To halt Sudan’s atrocities, follow the money

Opinion piece in the International Herald Tribune by Nick Grono and John Prendergast.

Darfur

Hard though it is to believe, the horrific humanitarian situation in Darfur is getting worse. There are more clashes now than a year ago, the number of rapes has steadily climbed and humanitarian workers are being attacked. The Darfur Peace Agreement, signed in May, is on the verge of collapse, and more than two million people continue to languish in refugee camps.

Meanwhile the United Nations and its member states fiddle, gently trying to persuade the government of Sudan to accept a UN peacekeeping force in Darfur, but getting nowhere. That’s not surprising, as, over the last 15 years, constructive engagement with Khartoum has rarely produced results.

Sudan is run by a calculating and pragmatic Islamist party that will do whatever it must to survive. Only when it has been subject to real pressure has the regime changed its behavior. It was tough UN and U.S. sanctions in the 1990s that forced Khartoum to cut its ties with Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, and it was U.S. pressure and the imperative of its own survival that later led it to end two decades of civil war with southern Sudan.

Until significant costs are imposed on it, Khartoum has no incentive to stop its current campaign of atrocities – let alone agree to the deployment of a UN force, disarm the janjaweed militias, and implement its other obligations under the Darfur Peace Agreement. Achieving these outcomes will require significant international political will and tough, targeted sanctions. What the international community needs to do is follow the money.

UN member states must change the calculus of self-interest for the Sudanese regime, and one of the most effective ways of doing this is to target its sources of illicit income and unravel the Sudanese leadership’s shadowy web of commercial interests. These interests fall into three categories.

The first includes secret companies run by senior figures in the ruling National Congress Party. These are often registered as private companies under the names of party loyalists. The second encompasses a parallel set of secret companies, run by Sudan’s National Security Agency, and known in Sudan as “al-Sharikat al-Amniya” or “Security Companies.” The third category consists of so-called “charitable companies” that are affiliated with Islamic charities but controlled by Islamists within the regime, and which also support less charitable activities, such as the training of Popular Defense Forces, a paramilitary force responsible for many atrocities during a decade of jihadist war campaigns in southern Sudan.

These three sets of commercial interests operate across the entire economic spectrum in Sudan, and are dominant in the construction, oil and communication sectors. Despite efforts by regime leaders to conceal them, their existence is well known within Sudan, as the companies have managed to acquire a sizable portion of the country’s assets and have in the process produced a new breed of Islamist nouveaux- riches whose wealth is on display.

It is the cash flows from these off-budget entities that enable the regime to buy the loyalty of tribal leaders, and through them the janjaweed militias, and pay the salaries and equipment of its foot soldiers.

The UN Security Council’s panel of experts for Sudan, and national and multilateral agencies looking into the financial networks that sustain international terrorism, need to focus squarely on this parallel economic network run by Sudan’s regime.

Targeting the ruling party’s assets and those of its security agencies and fraudulent charities could inflict real damage on the regime’s ability to sustain its ethnic cleansing campaign. But much more investigative work has to be done to clearly identify these commercial interests and the nature of their activities.

Appeals to Khartoum’s conscience, and requests for its assistance in winding back its ethnic cleansing campaign, are destined to fail. The regime will only change its behavior in response to realistic threats of punishment. Until it changes Khartoum’s calculus of self-interest, the international community will continue to flail around helplessly while the conflict and suffering in Darfur get worse.

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