South Sudan’s mining sector has seen rapid development in recent years, and preliminary reports suggest that the industry could become an engine for major economic growth. However, ineffective accountability mechanisms, an opaque corporate landscape, and inadequate due diligence have exposed the sector to abuse by bad actors within South Sudan’s ruling clique. The Sentry has found that existing laws have proven insufficient bulwarks against abuse, raising concerns that the country’s mineral wealth could do little more than spur violent competition similar to that which has ravaged the oil sector.
Although South Sudan took welcome steps to reform the mining sector in 2012, some government officials, their relatives, and their close associates have fostered a weak regulatory environment susceptible to exploitation. In one example of how the privileged few have apparently exploited kleptocratic arrangements, President Salva Kiir’s daughter partly owns a company with three active licenses, while another company with three licenses lists former Vice President James Wani Igga’s son as a shareholder. Ashraf Seed Ahmed Hussein Ali, a businessman commonly known as Al-Cardinal who was placed under Global Magnitsky sanctions in October 2019, reportedly owns the company currently holding the greatest number of licenses. In the gold-rich region of Kapoeta, state government officials have begun issuing licenses independently of the central government. Meanwhile, the military has developed problematic mining interests in an effort to address budgetary shortfalls.
This report is part of The Taking of South Sudan series. Explore the full series here.
In order to shield the mining sector from exploitation by corrupt actors in the top echelons of government, a variety of stakeholders must take swift action to bolster its transparency, accountability, and oversight standards. South Sudan should enforce and enhance existing laws and empower oversight institutions. Companies seeking to do business in the country should adopt industry best practices, particularly by disclosing information about ongoing due diligence efforts, public payments, and human-rights sensitive security policies. Government bodies in the United States and the United Kingdom should implement policies that encourage responsible investment in South Sudan’s mining sec-tor. International financial institutions should conduct enhanced due diligence and transaction re-views, as well as ongoing screening and monitoring.
- Failing oversight or accountability. Unimplemented accountability and oversight mechanisms prevail in South Sudan’s mining sector, despite its robust legal framework. The artisanal mining sector remains de facto informal. A dearth of information surrounding the approvals process, public payments to the government, and community agreements further illustrates the inadequacy of existing transparency measures. An opaque licensing process in the mining sector has eroded the public trust, impaired key accountability mechanisms, and facilitated corruption.
- Mining in conflict zones. Many exploration licenses have been awarded in active conflict zones, precluding meaningful engagement with affected communities and amplifying the threat of interference by armed actors. Armed groups seeking to finance their operations informally control other sites. Similarly, the South Sudanese army holds an interest in some mining companies.
- Mining companies owned by the president’s inner circle. Memoranda and articles of incorporation reviewed by The Sentry reveal that politically exposed persons—both Kiir’s close associates and lower-level ministers—have held shares in no fewer than 32 South Sudanese companies established to extract minerals. Similarly, a number of companies that received provisional gold dealing licenses in 2016 were controlled by politically exposed persons, including Lawrence Lual Malong Yor Jr. and current Deputy Defense Minister Malek Reuben Riak Rengu, who was placed under sanctions by the United States and the United Nations (UN). Lual has claimed family ties to former army chief of staff Paul Malong Awan, though the exact nature of their relationship is unclear. The lack of public registers disclosing the owners of mining companies and the process by which they received mining licenses raises significant questions about who benefits from the development of South Sudan’s mineral wealth.
- Indications of possible money laundering. Reports of illicit mining activity, smuggling, corruption, and theft across South Sudan’s nascent mining sector reveal signs of possible money laundering. In some cases, license applications were approved within days of receipt, raising concerns about the Ministry of Mining’s screening and deliberative processes. Children have been identified as shareholders in two companies actively exploring for gold, a possible contravention of the 2012 Mining Act’s provision against titles held by minors, and the governor of Eastern Equatoria has allegedly funneled the proceeds of South Sudanese mining operations into luxury real estate in Kenya.
Weak transparency and accountability frameworks have left South Sudan’s mining sector vulnerable to exploitation, raising significant concerns about the government’s willingness to oversee responsible development.
Rapid development in a high-risk environment. Since the revitalized peace agreement was signed in September 2018, South Sudan’s Ministry of Mining has escalated its efforts to draw foreign investment into this burgeoning sector. However, the industry remains highly susceptible to the violent competition, corruption, and mismanagement that have marred South Sudan’s oil sector and heretofore rendered peace elusive. Illicit mining activities are inflaming tensions in Eastern Equatoria, the army holds interests in exploration licenses, and opposition groups informally control artisanal mining sites. These factors have fueled violent competition over the country’s resource wealth, underscoring the need for immediate reforms.
If the development of South Sudan’s mineral wealth is to enjoy a better fate than the oil sector, its government must swiftly implement and enforce regulatory frameworks that encourage corporate transparency, ethical business practices, and responsible engagement with affected local communities. The Sentry makes the following recommendations, the full text of which appears at the end of this report.
- Create a public register disclosing beneficial ownership. Key company ownership information remains inaccessible to the public. This veil of secrecy has facilitated significant acts of corruption in South Sudan over the past decade, such as the multimillion-dollar “Dura Saga” grain swindle and the widespread mismanagement of the government’s $922 million letters of credit program. A regularly updated public online register would serve as a vital accountability tool for anti-corruption advocates, civil society, and political parties. Moreover, such a move would encourage legitimate investment and demonstrate the government’s commitment to building a more transparent system.
- Conduct a retroactive audit of the mining sector. Numerous red flags in South Sudan’s mining sector highlight the country’s susceptibility to state capture. In order to assess the effectiveness of the process of awarding licenses to technically competent, legitimate enterprises, the Ministry of Mining should hire an independent external party to retroactively audit all mining companies currently operating in South Sudan. The ministry should further investigate the beneficial owners of mining companies and determine whether politically exposed persons have unfairly profited.
- Issue responsible investment reporting requirements. The US Department of State should encourage responsible engagement in South Sudan’s mining sector by implementing investment reporting requirements for US persons. Much as it did in Myanmar, the agency should require companies to file publicly available reports detailing their due diligence, community engagement, human rights, anti-corruption, and environmental efforts within their operations and policies. These reports should focus on how companies are implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UN GPs), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Sourcing of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas, Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), and other similar frameworks and initiatives.
- Issue a public advisory listing typologies and enhanced due diligence measures. Recognizing that the US Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has issued two anti-money laundering (AML) advisories referencing political corruption in South Sudan,* the United States should consider issuing an update or a separate advisory sharing with financial institutions the latest methods and trends used to launder the proceeds of illegal mining and the extractives industry. The advisory should recommend that financial institutions undertake enhanced due diligence measures.
United Kingdom and European governments
- Issue a public AML advisory to financial institutions warning about the extractives industry’s corruption risks. The UK’s National Crime Agency and relevant national authorities across continental Europe should issue public AML advisories on corruption in the extractives sector, citing the risks of laundering the proceeds of corruption in oil, gold and other natural resource sectors requiring licenses. In order to assist financial institutions in updating their customer due diligence and ongoing monitoring frameworks, an advisory should include typologies and red flags identifying methods that bad actors could use to siphon illicit funds out of South Sudan.