Project hopes to disrupt the flow of money into conflict zones – but shouldn’t Africans be part of the conversation?
George Clooney has launched a new initiative aimed at ending the deadliest conflicts in Africa by tracking and disrupting the funding networks that bankroll those involved.
“Real leverage for peace and human rights will come when the people who benefit from war will pay a price for the damage they cause,” said the Hollywood actor and campaigner.
How will the project work?
Those involved say the idea behind the project stems from a dissatisfaction with traditional peace-making and conflict mitigation methods, and was inspired by tactics employed in the fight against terrorist networks, money laundering and drug trafficking.
The organisation employs a team of financial investigators, regional analysts and policy advocates to track and analyse the finances behind armed struggles in some of the most violent places in Africa: South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“There are people hired principally to do this for counter-terrorism and organised crime stuff, but no one has ever gone to them and said: ‘Hey, let’s do it for human rights,'” Prendergast told Vice News.
The Sentry says it will do this by using open-source data collection, field research and state-of-the-art network data analysis technology, as well as a portal where informants can pass on anonymous leaks and tips. It will also work in partnership with local and international civil society organisations, journalists and governments.
Can financial investigators really stop war?
As a private organisation, The Sentry will only be able to investigate offences – not punish or prosecute those responsible. However, it aims to hand over its dossiers identifying the banks, businessmen, investors and corrupt officials who profit from the bloodshed to international organisations such as the UN and Interpol that are able to hold those responsible to account.
As well as supporting regulatory action and prosecutions, the organisation hopes to provide local lawmakers with the information required to take effective action. “[The idea is for] some of these folks to start facing personal consequences,” says Prendergast. “At least, that’s the game plan.”
What has the reaction been?
The Sentry as the interest of” US President Barack Obama, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, US National Security Advisor Susan Rice, and US Secretary of State John Kerry, according to Prendergast.
However, others have been critical of the organisation’s approach, arguing that Africans are once again being left out of the conservation about how to identify and fix their own problems.
“I don’t see much evidence of partnership with Africans in The Sentry, let alone African leadership,” Alex Perry, a freelance journalist and contributing editor to Newsweek, told Al Jazeera.
“There are plenty of Africans capable of running this kind of initiative – and you have to think that, since they’re on the ground, they’d be best placed to do so.”
But Akshaya Kumar, policy analyst with the Enough Project rejected Perry’s criticism, arguing that The Sentry is grounded in “close collaboration” with African civil society.
“We work closely with local journalists and activists to feed their findings into broader cross-jurisdictional investigations,” she said.