Africa’s criminal ecosystem has evolved from setting up beachheads in failed states to integrating itself into richer, more stable states with their greater money-laundering and transport opportunities
The greater political freedom that has come to many African countries over the past three decades, and their opening to world markets, has brought a dark dividend — the proliferation of highly efficient crime syndicates.
These syndicates have easy access to arms thanks to, among other things, the chaos in Libya after the death of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and peace accords in countries like Mozambique. About 100-million small arms and other light weapons are believed to be stockpiled or in circulation in Africa, a rich resource for criminal gangs seeking weapons to help them protect their routes and create new markets.
Three separate studies conducted recently show, among other things, that the trade in Colombian cocaine via West Africa and Afghan heroin via East Africa is soaring, with political elites and crime syndicates working hand in hand; and that tax avoidance by multinational companies, particularly in the extractive industries, is equivalent to 11.6% of trade lost to Sub-saharan Africa.
The research was conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Wealth of Nations project, Global Financial Integrity and Enact, a three-year, Eu-funded project aimed at combating transnational organised crime in Africa. One of the partners in the Enact project is the Global Initiative Against
What it means: Criminal syndicates are spreading ever-wider in Africa, due in part to the fall of tyrants
Transnational Organised Crime, whose director, Mark Shaw, says that in Africa such crime falls into three broad, linked systems:
● Illicit products flowing into and through Africa — primarily drugs, weapons and shady financial services;
● Resources originating in the continent and sold abroad — mainly blood diamonds and other illegally mined metals and minerals, illegally logged timber, stolen oil, poached ivory and rhino horn, endangered species, plus illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fish catches; and
● Cybercrime, migrant smuggling, and the production of counterfeit goods, including medicines.
Shaw says all three areas are worsened by “conflict, weak governance or the prevalence of corruption”, and the very diversity of the criminal landscape — from the manufacture of fake luxury brands and cigarette smuggling to human trafficking and piracy — complicates policy and law-enforcement responses.
Organised crime has distorted African economies and politics, transforming Guinea-bissau, for example, into arguably Africa’s first “narco-state” by 2008, as military and political factions colluded in establishing a cocaine pipeline whose profits dwarfed the country’s GDP.
In contrast to regions such as Latin America, “the study of organised crime has not been prioritised in Africa”, says Shaw. He says Africa’s criminal syndicates had their beginnings in small-scale, localised operations in the late 1980s like rhino-horn smuggling in Southern Africa or crude-oil theft in the Niger Delta, but within a decade these groups had coalesced and become more professional.
The Delta oil thieves are so well organised and politically protected today that they tap directly from wellheads and transfer their crude to “legitimate” tankers offshore, accounting for up to 400,000 barrels a day or 15% of total production.
Vast amounts of money are involved: illegal logging is worth $17bn a year, untaxed gold exports cost Ghana more than $6bn a year in lost revenue, IUU fishing costs West Africa $2.3bn a year, counterfeit anti-malarial drugs are a $400m-a-year industry in West Africa, cybercrime costs Africa $895m a year, and the theft of refined fuel in Libya is conservatively worth $200m a year.
Complicating matters, illegal markets are