[Report] The Sentry – How the South Sudanese elite makes a fortune while making a famine


In an investigative report, shared with The Bright Continent earlier this week, investigators thoroughly describe how the continuous atrocities and suffering in South Sudan, are rather beneficial for an army general who illustrates the corrupted and bad (political) leadership in world’s youngest country.


The report is drafted by The Sentry, which is an American research collective, consisting of policy analysts, regional experts and forensic investigators. With a special focus on (central) African countries like South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of The Congo (DRC), the investigative team follows the streams of money, in order to expose how genocide and mass atrocities are funded on the one hand, and how corrupted elites benefit from it on the other hand.

Co-founded by George Clooney, the investigative collective tries to create consequences for those (in)directly involved in the funding of genocide and mass human rights violations. This isn’t solely done by exposing wrongs and violations of international law. When corruption, money laundering or funding of violence is underlined, the Sentry continues by clearly explaining economic and political steps or sanctions which can be taken in order to complicate and overturn the lives of those benefiting from severe human suffering.

‘The documents revealed in The Sentry report indicate that the South Sudan army (SPLA) has directed foreign companies to purchase explosives from a private company owned by Lt. Gen. Reuben Riak.’

A short recap of the violence and human suffering in South Sudan, since its independence in 2011:

When president Salva Kiir (Dinka tribe) accused his former deputy Riek Machar (Nuer tribe) of planning a coup d’état in 2013, tribal fighting broke out, which has caused the deaths of an estimated 300.000 people. Despite several attempts to establish a ceasefire agreement, the fighting increased, throwing the country and its population back into an anarchic system of violence. Consequently, long predicted droughts are currently causing tremendous suffering due to famine in different regions of the country. Unlike many might assume, this famine is the direct result of bad and corrupted governance by the political elite in the country, forcing people to leave their fertile lands and flee the excessive violence. The Sentry report tries to underline the corrupted governance, by exposing how the military and political elite of South Sudan benefit from the famine, causing the deaths and suffering of hundreds of thousands.

In its report, The Sentry follows the money around South Sudanese Lieutenant General Malek Reuben Riak, who was promoted to Deputy Chief of Defense Staff and Inspector General of the army, under the reign of ‘president’ Salva Kiir. Investigated documents reveal how the General – who functions as an example – has amassed and offshored millions of dollars through an array of questionable business enterprises.


Lieutenant General Malek Reuben Riak

Lt. Gen. Malek Reuben Riak has been identified by the United Nations as one of the military leaders responsible for sparkling tribal violence, and consequently causing the famine. Driving force behind his violent nature seems to be an array of lucrative side companies in mining, engineering, construction, energy and explosives. Foreign companies, for instance, are directed by the South Sudan Army (SPLA) to purchase explosives from a private company owned by Lieutenant General Reuben Riak.

Additional highlights expose how the South Sudanese general easily enriches himself through corruption, money laundering, foreign investors and international banks:

  • Documents revealed by The Sentry indicate that Lt. Gen. Reuben Riak has used international banks to move millions of U.S. dollars and to conduct business with international investors. Foreign governments—especially the U.S. government—are in a position to curb his ability to access the international financial system. 
  • Documents indicate that Lt. Gen. Reuben Riak controls a private business called Mak International Services that sells explosives to private companies operating in South Sudan—an arrangement that, the documents suggest, has been not only endorsed but also promoted on an exclusive basis by the military in which he holds a key leadership role.
  • Documents indicate that Lt. Gen. Reuben Riak sits, along with several other senior generals, on the board of a holding company that has joint ventures with foreign investors and appears to be active in South Sudan’s mining and construction sectors.
  • Documents also indicate that Lt. Gen. Reuben Riak’s family members appear to be representing his interests on several commercial ventures, often alongside the family members of other senior government officials in South Sudan.
  • Documents show that Lt. Gen. Reuben Riak and members of his family jointly own businesses with members of the political elite in neighboring Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda. 
  • Ensuring that financial institutions are effectively blocking illicit transfers is in the national security interest of the United States and other countries, as the same loopholes that allow kleptocrats to move their ill-gotten gains through U.S. banks also empower terrorists, traffickers, organized crime syndicates, and other bad actors.

Subsequently, the report calls for the United States and other governments to increasingly use political and economic tools in order to pressure the military and political elite of war thorn South Sudan. Financial sanctions like freezing assets in the networks of corrupted leaders and anti-money laundering policies should create consequences for bad leadership, making it less attractive for the elite to enrich itself over the heads of its citizens.

‘Consequences should be imposed on South Sudanese officials, senior military officers and their networks who have gotten rich while nearly half the country’s population, an estimated 7.5 million people, face starvation and are in urgent need of assistance.’

In the report three recommendations are extensively described, through which neighboring governments and international powers can induce sanctions which can significantly complicate the corruption and money laundering of the South Sudanese elite. In short, these are the proposed sanctions:

  • Impose network sanctions (i.e., asset freezes targeting a network of individuals and entities, rather than a single person) on a wide array of government actors and their networks and ensure these sanctions are robustly enforced
  • Curb the flow of the proceeds of corruption in South Sudan (while cracking down on any banks that fail to stop such transactions) through anti-money laundering instruments
  • Encourage South Sudan’s neighbors to cooperate in combating the looting of assets from South Sudan and imposing asset freezes on those responsible for human rights violations and financial misconduct

Altogether, assisted by its detailed examples of corruption and money laundering, over the heads of the South Sudanese population, the report is rather confronting for the international community. The South Sudanese population suffers severely from the violence and famines, directly induced by its military and political elite. However, by exposing the astonishing self-enrichment in such detail, and by describing comprehensive recommendations to counter these violations of international law, the Sentry provides a ready-to-use manual for the international community to complicate the corruption and money laundering. By doing so, the excessive violence, atrocities and famine, might become less beneficial for the rather barbaric elite.

Download the full report here.

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