South Africa’s ascendance to the United Nations Security Council this year offers an unprecedented opportunity to reshape peace efforts in some of Africa’s deadliest conflicts.
For example, South African leadership is needed in South Sudan — which gained independence from Sudan in 2011 — where a peace deal to end more than five years of violence teeters on the brink of collapse. Key deadlines for troop cantonment and the formation of a government of national unity are far behind schedule, with minimal prospects for implementation.
But, prospects for stability could stand a better chance if key United Nations tools of financial pressure — targeted asset freezes and travel bans — designed to advance the chances for peace are used robustly against the key networks of peace spoilers inside and outside South Sudan.
As a country with a progressive foreign policy, South Africa could set the direction for the African members of the Security Council, the so-called A3, on using UN tools of coercive power in an updated and more effective manner to bolster the chances of peace in South Sudan.
By adopting a modernised concept of sanctions, South Africa could take the lead in encouraging the other African members of the Security Council — Côte d’Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea — and by extension the African Union, to hit reset on how and for what purposes financial pressures are used in Africa.
With political actors bent on obstructing peace in South Sudan, UN sanctions as currently used offer little to no prospect for building leverage.
A key obstacle to effective results is the fact that UN sanctions often target mid-level commanders and politicians with minimal or nonexistent command and control responsibilities. Sanctioning such officials is inconsequential because the culprits with real power are free to continue their egregious obstruction of peace efforts.
In addition, UN sanctions in Africa often target individuals with no real links to the global financial system. Targeting officials, for instance, whose wealth is in cattle herds for local consumption diminishes the prospects to sway their calculations for peace.
Also, UN members have erratic track records of enforcing security council sanctions. As a result, sanctioned officials move freely around the region with no consequences, which in the end bolsters their impunity.
Finally, although the UN and the AU’s reports on South Sudan show that natural resources continue to fuel the war, UN sanctions have failed to focus on corruption and natural resource theft as grounds for sanctioning those who are complicit in looting the world’s newest state. This is true whether they are South Sudanese or international commercial partners in mining, banking, real estate, arms trafficking and other facilitators of enormous illicit financial flows.
South Africa could pioneer the concept of “network sanctions” in addressing the South Sudan crisis. These are sanctions that not only target an individual peace spoiler, but also companies and international business partners. To increase their effect, future sanctions designations could focus on those in power in South Sudan who have associated networks and links to the global financial system.
For meaningful effect, network sanctions should combine with anti-money laundering measures. An anti-money laundering advisory issued by South Africa’s financial intelligence unit would further disrupt profiteering by war criminals and peace spoilers in South Sudan. The Security Council could bolster such actions through resolutions and outreach to member states.
Countries at risk of receiving illicit financial flows from South Sudan also need senior-level engagement to ensure effective implementation of network sanctions and money laundering measures. In that regard, the Security Council could convene a meeting of finance ministers from the region to discuss and share best practices for sanctions implementation.
In the end, strong enforcement is the key to success, and South Africa could work with other members of the Security Council to press member states at the regional level to enforce any asset freezes, travel bans and other actions that have been imposed on those fuelling and profiting from conflict.
After millions of deaths caused by ongoing wars since the 1950s, the people of South Sudan are yearning for peace. South Africa has underused potential leverage to help to move the signatories of South Sudan’s peace agreement to implementation.
South Africa’s battle against its own forces of state capture make it uniquely positioned to understand South Sudan’s struggle. Striking a blow against state looters in South Sudan — and their international commercial collaborators profiting from instability and state capture — would greatly enhance the prospects for peace in that embattled land.
John Prendergast is the founding director of the Enough Project, which aims to counter crimes against humanity and co-founder of The Sentry, which investigates the assets of war criminals and their collaborators. Brian Adeba is the deputy director of policy at the Enough Project