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North Korea’s illicit Africa dealings

Heroes' Acre on a hill overlooking Windhoek, Namibia
Heroes’ Acre looms on a hill overlooking Windhoek, Namibia’s tidy capital.
Under a brilliant blue sky, a series of granite steps slope upwards in a wedge toward a triumphant bronze statue of an unknown soldier. In one hand the liberation-struggle soldier carries a Kalashnikov rifle. In the other, he’s throwing what looks like a Soviet-era stick grenade.
The communist-style design is no coincidence. Heroes’ Acre was built by a North Korean firm.
Across Africa from here to Gaborone, from Luanda to Dakar, governments have been quietly doing deals with the North Korean state for years. And as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un marches ever-closer to arming an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead, United States and United Nations investigators are looking a lot more closely at Pyongyang’s African connection.
The UN says many of the contracts are with Mansudae, a North Korean state-owned enterprise and a cash cow for the rogue regime. “This money is highly significant,” said Hugh Griffiths, the coordinator of the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea, the body charged with monitoring sanctions enforcement on the country.
“We are looking at at least 14 African (UN) member states where Mansudae alone was running quite large construction operations — building everything from ammunition factories, to presidential palaces, to apartment blocks.” Frequently, the contracts involve monuments like Heroes’ Acre.
The statues can be gargantuan – the African Renaissance Monument in Dakar is nearly 40 meters high (160 feet). The Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s previous two leaders and the grandfather and father of Kim Jong Un.

Griffiths says tens of millions of dollars are made by Mansudae in Africa.
“North Koreans can go a long way,” said Griffiths. According to the United Nations, Namibia has invested more than 100 million US-dollar in projects of the Kim Dynasty since 2002, amongst other things ordnance factories were part of it. Thats why the country in the south-west is accused by default of sanctions.

Mansudae’s statue business was put under United Nations Security Council sanctions in late 2016.
The UN panel says that the North Korean enterprise worked closely in Namibia with another entity called the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID), which the US Treasury Department describes as North Korea’s chief arms dealer. KOMID has been sanctioned since 2009.

But Namibia is only an example for illegal trade connections between Africa and North Korea. According to a new expert report by the United Nations also the states of Tanzania, Uganda, Angola, Congo, Eritrea, Mozambique, Botswana, Benin and Zimbabwe ignored the economic restrictions of North Korea and are under examination from now on. The named countries are involved in illegal business that pays as well as Namibia, including arms deals.

First sanctions were imposed in 2006 against the totalitarian state. They had to prevent those deals, but often money is more important to the developing African countries than the rules of the UN.

According to statistics of the “Observatory of Economic Compexity” (OEC), all trading activities between Africa and North Korea bring the Kim Jong Un Regime about 100 million US-Dollar yearly. The main importer from North Korea is Burkina Faso with 32.8 million US dollars – which is one percent of the annual imports. North Korea exports refined petroleum to Burkina Faso and Benin.

“100 million US-Dollar trading volume with Africa sound relatively low, for North Korea however this is not unremarkable, because its difficult for the Regime to attain foreign currency”, says Daragh Neville from the Clatham House. “For many African states on the other hand its cheaper to trade with North Korea. In addition the regime put  less questions than western trading-partners, which often is essential for commercial deals with less developed countries like Namibia. The illegal deals are enabled eventual by North Korean specialists, who are able to undercut sanctions with the help of dummy companies.

The pressure on African states must be upped, demanded also Japans premier minister Shinzo Abe a few weeks ago in relation to new sanctions for North Korea. These now include a capping of oil supplies as well as a ban of textile exports. Abe wants the African states to abide by the these restrictions. However, not many believe that this words will find attentive ears.

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