John Dell'Osso, The Sentry - Tracking kleptocracy in the DRC (Congo)

John Dell'Osso, The Sentry
Tracking kleptocracy in the DRC (Congo)


It is great to be rich.  But it can be dangerous, if you are carrying a lot of your riches in cash, down a dark and dangerous street late at night.

This is an image that many would say is applicable to doing business with a lot of governments in Africa.  Of course, a lot of those people aren’t just metaphoric innocents with wallets full of cash.  Some of them are walking down those dangerous African financial passageways in hopes, not just of keeping their cash, but making a lot more, in any way possible.  To them, the dark shadows are as beneficial as they are dangerous, since aspects of the business that’s drawn them to Africa are shameful or criminal things they want to keep secret.

For more than 65 years, one of darkest, most dangerous places to do business in Africa has been the DRC, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, ever since the U.S. and its Western allies conspired to put into power Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga, whose birth name from colonial times was Joseph-Désiré Mobutu.

Mobutu ruled Congo for 32 years, during which time, it can be said, he ran one of the richest raw-material sources in the world violently and cruelly and, corruptly. Many have said, he robbed it blind.

Of course, no one can steal literally billions of dollars in anything less than willful blindness. Like most classic kleptocrats, Mobutu stole through his own network of local accomplices and allies, but he moved what he stole out of the Congo and converted it into palaces and estates and furs and jewels and bank accounts with a lot of international enabling.

By the time in May 1997, that Mobutu was run out of power — and the country — by rebel forces led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila his off-shore booty was guesstimated at between four and fifteen billion dollars.  Not that it did him much good. By then, he was sick with advanced prostate cancer and he didn’t last out the year.

After Mobutu, the names changed, but the game did not.  Converting national resources to personal holdings, moving them out of the country and having them laundered in the world that considers itself so much brighter in every way than darkest Africa, what is known as kleptocratic corruption, has continued on an enormous scale. And just to remind you — kleptocracy refers to criminal activities organized by national governments to benefit state leaders, like Mobutu, their families and subsidiary elites.



John Dell’Osso is Senior investigator for The Sentry an investigative and policy team that follows the dirty money connected to African war criminals and transnational war profiteers and seeks to shut those benefiting from violence out of the international financial system. The Sentry is composed of financial investigators, international human rights lawyers, and regional experts, as well as former law enforcement agents, intelligence officers, policymakers, investigative journalists, and banking professionals. Co-founded by George Clooney and John Prendergast, The Sentry is a strategic partner of the Clooney Foundation for Justice.



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