Risk Bulletin Download PDF

Observatory of Illicit Economies in Eastern and Southern Africa


Summary highlights

  1. Special report: Gangs in East and Southern Africa use lockdowns to target children for recruitment.

    Our research in Kenya and South Africa has found that recruitment of children into gangs has risen alarmingly since the coronavirus pandemic started, with gangs deliberately targeting children for recruitment. School closures have left children more vulnerable to exploitation, and economic hardship and hunger as a result of the lockdowns have driven some children and their families to working for gangs as a means of making a living.

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  2. Cannabis trafficking and endangered-tortoise trade drive corruption in Madagascar.

    Madagascar is home to some of the world’s rarest tortoise species, which in recent years have fetched enormous prices on international black markets. It also boasts a booming market for illegal cannabis, both for domestic consumption and for export to other Indian Ocean island states. Although neither of these illegal markets are currently a national or international law-enforcement priority, our recent research into both has found them to rely on extensive networks of corrupt officials to facilitate trafficking flows. This drives local-level corruption in source regions for cannabis and tortoises, as well as in key transit points on trafficking routes, which may overlap with the routes of other illicit flows.

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  3. Mining-related killings in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province fuel corruption and socio-political instability.

    Killings of local residents who oppose mining developments have been on the rise in KwaZulu-Natal since 2016. In eMpembeni, a rural area near Richards Bay, a spate of assassinations and assassination attempts have terrorized the community since 2017, when residents began raising questions about a possible new mining development in the area. Investigations into the murders have stalled. eMpembeni is just one example of mining-related conflict in KwaZulu-Natal, where conflicts of interest in traditional authorities and legislation that does not protect the rights of communities drive conflict over the exploitation of mineral resources.

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  4. Following the money underpinning the Yemen-Somalia arms trade.

    Remittance companies serving Somalia and Yemen – commonly referred to as ‘hawalas’ – have a long history of being abused by criminal networks seeking to avoid financial scrutiny. In a forthcoming publication, The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC) will explore how hawala remittances facilitate the illicit arms trade between Yemen and Somalia. The paper will present data on arms-related remittances totalling US$3.7 million that were sent between 2014 and 2020, and will seek to identify the gaps in financial compliance that are exploited by arms traffickers. The current Risk Bulletin includes excerpts from this upcoming publication, including an analysis of the illicit activities of one prominent Somalia-based arms importer, Abdirahman Mohamed Omar, aka ‘Dhofaye’.

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  5. Pipeline fuel thefts skyrocket in South Africa.

    Thefts from fuel pipelines have skyrocketed in South Africa over the past year. These pose environmental and safety risks, and cost the South African government millions in revenue. Although much of the fuel stolen in South Africa remains in the country, some is exported to neighbouring countries. This is part of a regional phenomenon of fuel smuggled across borders, where smugglers exploit price differentials between countries. Some responses, such as use of chemical markers, seem to be having an effect.

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About this issue

Some of the most pernicious aspects of the coronavirus pandemic are those which affect children. The impact of school closures, sharply declining economic conditions, hunger, and the narrowing of prospects for future employment will be felt for many years to come. In a special report by our East and Southern Africa team, we examine how, in addition to these threats, children in poor and vulnerable communities under lockdown have been targeted by gangs for recruitment and exploitation. For governments and civil society working to protect vulnerable children, this news should be both a warning and a call to action.

Remittance companies – commonly known a ‘hawalas’ – are a humanitarian necessity in Somalia and Yemen as they allow these countries’ economic sectors to function despite the state fragility and conflict that afflicts them both. However, these companies have a long history of being abused by criminal networks and terrorist organizations operating in the region. In this issue, we present findings from an upcoming Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GI-TOC) report detailing how arms dealers are exploiting gaps in the system. The remittance system in its current system is a double-edged sword, and in need of reform to best serve Somalia and Yemen in future.

In our research, we aim to understand the commonalities and shared context between different forms of crime. Trafficking of cannabis and the trade in endangered tortoises are in many aspects very different: they cater to very different consumer markets, and only one is a very rare and highly-prized commodity. However, in Madagascar, these trades share some of the same trafficking routes and are able to flow through some of the same modalities of corruption. In particular in the south-east of Madagascar, the cannabis trade is notable not only for the scale of trafficking groups involved but its close links to historic security issues in the region such as cattle rustling and armed banditry.

We also explore two stories relating to natural resource exploitation in South Africa. First, in KwaZulu-Natal, locals who oppose mining developments are increasingly being murdered in seemingly professional assassinations. There have been at least 38 assassinations in the province since 2016. The right of these communities to protest and to retain autonomy over ancestral lands is at stake. Second, there has been a dramatic increase in thefts from fuel pipelines in South Africa since early 2019. Criminal syndicates tapping into pipelines and extracting tanker-loads of fuel presents a significant risk to public safety.