Being a Good Global Neighbor


Being a Good Global Neighbor



Karim Ajania


African Peace Journal

(Reprinted from African Peace Journal on September 10, 2018)

Today, September 10, 2018, is an historic day in the fight against corruption in Africa.

Today, John Prendergast, co-founder of The Sentry briefed the United Nations Security Council in a first-ever session on Corruption and Conflict.

United Nations Ambassadors from around the world endorsed this report by Mr. Prendergast.

Throughout history, war may have been hell, but for small groups of conflict profiteers it has also been very lucrative. Today’s deadliest conflicts in Africa — such as those in South Sudan, Somalia, northern Nigeria, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo — are sustained by extraordinary opportunities for illicit self-enrichment that emerge in war economies, where there is a visible nexus between grand corruption and mass atrocities.

State armies and rebels use extreme violence to control natural resources, labor, and smuggling networks, including those trafficking in wildlife. Violence becomes self-financing from pillaging, natural resource looting, and stealing state assets, with banking and business connections that extend to New York, London, Dubai, and other global financial centers.

— John Prendergast’s report to the United Nations Security Council on September 10, 2018

My editorial team and me at African Peace Journal have followed the vigilant and tireless work of The Sentry on the issues leading up to today’s United Nations Security Council report.

There has been an impressive deployment of lawyers and bankers – which, at first glance, does not seem very exciting. However, it is the mundane and tenacious work of these ‘planners and plodders’ that has helped to demystify the looms of crime that undergird the illicit siphoning off of natural resources into hidden bank accounts (the corruption part); as well as the inherent criminal act of war profiteering (the conflict part).

Having international bankers expose the corruption part, and prosecuting brutal war lords and sending them to tribunals at the International Criminal Court in The Hague in The Netherlands, is courageous work. It also takes tremendous perseverance. This work has also led to sound policy recommendations to the United Nations Security Council by Mr. Prendergast.

John Prendergast and George Clooney, Co-Founders of The Sentry

The policy tools that can provide the UN Security Council and other interested parties with maximal leverage are three-fold: a network-focused approach to sanctions that focus on grand corruption; anti- money laundering measures that focus on illicit movement of money through the international financial system; and prosecutions that focus on financial crimes associated with atrocities.

— John Prendergast’s report to the United Nations Security Council on September 10, 2018

East and Central Africa has some of the richest troves of natural resources in the world. Oil, gold, diamonds, ivory, tin, tantalum, tungsten, copper, cobalt, timber and arable land mean that the “scramble for Africa” continues, as American, European, Asian, Middle Eastern and African companies and governments collaborate with local power brokers and armed groups to extract — often violently and illegally — these riches.

— John Prendergast, The New York Times, September 16, 2018

It is unchecked greed that created this “looting machine” in East and Central Africa. For war profiteers, crime pays. And violence — even genocide — has a purpose: to gain power in order to control the primary sources of wealth.

— John Prendergast, The New York Times, September 16, 2018

A Sense of Proportion

At African Peace Journal and at Pencils for Africa we strive to view the African continent with a healthy sense of proportion.

The normalcy and functionality of democracies, economies, and societies, in most African countries, far outweigh the negative aspects of those countries. The larger portions of these African countries provide us with inspiration and hope, through progress in community, technology, commerce, art, music, humanities, and many other areas of life, on this dynamic and vibrant continent.

Having lived in and traveled to numerous African countries over several decades, I can attest to this progressive trend in so many countries on the continent. I have also come away with an embarrassingly and grossly oversimplified (perhaps even unforgivable) framework that applies to all the African countries I have visited. I am calling this clumsy framework ‘Slums and Scams’.

Slums and Scams

Most functioning African democracies and economies preserve their functionality by turning a blind eye toward slums and scams.

At the very top tiers of these economies, there are always a handful of individuals and families that are greedily skimming off the top (scamming), and siphoning their ill-gotten gains into their off shore bank accounts. At the very bottom of these same economies, there are marginalized communities that often live in squalid conditions (slumming), often on less than one dollar a day.

From a distance, we might well think the average African does not care about the people who scam, or the people who slum. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of course Africans care deeply, but they turn a blind eye, because there is very little they can do regarding overwhelming problems inherent in both kleptocratic corruption and in neglected, marginalized, slum communities.

Refugees fleeing the genocide in South Sudan 

When Global Citizens are Global Neighbors 

When countries like South Sudan are overwhelmed and wounded by violence and genocide, the last thing the people are thinking about is how to expose the corruption of war profiteers through international banking disclosure; or, how to prosecute the war lords in court.

The people are concerned with elemental needs such as food and shelter, such as safety and security. Many are desperately on the run as refugees and fleeing to other African countries.

That is when the work of The Sentry, in countries like South Sudan, is absolutely necessary.

The Sentry sets an exemplary example of practical and effective Global Citizenship by being a friend and Global Neighbor to the country of South Sudan.

Children living in the slums of Kibera in Kenya

At the same time, Pencils for Africa’s “Smart Libraries” project, which celebrates indigenous African storytelling, through the building of a library in the Kibera slums in Kenya, is absolutely necessary.

We can be thoughtful Global Neighbors to countries in Africa, through addressing the overwhelming issues of both slums and scams. By taking on the longterm challenges of both slums and scams, we extend our friendship, and a helping hand, to our neighbors in Africa, and nurture an expansion of that portion of their economies and societies that are already making huge strides of progress.

The Sentry is a good neighbor to countries like South Sudan.

Pencils for Africa is a good neighbor to countries like Kenya.

We are all in this global neighborhood together.

— Karim