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US sanctions in Africa: no clear line | Africa | DW

US sanctions in Africa: no clear line | Africa | KG

Since 1993, Sudan has been on the list of states accused by the US of financing terrorism. The US Senate recently blocked an agreement that would have removed Sudan from the list. An offer from the US government followed: Sudan could be removed – if it recognized Israel in return. In the presidential election campaign, incumbent Donald Trump is hoping for a tailwind by further strengthening Israel's position in its neighborhood.

"The reason the sanctions were used was originally terrorism," says Theodore Murphy, head of Africa program at the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank. "That has nothing to do with the recognition of Israel."

The Maintain sanctions, even contradict the US goal of political transition in Sudan after the overthrow of long-term president Omar al-Bashir. Because as long as Sudan is on the terror list, investors stay away, for example.

Nine very different cases

The process illustrates a somewhat idiosyncratic approach by the USA to a sanctioned state. However, it is not an example for the entire continent.

Abdel-Fattah Burhan, Mike Pompeo (picture-alliance / AP Photo / Sudanese Cabinet)

Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo in Sudan in August – Sudan will have to pay dearly for being removed from the terrorist list.

A total of nine African states are on the sanctions list of the US Treasury Department: In addition to Sudan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Libya, Zimbabwe, Somalia, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. The majority of these are sanctions against individuals or companies and organizations for violating human rights or for fueling a conflict. Their assets are frozen, they are banned from travel or working with them.

Independent of the state, since 2016 individuals can also be sanctioned under the so-called Global Magnitzky Act, including for corruption. On this list, for example, is Yahya Jammeh, President of Gambia until 2017.

Not a prime example: Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe has been on the US sanctions list for political violence and undermining democracy since the early 2000s. According to Hilary Mossberg of the activist group The Sentry, which wants to dry up the flow of money related to corruption and conflict in Africa, it is one of the most unsuccessful sanctions programs.

The Zimbabwe sanctions have "simply not been effective" at changing attitudes or behavior among the political elite, Mossberg said. She criticizes that the sanctions list has not been properly maintained. So you can find at least 120 hits from outlawed people and organizations on US government sites – including Long term ruler Robert Mugabe, which was coup in 2017 and 2019 died.

Screenshot of the US sanctions list from the late Robert Mugabe (https://sanctionssearch.ofac.treas.gov)

Although Robert Mugabe has been dead for more than a year, he is still on the US sanctions list

There is one in the government of Zimbabwe such sharp rhetoric against the sanctionsthat they "have lost any momentum that they may have had years ago," says Mossberg. In July, Zimbabwe's Foreign Minister Sibusiso Moyo announced the measures in a DW interview as a "weapon of mass destruction". He denied that the government was only using the sanctions as a scapegoat for its own mismanagement.

Despite the modest record, US President Trump extended the sanctions in March because the government had not yet shown any will to reform.

With pressure to success: DR Congo

Most recently, sanctions had more impact in the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 2006 the US first imposed sanctions for violence in the country – and gradually tightened them. But it wasn't until 2018 that President Joseph Kabila announced that he would not run in the next election. "I'm not saying that the sanctions were the only reason why President Kabila didn't run," says Mossberg. However, the research showed that "the US sanctions were part of the success". The Global Magnitzky Act, through which actors in Kabila's environment could be hindered, played a decisive role.

DR Congo Kinshasa President Felix Tshisekedi sworn in (picture-alliance / AP Photo / J. Delay)

He stayed in power for a long time: in 2019, Joseph Kabila will hand over the sash of the Congolese President to Felix Tshisekedi

Although it was last Rapprochements between the USA and the Congo under the new President Félix Tshisekedi, according to the Ministry of Finance, sanctions are still in force against 55 people, companies and organizations, plus others from the Global Magnitzky Act. "I don't think we're at the point yet," Mossberg says. Too many people from Kabila's environment are still in positions of power, for example through public contracts.

It's better that way

US sanctions may be more effective overall. "Our main recommendation for the United States is to focus on multilateral efforts rather than go it alone," Mossberg said. A close alliance with the United Nations or the European Union makes sanctions much more effective. There was no such global strategy for Zimbabwe.

Demonstration against sanctions in Zimbabwe (picture-alliance / AP Photo / T. Mukwazhi)

"Sanctions limit the development of youth" – 2019 Protests in Harare against US sanctions

Her organization The Sentry also recommends focusing less on individuals and much more on entire networks that enable a regime to stay in power. In addition, it should be clear from the outset which points must be met so that sanctions can be lifted again – in order to avoid cases like the current one in Sudan.

In the opinion of the former US ambassador and advisor to President Barack Obama, Princeton Lyman, it is also crucial that sanctions are endorsed or even proposed by other African states. "Engagement from Africa reduces the likelihood that the sanctions will be circumvented by those affected," he said in 2016 in a subcommittee of the Senate. As a negative example, he cited South Africa, Zimbabwe's strong neighbor, which "did not go along with the western sanctions against the country".

Influence of the president

According to analyst Murphy, the sanctions policy is not part of a larger US government strategy for Africa. To a certain extent, however, sanctions depend on who is president, Mossberg confirms: what his priorities are, who takes on decisive posts and how many staff are provided in the relevant departments. Research by The Sentry shows that the pressure on Kabila in the Congo could not be sustained when Trump took office from Obama in 2017.

Should there be another change in the White House after the presidential election in November, Mossberg expects Joe Biden to take a "more strategic approach" to the neglected sanctions programs.

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