Leveraging for Peace: A Movie Star Fights African War Profiteers

 Soldiers in South Sudan. Photo: Punghi/shutterstock

Soldiers in South Sudan. Photo: Punghi/shutterstock

George Clooney isn’t a newcomer when it comes to leveraging his celebrity to bring peace and justice to the war zones of Africa. Over the years, the award-winning actor has supported global campaigns such as Not On Our Watch (NOOW), which aims to end humanitarian atrocities around the world, as well as groups like the One Campaign, Realizing the Dream and the International Rescue Committee.

In 2015, Clooney took his commitment a step further by teaming up with the founding director of the Enough Project, John Prendergast, to launch The Sentry—an initiative of the Enough Project and NOOW. Recently, Clooney made a $1 million donation to increase The Sentry’s organizational capacity and kick off its “Making War Criminals Pay” fundraising campaign.

The donation is through the Clooney Foundation for Justice. Launched by George and Amal Clooney in 2016, the Clooney Foundation for Justice aims to “advance justice in courtrooms, communities and classrooms around the world.”

Clooney's activism and his giving, now in partnership with Amal, is a case study of effective celebrity philanthropy. It's highly focused on a critical niche that most major donors ignore. Clooney keenly understands the way in which a movie star like himself can elevate an issue, but he hasn't stopped at just lending his name to the cause he cares about, which is the case with too many celebrities. He's devoted substantial time and real money to moving the needle. 

The Clooney Foundation’s $1 million give to The Sentry supports efforts to triple its capacity in order to follow the money trails of Africa’s war profiteering networks. The gift allows the organization’s teams to increase production of investigations of war criminals and their often intricate financial networks “dramatically.”

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The Sentry is a collaboration of policy analysts, experts and financial forensic analysts working to take the profit out of the horrendous wars in northern and central Africa. It notes that millions of people in this region have perished or have been displaced "as a result of violent kleptocracy — a lethal nexus of extreme violence, grand corruption, and competition over vast natural resources." It argues that responsibility for such mass atrocities "is not limited to those perpetrating or orchestrating violence. Networks of facilitators extend from the conflict zones into global economic centers and use legitimate systems of international finance, trade and transportation to fund and equip warring parties, as well as launder the spoils of war, often in pursuit of their own profits."

The Sentry works to identify key actors in local regimes and their financial networks. It uses open source data to track and analyze how war criminals finance and sustain conflict. Working with banks, governments and enforcement agencies, The Sentry digs into the convergence of legal and illegal systems that enrich war criminals. The ultimate goal is to dismantle the conflict value and supply chain to bring down Africa’s war profiteers.

Upon announcing his gift, George Clooney said, “When we’re able to go after the warlords’ wallets and bankrupt those who choose the bullet over the ballot, suddenly the incentives are for peace, not war; transparency, not corruption.”  

George Clooney has always had fundraising pull and it’s not unusual for him to count on his wealthy friends to break out their checkbooks to support his latest crusade. His $1 million donation is actually part of a $6 million campaign that has already raised $3.45 million thanks to Clooney, Don Cheadle, Carl Allen, Ruben Vardanyan, the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative and three “major” donors who have opted to remain anonymous.

While much of the funding will go toward building The Sentry's organizational capacity, it will also support published reports on state looting and illicit financial flows in some of the most corrupt and conflict-riddled nations in the world, including South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, the Congo and the Central African Republic. The Sentry is expected to release these reports over the coming year.

Beyond Clooney and the other funders mentioned above, The Sentry has received support from other sources. The Scotland-based Hunter Foundation and Humanity United, established in 2008 by eBay auction site founder Pierre Morad Omidyar and his wife Pamela, have contributed significant sums to The Sentry during the past few years. Enough, meanwhile, has drawn support from more established philanthropic players, including the Carnegie Foundation of New York and the Tides Foundation (through its Open Square Project). 

You can see a full list of funders of The Sentry here.  

Related: Behind a Hard-Hitting Push Against Suffering in Africa: Well-Connected Leaders and High-Profile Donors