Risk Bulletin Download PDF

Observatory of Illicit Economies in Eastern and Southern Africa


Summary highlights

  1. Gold-mining violence in Zimbabwe is driven by a perfect storm of misguided policy and corruption.

    Hundreds have been killed in 2019 and early 2020 as violent groups compete for control over Zimbabwe’s artisanal gold production. Fieldwork conducted by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC) before this recent spate of violence can shed light on what is driving the bloodshed. The ‘no questions asked’ purchasing policy of Zimbabwe’s state gold buyer and corrupt interests in the ruling ZANU-PF party have proven to be a toxic combination.

    Read more

  2. The tide is turning in Malawi’s investigation of transnational wildlife trafficking.

    Raids conducted by Malawian authorities in May 2019 against a wildlife trafficking network allegedly led by Yunhua Lin – one of Malawi’s most wanted criminals – have already led to some convictions for wildlife-related crimes. The convictions of Li Hao Yaun and Qin Hua Zhang (both Chinese nationals) in November 2019 mark the first time non-African foreign nationals have been jailed in Malawi for wildlife offences, despite the country being identified by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 2016 as Southern Africa’s principal wildlife trafficking hub. The Lin network investigation is indicative of a marked improvement in Malawi’s handling of complex investigations of wildlife crime. The court case is ongoing.

    Read more

  3. Poor monitoring of South African citizens incarcerated abroad hampers consular services and crime-fighting efforts.

    The deployment of African citizens as transnational drug mules is a long-standing but under-appreciated problem in East and Southern Africa. This story, the first in a series on this problem, investigates data on South African citizens incarcerated overseas, primarily for drug-related offences. Despite the importance of this information – in helping the South African government both monitor and support vulnerable citizens abroad and investigate criminal networks – civil-society members argue that data collection is unreliable and sporadic.

    Read more

  4. Increasingly sophisticated counterfeit-drug networks make headway in Uganda.

    Uganda’s National Drug Authority has launched an offensive against the trade in counterfeit medicines. However, little is known about how the illicit trade is structured and who the major players are. Investigations carried out for the Risk Bulletin suggest that the illicit Ugandan market is primarily controlled by Indian suppliers – reflecting Uganda’s broader reliance on Indian imports of genuine medicines – who are supported by corrupt officials.

    Read more

About this issue

This edition of the Risk Bulletin of Illicit Economies in Eastern and Southern Africa covers a diverse range of criminal markets, from ivory trafficking to counterfeit medicines. It focuses in particular on national-level responses to organized crime, and how policy and regulation across all branches of government can shape criminal dynamics.

In Zimbabwe, we draw on fieldwork conducted by the GI-TOC to contextualize a recent and troubling upsurge in violence related to illegal gold mining. A recent policy initiative on behalf of Zimbabwe’s state gold buyer – to acquire gold with ‘no questions asked’ as to the legality of its production – has gone hand in hand with high-level corruption. Hundreds have died in the violence between machete-armed mining gangs, and between gangs and police.

Our reporting on new data on the number of South African citizens incarcerated overseas raises questions as to whether South Africa’s foreign ministry is monitoring the situation effectively, supporting victims of exploitation and making use of this information to investigate transnational criminal networks operating in South Africa.

We also look at regulation of Uganda’s pharmaceuticals market and the disturbing prevalence of counterfeit medicines. Although that country’s National Drug Authority has, in recent months, led an offensive agai­nst counterfeits, our research questions how far these efforts are able to investigate and challenge supply networks of counterfeit medicines into the country.

This month, we report on a success story in fighting organized crime in Malawi. Whereas, for some years, Malawi had a reputation for being a regional ivory trafficking hub, the recent disruption of a major ivory trafficking network allegedly led by Yunhua Lin (one of the country’s most wanted criminals) is a testament to how Malawian authorities have improved their capacity to investigate and prosecute wildlife crimes in recent years.