The SDN list is the registry of those whom the United States considers infrequent. Zimbabwe, Libya and the DRC have the highest number of people sanctioned.
In Africa, at least 317 people in 26 countries are subject to economic sanctions from the United States, an analysis of the database of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), an agency of the US Treasury, found.
Launched at the end of 1950, OFAC is the guarantor of the official register of American individual sanctions, better known under the name of “the SDN list” (specially designated nationals). Spanning over 1,420 pages, the comprehensive list spans 6 continents.
A vast repertoire of those whom the United States considers infrequent, the League of Nations list includes notorious warlords, heads of state (past and current), officials, businessmen and women, suspected drug traffickers. and people accused of acts of terrorism.
Some people are punished for major common law offenses. This is the case of six Nigerians who, to date, are the only Africans sanctioned under the rubric of cyber crime. Wanted by the FBI, the US federal police, they are accused of having stolen $ 6 million from companies and American citizens without ever leaving Nigeria.
In mid-August, two Ugandan judges were put on the sanctions list because, according to the US authorities, they were having Ugandan children adopted by Americans without the consent of their parents, who they made believe the children had. received a special scholarship for education abroad.
In addition to individuals, the US sanctions also target at least 200 businesses and charities on the African continent, as well as boats and planes, the exact number of which is difficult to determine.
Zimbabwe, Libya, DRC in the lead
On the continent, Zimbabwe is the country with the largest number of people sanctioned, 83 individuals. Among them are President Emerson Mnangagwa, as well as his predecessor Robert Mugabe, who died in 2018. The latter’s wife, Grace Mugabe, is also on the list.
Next comes Libya, with 46 individuals under sanctions, including the former Guide Muammar Gaddafi – killed in 2011 – and several members of his family.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) comes in third place, with 44 people subject to sanctions. Among them, we recognize names that have hit the headlines in recent years. They are, among others, Generals Laurent Nkunda, John Numbi and Célestin Kanyama; the former president of the electoral commission Corneille Nangaa; Kalev Mutondo, former head of intelligence; Senator Evariste Boshab, former president of the National Assembly and former chief of staff to former President Joseph Kabila.
Somalia, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Burundi and Mali complete the list of countries where there are at least 10 people sanctioned.
“An individual can be sanctioned under several headings”, explains in an interview Gary Kalman, director of the branch of the NGO Transparency International in the United States. “It all depends on the circumstances of each case and the profile of the people involved”, he specifies.
Indeed, former Gambian President Yaya Jammeh is not listed under The Gambia, but rather under Equatorial Guinea, the country where he has lived since his exile in 2017. Similarly, the Ugandan Joseph Kony does not appear in Uganda. , but under the CAR and Sudan. Ditto for the former president of the CAR, Michel Djotodia, who appears under Benin, the country where he spent 6 years in exile until his return to Bangui in January.
The SDN list is especially an indispensable tool for US banks, import-export companies, lobbyists, binationals and businessmen who regularly deal with partners based outside the United States.
Concretely, an individual under sanctions cannot open a bank account or buy property in the United States. The accounts or properties that this individual held before being sanctioned are systematically frozen. These penalties are often accompanied by a visa ban.
Just because you have no assets in the United States does not mean that you are beyond the reach of the American authorities, points out Professor Peter Harrell, sanctions expert at the Center for New American Security, a think tank based in Washington.
He explains that the US government can require foreign-based entities to apply US sanctions or they will face penalties themselves. This mechanism is known as “secondary sanctions”.
“Secondary sanctions were introduced in the 1990s, but it was only recently – around 2009-2010 – that they became an important aspect of US foreign policy.”, explains Professor Harrell.
The principle is simple, he says: you have to choose either to deal with the infrequent or to deal with the United States, but not both.
In Namibia, secondary sanctions led to the cancellation, in 2017, of several construction contracts awarded to Mansudae Overseas Projects, a company linked to the armaments in North Korea. In 2015 the fear of sanctions led the only supplier of American currency in Angola to interrupt this service, causing a real headache for BNA, the Angolan central bank.
But as robust as it is, the US sanctions regime suffers from many shortcomings.
“There is a system of sanctions, of course, but there are also a series of maneuvers that allow them to be circumvented”, deplores Gary Kalman.
This is why, he adds, a handful of influential US lawmakers recently introduced a bill aimed at filling these loopholes.
Known as Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020, this bill has been attached to the Amending Defense Budget Act, which means that it should be promulgated in the coming weeks.
“The ultimate goal of sanctions is not to punish, but to cause positive behavior change”, said a source at OFAC who requested anonymity.