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Observatory of Illicit Economies in Eastern and Southern Africa


Summary highlights

  1. Recent high-profile arrests by US and Chinese law-enforcement agencies have dismantled major wildlife-trafficking networks that operated across the continent.

    This year saw two major transnational investigations into wildlife trafficking networks operating in East and Southern Africa reach their conclusion: the US-led investigation of the Kromah cartel, and the Chinese-led investigation of the Shuidong network. The US and China take differing approaches to transnational investigations, and this has implications for the role of African law enforcement authorities in countering transnational crime.

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  2. Attempts to fight human trafficking from Uganda are undermined by corrupt links between bogus recruitment agencies and people in positions of power.

    The trafficking of migrant workers from Uganda to the Gulf and other Middle East countries using fraudulent recruitment agencies that give false promises of employment is on the rise. While the Ugandan authorities point to actions taken to counter human trafficking, it seems these actions are being undermined by people in positions of power.

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  3. Placing Uganda’s response to human trafficking, and its weaknesses, in a national and regional context: The findings of the Organised Crime Index Africa

    Corruption undermines Uganda’s efforts to counter human trafficking. Using the ENACT Organised Crime Index Africa, a powerful tool to measure countries’ levels of organized crime and resilience to this threat, we can see how this finding is also typical of Uganda’s responses to other forms of organized crime, and how low levels of victim protection are typical of the East Africa region.

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  4. Anti-corruption efforts suffered a setback in the US trial of a businessman implicated in the ‘secret loans’ scandal in Mozambique – but the case has revealed vital information about the nature of illicit funding flows into politics.

    In December 2019, Jean Boustani, an employee of United Arab Emirates-based shipbuilding conglomerate Privinvest, was acquitted in a US court of charges of defrauding US investors in the Mozambican ‘secret loans’ scandal. The acquittal may have been demoralizing for Mozambican and international anti-corruption advocates, but the case has been useful to their cause by providing detailed evidence of how and to whom bribes were paid.

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About this issue

This edition of the Risk Bulletin of Illicit Economies in Eastern and Southern Africa covers emerging trends in wildlife trafficking and human trafficking. It focuses in particular on how corruption, in many forms, facilitates organized crime and incentivizes decision makers to undermine reforms designed to improve the institutional response to crime.

In Uganda, we explore how seemingly legitimate labour recruitment agencies are behind a rising trend in human-trafficking cases from Uganda and the power­ful interests that appear to be undermining attempts to better regulate the industry. Our second story makes use of the Organised Crime Index Africa (published in September) to contextualize trends observed in human trafficking from Uganda, and show how corruption, lack of support for victims and witnesses, and insufficient scrutiny from civil society hinder responses to many forms of organized crime in Uganda.

We also report on recent developments in the so-called ‘secret loans’ scandal, which is currently engulfing Mozambique’s economy and political class. Understanding the role of illicit flows to Mozambique’s ruling party, Frelimo, is vital to understanding how anti-corruption and anti-organized-crime strategies in the country might develop.

Much as these stories might suggest that tackling cor­­­rupt interests in organized crime is an insurmountable challenge, our lead story takes a different perspective. Two major transnational investigations into wildlife-trafficking networks reached their conclusion in 2019, with US and Chinese law-enforcement agencies cooperating with counterparts in Southern and East Africa. An analysis of these two investigations considers how the diverging foreign policy priorities of the US and China have shaped law-enforcement priorities, and the positive role that international law enforcement may play in conducting investigations into transnational networks operating in East and Southern Africa.