Should the U.S. do more about corruption in South Sudan? Are there historical lessons from Kenya?

 

Alan Boswell of the McClatchy papers has an interesting story today, “U.S. not probing allegations of massive South Sudanese corruption”, highlighting a difference of opinion between Senator Leahy and the Administration about how to apply U.S. law on foreign corruption.

Travel bans are one of the few tools available to American officials to fight corruption, and U.S. law requires that they be imposed if the State Department has credible evidence that foreign officials are profiting corruptly from a country’s natural resources. The law allows for exemptions only for travel to the United Nations in New York, though an individual ban can be lifted if the reason for the banning has been corrected.

In June, the South Sudanese government admitted that it’s missing $4 billion in stolen funds, or roughly double its annual revenue since the mostly autonomous administration was established in 2005 as part of a U.S-brokered peace deal that led to South Sudan’s independence last year from Sudan. . . .

Boswell reports that the U.S. is not considering such visa bans and that Presidential Envoy Princeton Lyman has indicated that the U.S. is looking to the South Sudanese to investigate the situation themselves.

“You have to know exactly who you are going to target. It’s not exactly clear who did it,” Lyman said. “We are looking to the Sudanese to do the investigations. President Kiir has promised a vigorous anti-corruption policy and we encourage him in this direction.”

Under American law, foreign officials and their immediate family members who steal from the public treasury or display other significant corruption are ineligible to enter the United States. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the state and foreign operations subcommittee and the author of the “anti-kleptocracy” law, said he didn’t think the State Department was doing enough to find out who stole the money.

“If the State Department has such information, we expect the U.S. Embassy to determine if it is credible and to apply the law rigorously,” Leahy said.

The U.S. has known about the scale of South Sudanese corruption for some time. “From early on, I had people who knew the SPLM well citing this problem and very worried about it,” Lyman said.

Lyman said corruption wasn’t unusual in young developing countries. He pointed to the example of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, who was well-known for welcoming gifts and kickbacks as part of official business.”You don’t like to see it happen, but it happens. That doesn’t excuse it,” Lyman said.

Obviously this puts the U.S. in a difficult position because of our “special relationship” with South Sudan, the tremendous other challenges the new country faces, and the ongoing brutality from Khartoum.  At the same time, it can also be argued that we have unique responsibility to address the problem because of our role in facilitating South Sudanese independence and our place on the inside through our support for the new government.

Ambassador Lyman cites Kenyatta, so what are the lessons from Kenya?  Kenyatta’s corruption begat Moi’s, which begat that within the Kibaki administrations.  In the course of fifty years after independence the U.S. and the international community as a whole never found the will to consistently stick to a strong, clear anti-corruption effort in Kenya–there have always been other priorities to intervene.  Yet Kenyatta’s heirs and cronies, and Moi and his partially overlapping set of cronies still literally own an awful lot of Kenya, and have done very well through Kibaki (who was part of the Kenyatta and Moi circles himself for many, many years).  While the press is now free enough to report scandal after scandal after scandal, and write more of the history, the deals are not undone and no one is prosecuted in almost all significant cases old and new.  While there may be some hope for the future from movement toward a more independent judiciary, the track record so far is just plain bad.  The precedent seems risky.

 

2 thoughts on “Should the U.S. do more about corruption in South Sudan? Are there historical lessons from Kenya?

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