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State-embedded actors create a climate for crime to thrive across Africa
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State-embedded actors create a climate for crime to thrive across Africa

State capture is so common in Africa that it is not just a salient SA issue but also the continent’s greatest criminal challenge. Under the Covid-19 pandemic, state-embedded corruptors are expanding their influence to promote all forms of syndicate crime.

According to Enact’s latest annual crime trends, Enact is an EU-funded observer of transborder criminality in Africa and is partnered by Interpol. The report examines 10 key criminal activity. As marketshuman trafficking; human Smuggling; The Arms Trade; The Stealing of Fauna, Flora, and Unrenewable Resources; and the Production and Distribution of Heroin, Cocaine, Cannabis, and Synthetic Drugs

Africa’s criminal markets are significant. According to estimates, illegal logging in Africa is worth approximately $17bn per year. Untaxed gold exports from Ghana cost more than $6bn per year. West Africa is hit with $2.3bn in lost revenue due to illegal, unregulated, or unreported fishing. Counterfeit antimalarial drugs are worth more that $400m per year. Cybercrime costs Africa $895m annually. Libyan refined fuel theft is estimated at $200m per year.

The Sahel and Forest Belt of East Africa are the most dangerous regions. Crime has soared in Kenya and Ghana, while Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo rank among the top five criminally infected countries in the world.

The report also examines criminal actors. It is here that state-embedded criminals are highlighted. While insurgencies, criminal militias, and other criminal actors play an important part in the criminal landscape in Africa, it is state actors who are the most dominant vectors for organised crime, facilitating and even participating in illicit economies across the continent.

SA ranks fifth on the continent in terms of the pervasiveness and severity of its criminality. It is behind the DRC in worst, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Kenya. The report states that SA’s overall trend from 2002 to 2020 (2002-2020), is one of worsening instability.

The Zondo inquiry into state-capture was a positive sign. However, there are still high-level, middle- and lower-ranking state actors in all SA criminal markets. There is widespread corruption within many state departments, including at high levels in the police, prosecution and prison services.

These countries are rare examples of countries that have high institutional and social resilience to criminality. But they are also plagued with corruption and syndicate crime. These countries tend not to [have]Large, potential domestic markets, and a highly developed infrastructure are all factors that criminal economies can exploit.

The best people to prevent criminals from accessing infrastructure are corrupt politicians and unelected officers: There are many countries in Africa, including Nigeria and South Africa, where state-embedded actors exert a significant influence over society and state institutions. However, these countries have relatively high resilience scores and have built up a greater ability to respond to organised crimes than most African states.

In countries like these, a foundation of stronger institutions, supported by integrity-minded officials, coexists and fights, sometimes successfully, corruption.

The report warned that although developed financial and banking sector facilitate illicit financial flows and money launder such as in Seychelles, they weren’t included in the report. This is unfortunate because untaxed revenue can be equivalent to as much at 11.6% of subsaharan trade according to Thomson Reuters.

The symbiotic relationship between criminal expansion and state corruption does not involve officials being recruited into criminal syndicates directly, but corruption eroding good government, transparency, accountability and the rule of law and creating an enabling environment for syndicates to flourish.

The coronavirus epidemic has been a key enabler. In 2020, crime levels rose by 25% compared to the previous two years. The gap between resilience and criminality widened; the cocaine trade soared; state-embedded criminals strengthened their hands; and social security resilience measures remained weak. The pandemic didn’t stop illicit flows across the continent… but it also exacerbated many social and structural conditions that often lead to organised crime inequality, poverty, instability, and underdevelopment. Covid-19 also revealed structural weaknesses that could be exploited by states.

According to the report, criminality and state and civic society resilience to it increased slightly in SA during the pandemic. However, resilience was significantly higher in Nigeria where there was a slight drop in criminality. Despite the convergence of armed groups on the continent and criminal activity, only SA and Kenya had sophisticated Mafia-style criminal gangs.

There is an increasing convergence of criminal networks, particularly the arms trade and human trafficking (child slavery is on the increase), arms trafficking with stolen non-renewable resources, and the drug and cannabis trades. Despite the fact that the drug trade is a generalized form of social criminality, the report emphasizes that drug syndicates are distinct from other criminal organizations.

Although South Africa has the oldest methamphetamine markets on the continent, the supply from West Africa is increasing as local production drops. Only SA and Lesotho have major cocaine markets in Southern Africa. However, the heroin market is particularly important in the major destination and transshipment states of Mozambique. There, Afghan heroin is increasingly imported in large quantities.

The African arms market has a huge size, with over 100-million weapons thought to be either in circulation or stored. It has been fuelled by many flows, including arms from outside the country and stockpiles left over from the apartheid era. In recent years, however corruption within the police has been a major driver in arming gangs. Former high-ranking SA police officers have been found guilty for selling decommissioned weapons to criminal bosses.

The current Mozambican civil war surplus weapons may have been used to arm SA gangs, which led to a reversal in past flows.

Podcast A Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime profiles Guinea-Bissau. There, the leaders of the PAIGC (an old liberation movement) and its military faction hold control over both the legitimate state and illegal criminal rent-seeking. This process began in the late 1990s and criminalized the state as the elites dominated the emerging cocaine and illegal log trades. However, the contest spiralled downwards to civil war in 1998.

The elites sold arms to a separatist movement for personal gain and no political motivation. This was the driving force behind the war. The state abandoned all pretenses to socioeconomic advancement, creating Africa’s first drug state in 2008. This created a vicious cycle of instability that drove the population to abandon the state and seek self-sufficiency.

It is a cautionary tale about SA.

Schmidt is an experienced investigative journalist and Africa correspondent. 

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