Hidden Sanctions Risk: North Korean ties to Africa

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Dozens of sculptures, monuments, and buildings in countries such as Senegal, Namibia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Botswana were built by Mansudae Overseas Projects, which is a construction company based out of Pyongyang in North Korea. 

Most of these projects are war memorials or other dedications to the respective nations’ struggles for independence. To give perspective, the following is just a few examples of some of the monuments that were built by Mansudae.

  • Senegal: African Renaissance Monument
    • The African Renaissance Monument is a nearly 50-meter tall bronze statue overlooking the Atlantic. It was dedicated on April 4th, 2010, which is Senegal’s “National Day” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence from France.
  • Namibia: Heroes’ Acre
    • The Heroes’ Acre was opened on August 26th, 2002 in the hills south of Windhoek as a token of honor to those who “…made great and meaningful contributions to the liberation of the Land of the Brave…” (Source)
  • Democratic Republic of Congo: Laurent Kabila
    • This statue commemorating Laurent Kabila was reportedly built by Mansudae. Kabila was a Marxist revolutionary who served as the third President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, when he overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko.
  • Zimbabwe: Joshua Nkomo statue
  • Zimbabwe: National Heroes Acre
    • The Heroes’ Acre in Zimbabwe commemorates the fallen veterans of Zimbabwe’s war for independence. Its design closely mirrors that of the Revolutionary Martyrs’ Cemetery just outside Pyongyang, North Korea.
  • Mozambique: Samora Moises Machel
    • A statue of Mozambique’s first president was constructed in 2011 in Maputo, Mozambique. Samora Machel is remembered as a military commander, politician, and revolutionary in the tradition of Marxism-Leninism.
  • Botswana: Three Dikgosi Monument
    • AKA The Three Chiefs, this bronze-cast monument was built in 2005 and features the three leaders (Khama III, Sebele I, & Bathoen I) who traveled to Great Britain in 1895 to ask Joseph Chamberlain and Queen Victoria to separate the Bechuanaland Protectorate from Cecile Rhodes’ British South Africa Company and Southern Rhodesia.

Specifically, the city of Windhoek in Namibia has been referred to as an ‘unlikely testament’ to North Korean industry. Many architectural staples of the city, such as the presidential palace, the national history museum, and the defense headquarters, were built by North Korea, for profit.

Two years ago, the United Nations stated that Namibia had violated U.N. sanctions through its commerial relationship to North Korea. The Treasury Department had sanctioned Mansudae Overseas Projects, as well as the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID), which has come to be known as North Korea’s primary arms dealer. Namibia has since pledged to cut commercial ties to the DPRK, although they did state that they would retain warm diplomatic relations with the regime.

U.N. officials have conducted an investigation into at least seven African countries for sanctions violations concerning North Korea. These countries were also supposed to end their economic and military relationships with North Korea following the sanctions, however the U.N. panel of experts noted that what reporting had occurred was largely poor in quality or otherwise unclear, with a high number of States not reporting altogether.

The connection between Namibia and North Korea stands as but one example among many similar stories. It began in the 1960s, when several African countries started the struggle for independence from colonialism. During this vulnerable time period, North Korea invested time and money in these revolutions, where the political ties eventually grew into commercial relationships.

Now, this has become particularly important as sanctions have mounted against the regime. North Korea has been able to use their commercial ties to African nations like Namibia as financial lifelines– evidence by building infrastructure, and selling weapons and other equipment.

With these concerns in mind, it should be noted that it is important for businesses conducting operations in Africa to ensure that potential commercial partners will not put them at risk for violating sanctions. This risk may be mitigated through due diligence and watch-list screening.

If you or your organization have any questions or thoughts on this, please feel free to reach out to us at Centry. We can help!

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