Sanctions less effective in war on impunity, plunder in Africa

Saturday October 26 2019

A policewoman controls government supporters marching against sanctions at a rally in Harare, Zimbabwe on October 25, 2019. PHOTO | REUTERS


A new study by a group that investigates “dirty money” in Africa finds that financial sanctions have limited success in quelling armed conflicts and promoting respect for human rights in sub-Saharan countries.

The Sentry, a Washington-based NGO focused on exposing war profiteering and corruption in Africa, examines seven national case studies in its 85-page report titled Beyond Carrots, Better Sticks: Measuring and Improving the Effectiveness of Sanctions in Africa.

Sanctions are less effective, the study says, when countries fail to enforce punitive measures imposed on neighbouring states.

The Sentry cites the example of Kenyan and Ugandan banks that did not act against South Sudanese leaders who had siphoned stolen funds into accounts in those institutions.

Liberia is seen as the African venue where sanctions have proved most successful.

The source of those sanctions is also blamed for their ineffectiveness.


“The United States and other members of the UN Security Council failed to put the same kind of pressure on the Kenyan and Ugandan governments to freeze those funds as they did with, for example, al-Shabaab's funds,” the report points out.

Stringent enforcement is essential for sanctions to have their intended effects, The Sentry says. This has been true since their first application in Africa 85 years ago, the report observes.

“In 1935, the League of Nations orchestrated a boycott, or sanction, against Italy for the invasion of Abyssinia, present-day Ethiopia. France and Britain refused to implement the sanction, and it failed to force any kind of change in Italy’s actions.

Policy goals

The US has been relying more heavily on sanctions to achieve its policy goals in Africa since President Donald Trump took office.

More than 100 individuals and entities in Africa have been hit with financial penalties in the past two years, the report notes. In all, the US, UN and European Union are currently operating 25 sanctions programmes aimed at 11 nations in Africa.

These tools are increasingly favoured because they add muscle to diplomatic engagement but are far less costly and dangerous than military intervention, the Sentry report observes.

Levying sanctions also enables US and EU politicians to show they are “doing something” to halt bloodletting and graft. Sanctions further serve as a means of self-defence for developed countries' financial systems that could otherwise be used for unlawful purposes, the report adds.

When certain conditions are met, sanctions can succeed in changing the behaviour of “rogue regimes and illicit actors,” said Joshua White, policy and analysis director at The Sentry who spoke on the report at a forum in New York. But “sanctions should not be seen as a silver bullet to solving political crises or conflict,” Mr White cautioned.

South Sudan, Zimbabwe and the Central African Republic are cited as countries where sanctions generally failed to produce desired outcomes.

“Almost all of the experts The Sentry spoke to agreed that sanctions against South Sudan were not effective at bringing about peace,” the report states.

But some degree of success can perhaps be claimed for the imposition of “network sanctions” in South Sudan, the report posits. While generalised measures did not compel an end to the country's civil war, sanctions aimed at corrupt, elite groupings on both sides of the conflict have “definitely got their attention and have limited their operating space,” the report says.

“The Sentry has concluded from this case study that the United States should implement more sanctions against the networks of those responsible for perpetrating and promoting mass atrocities.”

Zimbabwe's course was not much affected by punitive actions taken by the US and other countries for a number of years, the report says.

“It appears sanctions were ineffective because of poor messaging, inconsistent attention and little enforcement by the US and EU governments.”

The African Union, UN, US and EU have all imposed sanctions on some perpetrators of the rampant violence that has destabilised the Central African Republic for the past several years.

“While such a broad multilateral effort is usually a plus for sanctions effectiveness, the sanctions have been few in number and poorly enforced,” The Sentry finds in regard to the CAR.

Sanctions have also proved largely ineffective in the case of Burundi, partly because “the Burundian government was not attached enough to the global financial system for sanctions to have much of an impact,” the report says.

At the same time, experts suggest that the Burundi sanctions were useful in focusing international attention on “a violent kleptocracy primed for ethnic conflict,” the study adds.

The US sanctions regime against Sudan indicates that “comprehensive sanctions” aimed at a country's entire economy usually result in failure, The Sentry suggests.

But the measures did isolate the regime of Omar al-Bashir and added to the economic problems that accounted in part for his ouster earlier this year.