On 17 October 2023, ENACT held a webinar to discuss the illegal trade and flow of people, goods and substances throughout Africa and their impact beyond the continent’s borders, as shown by the rise in irregular migration and illicit financial flows into Europe. The European Commission opened the event reaffirming the EU’s commitment to the work of ENACT flagging the importance of the event to “highlight the increasing complexities of criminal markets, the convergence of transnational organised actors and networks in the region and will highlight even more the call for bilateral and multilateral coordination from state actors and partners.”
The panelists provided a general background to the current political and economy situation on the African continent. According to Ronak Gopaldas from Signal Risk, many African leaders are frustrated with having to manage the fallout of crises beyond their control, such as the 2008 financial crisis, the pandemic, and the Ukraine-Russian war. Regrettably, the outcome of several governments’ inability to effectively manage this contemporary environment has left many with little faith in social contracts which has eroded the resilience of crucial institutions needed to fight criminality. Although things seem grim, Africa is in a unique position within the international system, with the growth of BRICS and the polarisation of the international arena, “Africa is being courted as the belle of the ball.” This could provide foreign investment and technologies needed to incorporate smart shortcuts within development.
Professor Etannibi Alemika, of the ENACT Advisory Board, delved deeper into the impact the presence of organised crime has on resilience. Highlighting the recently published Global Organised Crime Index, few countries fall within the category of having both high criminality and high resilience. However, this status quo of high criminality and high resilience is only sustainable in the short-term as in the long-term organised crime (high criminality) will always wear down the institution that uphold the resilience of states.
The Index reveals the continuing rise of organised crime globally, with 83% of the world’s population living in conditions of high criminality. Additionally, the number of people living in conditions of low resilience to organised crime globally has declined significantly, in 2021 it was 79.4%, and it has now dropped to 62% of the world’s population. The most pervasive criminal markets in Africa are human and arms trafficking while the main actors are state-embedded actors. Democracies continue to show greater resilience to organised crime than authoritarian regimes and the lowest resilience indicator both in Africa and globally continues to be victim and witness support schemes.
The subsequent discussions focussed on the INTERPOL report addressing the illicit trafficking of the psychoactive plant Tabernanthe Iboga and the increasing challenges Gabon is having in combating it. INTERPOL representative, Anabella Corridoni, and Gabon Police Captain, Norbert Christian Ayenengoye Head of Crime Intelligence Analytical Unit in Gabon, shared that within Gabon the plant is protected as it remains a crucial element in the rite of passage from childhood to adulthood in various communities, but its sale online has grown the market to levels never seen before (in 2022 there were five resellers, now in 2023 there are over 40). Gabon has banned its use outside of medical or cultural practices, but traffickers are harvesting it in the wild in an unregulated fashion. This unregulated harvesting within which often occurs within protected habitats has serious environmental impact causing significant harm to the biodiversity of the region and these parks. The main destinations for the export of this plant are North America and Europe.
The discussion continued with two presentations on the current trends in cocaine trafficking within West Africa. The Global Initiative Against Organized Crime’s Director of the West Africa Observatory, Lucia Bird, reported that the region is witnessing record high seizures of cocaine, with significant alliances being created between Brazilian OCGs such as Primeiro Comando da Capital, and West African groups such as the Nigerian networks or independent entrepreneurs. While INTERPOL’’s Analyst, Serge Epouhe, brought attention to the fact that Brazil most eastern point is only 2700 Km from West Africa, hence the trend has been that shipments coming into West Africa mainly originate from Brazil. Moreover, Ports remain the main points of entry, but transhipment and aircrafts are used as well, with an emphasis on the assistance of state-embedded actors to facilitate the entry of shipments into the region. A final observation made by the panellist, is the observation that, at least in the cases of Guinea and Guinea Bissau, the highest seizure occurred during moments of political upheaval or change, which would indicate that in these moments of power restructuring law enforcement is able to operate without constrains from corrupt political elites.
The webinar closed off with two presentations on environmental crime. Focusing on illegal logging in the Congo Basin Regional Organised Crime Coordinator for ISS ENACT, Oluwole Ojewale, stressed that the rainforest around the Congo Basin remains a major sinkhole for CO2. Illegal logging has caused deforestation with regional impact that will not only affect those living within the Basin but also neighbouring countries, resulting in decreased rainfall and biodiversity. Stronger efforts in interdiction are needed to impede this environment disaster in the making, while stressing the need to involve local communities in the fight, to minimise the disruption of local economies.
The last presenter Andrew Kachere, Head of the Criminal Analysis Unit in Malawi, reported the findings of the unit pertaining to environmental crime trends within the country. The Unit found that the criminal syndicates participating in illicit environmental markets in Malawi and in neighbouring countries are mainly comprised of nationals from China, Mozambique and Zambia. The presentation highlighted a positive development within the legislation of Malawi, who has just amended their national parks and wildlife act, now allowing higher sentences for environmental crimes.
For the full playback of the webinar click here.