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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Organized Crime In Africa

This is Almost three weeks old

23 July 2007

Gumisai Mutume
In one swoop in April, authorities in Guinea-Bissau seized 635 kilogrammes of cocaine, worth an estimated $50 mn. But the traffickers managed to escape with the rest of the 2.5-tonne consignment because the police could not give chase.

United Nations Office on Drug Control (UNODC) Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa commended the seizure, but lamented the poor state of policing in the West African nation. "It is regrettable that the rest of the consignment was not intercepted, but hardly surprising as the police are woefully ill-equipped and often do not even have enough gasoline to operate their vehicles."

That same month, media reports noted that drug traffickers had established a transit area along the Gulf of Guinea as a way to elude tighter policing off the coast of Europe.

Fragile states in Africa are often overwhelmed by other pressing challenges such as poverty, weak public institutions or political instability and can provide a haven for such groups.

One of the illicit networks, operating in Guinea-Bissau, is made up of South American suppliers, African transporters and European distributors.

Mr. Koli Kouame of the UN International Narcotics Control Board reports that tighter policing on the Iberian Peninsula, which has traditionally been the transit point for drugs heading for Europe from South America, is forcing the syndicates to seek alternative routes through Africa.

Strategically located close to Europe and with a porous coastline made up of a labyrinth of islands, Guinea-Bissau provides an ideal sanctuary.
The case of Guinea-Bissau illustrates some of the challenges facing many poor African countries. With weak enforcement capability, underpaid officials and porous national borders, these countries provide an ideal environment for organized criminal rings to extract or tranship illicit commodities.

Africa has far fewer police per citizen than other regions. There are only 180 police per 100,000 people on the continent, while in Asia there are 363. Moreover, when police officers are underpaid and government officials are susceptible to corruption, the job of traffickers only becomes easier. Public officials can be bribed to look the other way or even be induced to work in direct collusion with traffickers.

Transnational crime syndicates deal in a wide range of illicit commodities, including narcotics, diamonds, petroleum, ivory and weapons. They also smuggle human beings. The UN has reported that 90 per cent of African countries are affected by human trafficking flows, either as a source, transit site or destination.

Policeman in Rwanda: Many African police forces need to be better trained, equipped and financed to tackle the challenges of organized crime and smuggling.

Because drug trafficking, prostitution, gambling, loan-sharking and official corruption are illegal and many transactions are consensual, experts note that the extent of organized crime is hard to establish on the basis of official data, in Africa or elsewhere.

"But perception surveys, as well as international crime intelligence and seizures of contraband, suggest that Africa may have become the continent most targeted by organized crime," UNODC states in a 2005 report, Crime and Development in Africa. "Lack of official controls makes the continent vulnerable to money laundering and corruption activities, both of which are vital to the expansion of organized crime."

Although current data is scarce, the South African police estimated in 1998 that the country was losing more than $3 bn annually in potential revenue as a result of the operations of more than 30 Asian, Italian, Nigerian and Russian crime groups in the country.
  • Angola, another country recovering from conflict, is one of many in Africa that are losing millions of dollars' worth of national resources that could be ploughed into development. The Southern African nation attracted scores of transnational crime syndicates during its decades-long civil war as the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) traded diamonds and other natural resources to fund its war against the government. When the war ended in 2002, some of its fighters switched from military activities to transnational crime.

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