest and most expensive hotels—all during South Sudan’s current civil war.
In lengthy and copious detail, the report also reveals the extensive real estate holdings that Kiir, Machar and other South Sudanese have in Kenya and Uganda. Though they can hardly stand to be in the same room together for long, the two leaders apparently have no problem being neighbours in Nairobi. The Sentry report includes a helpful map showing the distance between the Kiir and Machar compounds in Nairobi as well as photos of their other properties. As with the details on their schooling and partying, here again, the social media posts of the children of South Sudan’s elite proved a great resource.
“Members of Machar’s family, whose social media postings and eyewitness accounts indicate were living in the villa in Runda, posted photos on social media claiming that they had moved into a home in Lavington, the same part of the city where the Kiir family lives. The Machar family’s new home, which has a large backyard with a large stone patio and a teardrop-shaped, in-ground swimming pool, is located a short drive from the Kiir home. A source within South Sudan’s government confirmed to The Sentry that the Kiir and Machar homes in Nairobi were close to one another in Lavington.”
“Though they can hardly stand to be in the same room together for long, the two leaders apparently have no problem being neighbours in Nairobi”
If Kiir and Machar have a weakness for Nairobi, the generals of South Sudan’s amy appear to prefer the warmer climes of Uganda’s suburbs. For example, Gen Paul Malong Awan, described as the “the architect of immense human suffering”, “has two large and luxurious homes in Uganda.” If his choice of interior decoration is any indication, Malong , the chief of staff of South Sudan’s army, appears to have a grandiose sense of himself.
“One of these homes sits inside a walled compound located just off Kawuku-Bwerenga Road, halfway between Kampala and Entebbe. Built in 2012, this two-story home is a massive, rose-coloured mansion with dozens of large, ornate windows and appears to be well over 7,000 square feet. The interior is spacious, elegant, and well-maintained, with several portraits of Gen Malong hanging throughout the home.”
The masks are off
The lasting legacy of The Sentry report is it has taken off the masks of South Sudan’s leaders and their enablers in other East African capitals. The South Sudanese leaders, banks in Kenya and real estate agents in Nairobi and Kampala, can no longer plead ignorance about what fuels the endless conflict in Africa’s youngest state. Kiir, for one, has been a master of this act. In June 2012, a letter he wrote to government officials leaked showing him expressing grave concerns about the rampant state of corruption within the government. “An estimated $4 billion are unaccounted for or, simply put, stolen by former and current officials, as well as corrupt individuals with close ties to government officials,” wrote Kiir. Kiir went further in an interview with Kenyan journalist Jeff Koinange in August 2016. “The source of this war was that I chide the ministers to return what they have taken or else I will go and look for the banks that they have hidden the money in—and I will take measures against them,” he said. “Some of these ministers have bought apartments, have bought very beautiful houses, villas. They are hiding it in Kenya and they refuse to reveal it,” he added.
“The South Sudanese leaders, banks in Kenya and real estate agents in Nairobi and Kampala, can no longer plead ignorance about what fuels the endless conflict in Africa’s youngest state”
It’s easy to think from the letter that Kiir is a hapless victim of an ungovernable monster tearing his country apart. But as we’ve learnt from the Sentry report, Kiir and his fellow leaders are benefiting from the chaos unleashed by the two-headed monster of ethnicity and corruption. “The leaders of South Sudan’s warring parties manipulate and exploit ethnic divisions in order to drum up support for a conflict that serves the interests only of the top leaders of these two kleptocratic networks and, ultimately, the international facilitators whose services the networks utilize and on which they rely.” Kiir and his fellow leaders let this monster loose in South Sudan and only they can put it down.