South Sudan elites wined and dined as the country burned

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Posted  Saturday, September 17   2016 at  21:32

In Summary

  • A report by the Sentry, a watchdog formed to track money that fuels Africa’s wars, paints a picture of want and misery for the country’s general population but free spending and splendour for its political and military leadership.
  • According to the report, the country’s revenues end up in individuals’ pocket through four “vectors”: The extractive sector, the military state, state spending and money laundering hub.
  • In the meantime, the conflict in South Sudan remains a means to renegotiate the country’s political power balance and the economic profits that it ensures.

On the night of February 17, a United Nations base in Malakal, South Sudan, sheltering about 47,000 displaced persons, was engulfed in violence that left at least 30 people dead and much of the camp in ashes. Of the deaths, almost half were women and children.

Around the same time, 200 kilometres away in Juba, President Salva Kiir was forming a company, in which his 12-year-old son was handed a 25 per cent stake in a holding company worth millions of dollars.

And as the South Sudan conflict raged on after December 2013, social media accounts of President Kiir’s children were awash with images and tales of their 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.

This is just a peek into a damning new report of pillage and plunder of South Sudan — “The nexus of corruption and conflict in South Sudan” — prepared by the Sentry — a watchdog body co-founded by Hollywood actor George Clooney. The report offers a stark contrast between the lavish lifestyles of South Sudan’s leading political and military leaders, and the almost half of the population of country who rely on food assistance for survival.

“Four of the president’s grandchildren attend a private school on the outskirts of Nairobi that costs roughly $10,000 per year. Several of President Kiir’s other children have attended high school and college in Australia, Malaysia, and Uganda. And President Kiir’s children appear to travel internationally for more than just their education. One of his children posted photos and videos on social media showing a vacation throughout Europe with stops in Paris, Munich, Oslo, and Milan,” the report says.

It further lists elites — several high-ranking government and military officials — who it claims have plundered state coffers to accumulate an array of luxury homes and cars, and enrich themselves and their family members through stakes in oil and other state-linked business ventures.

Among the officials are South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, his former deputy Riek Machar, the Chief of Staff of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) Gen Paul Malong Awan, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the SPLA for Logistics in charge of Military Procurement, Gen Malek Reuben Riak, and Gen Gabriel Jok Riak, a field commander.

Even before the dust settled on the allegations, the denials have been fast and furious.

“The president doesn’t have any property in Nairobi or anywhere. The president does not even have a bank account, so how do these people arrive at all these?” South Sudan presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said.

Neighbours abroad

James Gatdet Dak, spokesman for Machar, also denies the claims in the report.

“It is a lie. Dr Riek Machar’s family does not own a house in Nairobi or in Addis Ababa as alleged. They are renting a house in Nairobi, while the one in Addis Ababa was a temporary guest house provided by the Ethiopian authorities during the peace negotiations,” Mr Dak said.

This does little to dim the irony of the two protagonists not seeing eye to eye in Juba yet almost sharing the same street in a posh suburb in Nairobi, going by the Sentry report.

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