Thoughts on The Sentry Project

Richman to the rescue! (Credit: Jeff Nitzberg)

Call me skeptical but did I miss the scientific report that personal egos can stop bullets?

The Sentry, founded by Clooney and John Prendergast from the advocacy group the Enough Project, will investigate the financing of conflicts in South Sudan, Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Enough Project said on Monday.

Never mind that malaria, HIV/AIDS and other preventable diseases are the number one killers in African countries: not militias and conflicts.
(The Obama Administration certainly doesn’t mind it, since it’s cutting medical aid to Africa).

The money flows that really drives these “small wars” in Africa aren’t part of some underground NASDAQ of mustache-twirling villains. Africa isn’t run by FIFA, after all.

Rather, the money driving African conflicts is the money that *doesn’t* get invested and doesn’t take the continent’s grassroots industries “on line” with the global economy.

The money driving African conflicts is the money Western companies, Western governments and the international Aid Industry put into bad projects and bad governments. Most of that is because of institutional ignorance rather than malice.

The warmongering “Bad Guys” like Sudan’s Bashir, the Democratic Republic of Congo militias, Nigeria’s Boko Haram and Al Shabab aren’t getting their money from the local cash machine (unless you count North Korea’s counterfeiting industry). They have their own illicit networks or the amoral oil, gas and mineral industry.

Then there’s the uncomfortable fact that governments in the West, the Middle East, China and Russia are arming, training and funding the parties in these conflicts. Observers like Nick Turse are watching America cut foreign aid to African countries while it increases military spending (military advisers, barracks, airstrips, drone facilities).

What good is The Sentry if Africa is the chosen battleground for a U.S.-China-Islamist throw down?

It’s really great that Prendergast and Clooney are so passionate about this. But money and attention generated by this project can be put to so many better uses.

For example, if you want to interrupt illegal wildlife poaching, mining and logging, then you support local initiatives and watchdog groups. Help a community or cooperative build a business around sustainable logging, mining and wildlife conservation.

Other concerns:

  • How do we measure the effectiveness? When The Sentry identifies a corrupt politician or illicit money flow, what are the consequences? It’s the same question people have about the Clooney/Prendergast Satellite Sentinel mapping initiative. Do they count on the local law enforcement,? Does The Enough Project have its own paramilitary force? Do they hack the offenders Twitter account?
  • What can The Sentry do to track illicit financing that national intelligence agencies and “Hacktivist” groups like Anonymous/WikiLeaks can’t?
  • It’s another “White celebrities save Africa” project. That hurts an African citizen’s own sense of agency, the feeling that *they* could make a difference.
  • It amplifies the story of “Africa” as a uniform entity full of war, corruption and disease. That’s patronizing and it makes it hard for any viable social enterprise looking for investment, which leaves communities more vulnerable.
  • Clooney is kinda hypocritical, after shilling for Nestle whose land- and water-grabs have made life miserable for thousands of communities in developing countries

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