August 1, 2023
The two essays in this report highlight ways in which two global authoritarian powers, Russia and China, provide surge capacity to kleptocratic networks in Africa. In his essay, "Criminal States, Militarized Criminals, and Profiteers: Russia, Africa, and the Evolving Ecosystem of Transnational Kleptocracy," J.R. Mailey (senior expert at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime) dissects the Wagner Group's illicit activities in key parts of Africa. The Wagner Group's activities are complex, but Mailey zeroes in on the fact that the military support offered to African kleptocrats has little to do with providing security and stability for the African people. Rather it is focused on extracting resources, advancing geopolitical goals, and serving as a brutal cog in the authoritarian mutual support machinery. Even if the ultimate fate of the Wagner Group remains unclear, these trends are unlikely to abate. The opaque economic relationships that the Wagner Group has developed on the continent no doubt are too lucrative for the Kremlin to surrender.China's party state and its proxies are entrenched in corrupt networks in Africa as well. Chinese-linked kleptocratic networks are tapping into likeminded networks on the continent, helping to embolden and empower local kleptocrats seeking to enrich themselves at the expense of their populations. Andrea Ngombet Malewa's (activist and founder of the Sassoufit Collective) essay, "How China Fuels African Kleptocratic Networks: The Case of Congo-Brazzaville," highlights the ways in which Beijing facilitates Congo-Brazzaville's deeply kleptocratic regime. In addition to long-standing Chinese involvement in the timber and extractive industries, Ngombet's analysis spotlights the establishment of a Sino-Congolese Bank for Africa that could allow kleptocrats to bypass the transparency requirements of Western-linked banks, thereby affording opportunities to launder money with impunity. This development has significant implications for accountability norms worldwide.Civil society and independent media seeking to identify and expose kleptocratic networks in Africa face enormous challenges. They often lack the resources, specialized knowledge, and skills needed to track illicit financial flows, and the complex vehicles kleptocrats use to move money around the world. Resourcerich regimes in countries such as Congo-Brazzaville, Sudan, and the Central African Republic already suffer from gaping deficits in accountability and transparency. Despite these odds, both authors identify critical steps to elevate civil society's essential work exposing and combatting kleptocracy.