World changes tack, now targets individuals to take responsibility for their misdeeds

Sunday November 3 2019

Zimbabwe snactions

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

The EastAfrican
By The EastAfrican
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Super powers seeking to push for good governance in Africa have recently changed tack.

This was after realising the unintended consequence of wholesale sanctions against governments ends up punishing the public, thereby provoking a communal backlash against the imposers.

None of the countries has been in focus more than the US, the EU and the UN whose sanctions against countries as diverse as Burundi, Central Africa Republic, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan have ended up hurting citizens of hostile regimes more.

They have now resorted to targeted sanctions against individuals who they deem a threat to peace, engage in grand corruption or crimes against humanity or perpetuate transnational crimes.

As a result, Africa now has more individuals under sanctions such as travel restrictions and asset freezes than any other continent. The restrictions have a vein – they are mostly against warlords and the corrupt.

In the eastern African region, individuals in South Sudan, Sudan, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Burundi are under various forms of sanctions as their counterparts in Western and Southern Africa.


The jury is out on whether restrictions on individuals have stopped rogue state officials from plundering their countries, waging war or engaging in human rights abuses such as forceful evictions, rape and trafficking of drugs, humans, animal trophies or minerals?

Political will

In a 2016 testimony before the US Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy, Princeton Lyman, the former senior advisor to the president at the US Institute of Peace, said sanctions alone do not achieve much.

“Without supporting actions, sanctions alone are not sufficient,” he said, giving the example of Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Cote d’Ivoire where restrictions on trade in diamonds and other commodities weakened rebel or anti-democratic forces. This facilitated their defeat or brought them to negotiate for peace.

He also said sanctions against individuals needed transnational support, especially from neighbouring countries; a lack of which delayed transitions in Sudan under Hassan Omar al-Bashir, Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe and still sustain the conflict in South Sudan.

Sexual violence

While most sanctions on Sudan were directed specifically to the conflict in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile States, Mr Lyman said it was generally recognised that without a political transformation in Sudan, these conflicts were unlikely to be resolved.

Seif Magango deputy director East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes at the Amnesty International said prospects for accountability in South Sudan have not improved since President Salva Kiir promoted political and military officials sanctioned by the UN Security Council over complicity in serious crimes under international law.

Malek Reuben Riak Rengu, former SPLA deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, was for instance sanctioned by the Security Council on July 13, 2018, for planning and executing sexual and gender-based violence. He was promoted to Deputy Minister of Defence and Veteran Affairs two months later.

In South Sudan, the UN, the US and the EU have sanctioned many war generals from 2014, even some had their bank accounts frozen, but AU countries, especially those under the eastern Africa security and development overseer IGAD, did not act on them.

In February 2018, the EU added former chief of general staff, Paul Malong; Information Minister Michael Makuei Leuth; and Malek Reuben Riak, who has served as deputy Chief of Defence Staff and Inspector General of South Sudan’s army since May 2017 over serious human rights violations, including the systematic destruction of villages and infrastructure, killing and torture of civilians, and the use of sexual violence against children.

Kenyan and Ugandan banks came under international scrutiny when they ignored obligations to freeze assets and other proceeds of money laundering on the sanctioned individuals.

The US had imposed sanctions against the trio in September 2017 and was closely followed by Canada in November.

Web of corruption

Gen Riak was accused of profiting from a web of corruption through companies he controlled while Gen Malong and Mr Lueth were accused of blocking humanitarian aid and ordering the massacre of hundreds of civilians.

In DRC, the US imposed sanctions on three senior officials from Democratic Republic of Congo’s electoral commission, accusing them of obstructing the December 2018 presidential election by embezzling money meant to finance the vote through shell companies.

The US sanctions target commission President Corneille Nangaa, Vice President Norbert Basengezi and Marcellin Mukolo Basengezi, an adviser to Nangaa and son of Norbert Basengezi.

The latter two were accused of bribing justices on Congo’s top court to approve an election delay in 2016 and inflating the cost of electronic voting machines by as much as $100 million.

In Kenya, the Trump Administration in September imposed sanctions on several individuals over alleged support to terrorist groups.

They included Garissa based Sheikh Hassaan Hussein Adam (Hussein), Sheikh Hassaan (Omar), Mr Hassan Mahad (Omar) and Mr Hassan Mahat.

Egypt-born Kenyan citizens Al Masri, Abd Al Wakil (Ali) and Moustafa Ali Elbishy (Al Masri are also in the blacklist alongside Mombasa-based Somali national Abdifatah Abubakar Abdi (Muhajir, Musa).

Money laundering

In April, the Treasury Department issued similar sanctions on Kenya-based Halima Adan Ali saying she was part of a network that moved more than $150,000 through the Hawala system to Islamic State fighters in Syria, Libya and central Africa.

Earlier sanctions against individuals in the region by the EU targeted four officials close to Burundi’s president Pierre Nkurunziza who abetted instability in the country by backing his eventually successful third term in office.

They included Nkurunziza’s former security Chief General Adolphe Nshimirimana who was killed in August. President Nkurunziza was spared the September 2015 travel bans and asset freezes or visa bans in the case of government officials on diplomatic considerations.

Despite the EU renewing the sanctions in 2018 for a year to October 31, 2019 over lack of progress in resolving the political stalemate, the African Union and the East Africa Community has not acted on the Burundi or South Sudan sanctions.

Under diplomatic protocols, regional economic communities should first be enforce sanctions against their errant members before the AU acts.

An exception is under the non-indifference provision introduced in the AU Constitutive Act in 2,000 allowing the body to intervene where there is a risk of potential genocide or destabilisation an entire region.

The AU, however, has been quick to suspend governments that usurp power through undemocratic means.

That it does neither impose restrictions over political excesses, corruption and human rights abuses on governments and individuals in power nor enforce restrictions passed by the likes of the EU, UN and US, has led to accusations of that it is pro-Establishment.