James Akena / Reuters

The Key to Making Peace in Africa

Fighting Corruption Can Help End Conflict

In December 2013, competing factions of South Sudan’s ruling party plunged the country into a horrific civil war as they fought over the spoils of the world’s newest state. Now in its fourth year, the conflict has ravaged the economy, resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, brought hundreds of thousands to the brink of famine, and displaced more than four million people, making this Africa’s largest refugee crisis since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. And yet, amid all the suffering, a small clique of government elites and their cronies inside and outside South Sudan have benefited financially from the fighting, siphoning off the country’s oil wealth and storing the money in their private bank accounts and in luxury real estate in neighboring countries.

South Sudan’s top officials and their families and associates serve as the main beneficiaries to lucrative contracts, and they steal an astonishing amount from state coffers. As a new Sentry investigation reveals, between 2014 and 2015, top politicians, military leaders, government agencies, and companies owned by politicians and their family members have plundered more than $80 million. To name but one example, Mary Ayen Mayardit, the wife of President Salva Kiir, partially owns an air cargo company that received half a dozen payments from the state oil company, Nilepet. The funds were then used toward military and national security operations, including three payments during an intense period of fighting between April and May 2015. This opaque military procurement process enables the first family to benefit financially from the war—a massive conflict of interest.

Other documents obtained by the Sentry show how Stephen Dhieu Dau, the petroleum minister at the time, used oil revenue to support a militia that had allegedly committed atrocities. A company partly owned by Ajok Wol Atak, the wife of then military chief of staff Paul Malong Awan; Bol Aguer Dok, the nephew of Dau; and Garwec Nyok Kekui, a business associate of the petroleum minister, also received payments from Nilepet for war-related operations

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