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Observatory of Illicit Economies in Eastern and Southern Africa


Summary highlights

  1. Organized-criminal syndicates are muscling in for a share of the profits of southern Africa’s avocado and macadamia nut markets.

    While fruit and nut markets might not seem the most likely avenue for organized crime, large-scale theft of avocados and macadamia nuts has been on the rise in Southern Africa. Although most stolen avocados are reportedly sold in South African markets, reports from growers’ associations suggest that macadamia theft is a regional phenomenon, with Zimbabwean growers in particular affected by armed robberies. The thefts have knock-on effects for the farming industry, as growers and distributors deal with the additional costs of security and the impact of substandard stolen produce on customers’ perceptions of product quality.

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  2. Elephant poaching has dramatically decreased in Mozambique’s Niassa National Reserve, once an epicentre of the illegal trade.

    It has been nearly two years since an elephant was poached in Mozambique’s Niassa National Reserve, which was previously an epicentre of Africa’s ivory crisis. Recent fieldwork conducted by the Global Initiative in the port city of Pemba has found that previously rampant ivory trafficking has declined to nothing. The success in the Niassa Reserve has been ascribed to a robust anti-poaching response, tougher sentencing and improved partnerships between government agencies, and between the government and external partners. While these factors almost certainly all played a role in stopping poaching, other broader changes, which may be harder to discern, may have been the real drivers. The case of Niassa may offer lessons for tackling other types of organized crime in the region.

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  3. The Global Initiative’s IUU Fishing Index provides insights into illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in East and Southern African countries.

    Promoting successful, sustainable fisheries is a key objective for many East and Southern African countries. To achieve this, it is necessary to understand the scope of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Data on this issue has, for a long time, been largely unavailable, but the Global Initiative’s new IUU Fishing Index sheds some light on regional dynamics. Index data suggests that the East and Southern African region is, for both geographical and political reasons, more vulnerable to IUU fishing than the global average. In particular, the Seychelles, although it scores highly on government responses to IUU fishing, suffers from vulnerability on several fronts, including the fact that its large marine exclusive economic zone is difficult to monitor effectively.

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  4. Uganda’s Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 2016 has left individuals vulnerable to abuse while failing to deter major drug traffickers.

    Uganda introduced new narcotics legislation in February 2016. Four years on, civil-society groups continue to condemn the deteriorating circumstances in which people who use drugs are targeted by law enforcement, as the law has created the opportunity for harassment, corruption and human-rights violations. Field research conducted for this Risk Bulletin found that faulty implementation of the law has led to harsher sanctions for low-level drug offences, while at the same time creating a permissive environment for drug trafficking.

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About this issue

Each story in this edition of the Risk Bulletin of Illicit Economies in Eastern and Southern Africa looks at a different illegal market: from trade in stolen agricultural produce to illegal fishing and ivory poaching. What unites several of the stories, however, is how organized crime can have development impacts and undermine the management of natural resources, whether these are wild flora and fauna, such as elephant populations and fish stocks, or agricultural crops.

The surprising emergence of black markets for avocados and macadamias in Southern Africa is the focus of our lead story this month. Rising avocado theft echoes criminal trends seen globally in avocado-producing countries, as worldwide demand has caused prices to skyrocket. Macadamia theft is a phenomenon seen across Southern Africa to differing degrees of severity in Zimbabwe (where clashes between growers and thieves have turned to violence), South Africa, Mozambique and Malawi.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is a complex issue, for which reliable data has long been largely unavailable. This month, we draw on data from the Global Initiative’s IUU Fishing Index to show the dynamics of government responses to IUU fishing across Eastern and Southern Africa.

We also report on a success story in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade. Elephant poaching in the Niassa National Reserve, Mozambique, has dwindled to nothing just a few years after the reserve became a regional epicentre of ivory trafficking. We investigate how this was brought about and what lessons this success story may hold for conservation elsewhere.

Finally, four years ago, Uganda introduced new narcotics legislation. Its impacts are now being widely felt: our reporting shows that the new legislation has worsened conditions for people who use drugs in Uganda, who are targeted by the harsh penalties set out in the legislation. At the same time, the way the penalties are structured creates a more permissible environment for drug-
trafficking organizations.