Risk Bulletin Download PDF

Observatory of Illicit Economies in Eastern and Southern Africa


Summary highlights

  1. South Africa’s police are incentivized to raise arrest rates for drug-related crime, which is debilitating the court system without undermining drug markets.

    Despite recent legislative change around cannabis, South Africa’s police are still being incentivized to indiscriminately target people who use drugs, in the pursuit of performance statistics, which mandate an increase in arrests for drug-related crime. Data collected by our research team from Wynberg Magistrates’ Court shows how this is inundating the court system, in pursuit of a strategy that several key parties – law enforcement, courts and independent observers – claim is fundamentally flawed.

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  2. Inner-city Johannesburg and Pretoria heroin syndicates are embroiled in xenophobic violence. The situation is volatile and likely to erupt in violence again.

    In the latest wave of xenophobic attacks, at least 12 people have been killed, over a thousand businesses looted, and thousands from migrant communities displaced.1 The country’s heroin markets, largely supplied by Tanzanian syndicates, have been closely connected to the violence: conflict between Tanzanian heroin dealers and taxi drivers in Pretoria sparked riots, and in Johannesburg violent protesters called for foreign-operated drug dens to be shut down. The impact on heroin trading has been different in Johannesburg and Pretoria, but the close and complex relationship with corrupt police officers is a key theme in both cities.

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  3. Recent arrests and trials in Mozambique raise hopes in the fight against rhino poaching, but simplistic interpretations should not lead to complacency.

    There are promising signs in the fight against rhino poaching in Mozambique: fewer poaching incidents have been reported, and there have been key arrests and convictions, unlike in previous years. These include the arrest of Lucílio Matsinhe, son of a prominent FRELIMO veteran and former minister. However, the impact of these cases is ambiguous, and data on rhino poaching in both Mozambique and South Africa is difficult to interpret with confidence.

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  4. The Akasha conviction is a landmark in (foreign) law-enforcement responses to the drug trade. But removing ‘kingpins’ often has unintended consequences. New players are already emerging.

    The prosecution of prominent Kenyan drug traffickers Ibrahim and Baktash Akasha has made its mark on Kenya’s criminal landscape since their extradition to the United States in January 2017. Kenyan authorities have escalated investigations into drug trafficking, and pressure is mounting on political, judicial and business figures believed to be connected to the Akashas. At the same time, however, new dynamics are emerging, not only in reaction to the void left by the Akashas’ cartel, but also in the increasingly active involvement of public servants – including police and judicial officials – in drug-trafficking organizations.

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  5. Mombasa is in decline as a transnational trafficking hub for ivory, but the trade is being displaced to more poorly monitored ports.

    The latest data on ivory trafficking seizures across Africa shows a broad shift towards western routes in place of previously dominant eastern routes. Crucially, there have been no recent seizures in Mombasa, previously a prominent hub. This correlates with shifts in Kenya’s heroin markets and may be linked to the downfall of the Akashas’ criminal syndicate, as well as to broader changes that have made Mombasa a less welcoming environment for traffickers.

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  1. Al Jazeera, South Africa offers ‘profuse’ apologies to Nigeria after attacks, 16 September 2019: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/09/south-africa-apologies-nigeria-xenophobic-violence-190916174014436.html; ‘South Africa: Punish Xenophobic Violence’ Human Rights Watch, 13 September 2019 https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/09/13/south-africa-punish-xenophobic-violence