Risk Bulletin Download PDF

Observatory of Illicit Economies in Eastern and Southern Africa


Summary highlights

  1. The fight against illegal gold mining in South Africa faces new (and old) challenges.

    As gold prices soar in the post-pandemic world economy, there are concerns that illegal mining activity in South Africa may be rising sharply. Tackling such a surge may prove difficult, given the history of illegal mining in the country. Sources in the industry have described how they face a number of challenges, including deteriorating law-enforcement capacity, endemic corruption and community support for the illegal miners. In this context, illegal miners appear set to remain an influential part of the criminal landscape in South Africa.

    Read more

  2. Is Afghanistan a new source for methamphetamine in eastern and southern Africa?

    Production of methamphetamine in Afghanistan has boomed in the past three years, thanks to a combination of poor opium harvests for heroin, meth producers moving out of Iran into Afghanistan following an Iranian crackdown, and the discovery of a new and cheaper way of producing key meth precursors. However, it is still largely unknown to which market these massive volumes of meth are destined. Recent seizures of heroin and methamphetamine, and information from GI-TOC research into meth markets in eastern and southern Africa, suggest that some of this new influx of Afghan meth is being trafficked into Africa.

    Read more

  3. Somaliland: East Africa’s largest conduit for cheetah trafficking to the Gulf.

    A recent spate of cheetah seizures in Somaliland has shown that the illicit demand for these animals remains strong. Cheetahs are highly prized as exotic pets in the Gulf states, and in supplying this market, traffickers have heavily impacted local cheetah populations in Africa, a situation compounded by the fact that many animals die on route. Despite international and domestic prohibitions against the trade, cheetahs remain at high risk.

    Read more

  4. Kenya’s coffee industry is facing a resurgence in organized thefts.

    Kenya’s world-famous coffee industry has, for the past decade, been targeted by armed gangs of thieves who carry out orchestrated, large-scale heists of the produce. A recent spate of thefts suggest the problem might be having a resurgence following a previous peak in 2011. Coffee farmers have reported how some thefts have turned violent, and farmers’ cooperatives have resorted to tightening security to protect their livelihoods. There are suggestions that the so-called ‘coffee cartels’ are protected by influential figures in politics, business and the police.

    Read more

About this issue

This 12th issue of the Risk Bulletin of Illicit Economies in Eastern and Southern Africa marks one full year in which our Observatory of Illicit Economies has been closely monitoring trends in organized crime and illegal trade across the region. In earlier iterations of this Bulletin, we have provided analysis of the conflict in northern Mozambique and how criminal markets have been implicated in this conflict; extensively monitored illegal drug markets across the region; and drawn attention to new ways in which organized crime activity is encroaching on legal trade and the rule of law, for example in markets for otherwise legal goods, such as fuel and agricultural products.

Our network of analysts and researchers are working on a range of upcoming research papers and conducting pricing studies for key commodities traded illegally across the region. The findings of our heroin pricing study have been published in the new report ‘A shallow flood: The diffusion of heroin in eastern and southern Africa’, and will be followed with studies on gold, charcoal, wildlife products and firearms, among others. Upcoming research papers will also focus on drug trafficking in the Indian Ocean island states, the relationships between gangs and political power in Kenya, and gang violence and criminal governance in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa.

Over the past year, the coronavirus pandemic has been the major global shift that has impacted on organized crime in the region. We have witnessed how gangs in South Africa and Kenya have grown more powerful in the chaos of lockdown restrictions, and documented how children have become more vulnerable to recruitment into gangs. Fear of the pandemic disrupted and even reversed decades-old human-smuggling routes between the Republic of the Comoros and Mayotte, in an unprecedented shift. The scramble for medical provisions opened up opportunities for the illegal diversion of medical donations and corrupt siphoning of funds earmarked for COVID-19 response.

Going forward, we will aim to continue and expand our coverage of organized crime across the region. In this issue, we report on four very different illegal markets, distinct in both the commodities and the geographies involved: from ‘zama zamas’ (illegal gold miners operating in South Africa), to violent and organized heists in Kenya’s coffee industry. We also document the ongoing trend of cheetah trafficking via Somaliland, primarily to the Gulf States, and the emergence of Afghan-produced methamphetamine being trafficked along routes used for trafficking heroin.