Risk Bulletin Download PDF

Observatory of Illicit Economies in Eastern and Southern Africa


Summary highlights

  1. Heroin capsules, a unique feature of Durban’s drug market, have emerged in a violent and volatile landscape.

    In Durban, a unique trend has emerged for packaging heroin in pharmaceutical-style capsules, which may shed light on the structure of the drug market and supply routes. This trend has emerged as violence in Durban’s heroin market has escalated. Police corruption and community support of drug networks are both major factors in the local drug economy, as demonstrated by the recent assassination of a notorious underworld figure, Yaganathan Pillay, otherwise known as ‘Teddy Mafia’.

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  2. Corruption and criminality at Nairobi’s main dumpsite exact a heavy toll on the city’s residents and county government.

    Around the world, waste management has proven to be a sector vulnerable to organized crime and corruption. The Dandora dumpsite – the only designated dump for the thousands of tonnes of rubbish produced daily in Nairobi – has become the hub for criminal groups and corrupt figures who have infiltrated the waste-disposal sector at a number of levels, from household-rubbish collection to waste transport. The dump itself has also become an insecure and violent area. New research by the GI-TOC shines a light on the symbiosis between criminal and corrupt figures who combine to leech illicit profits out of Dandora and Nairobi’s waste sector at large.

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  3. The life of a Kenyan charcoal transporter: a crucial role in a vast, vital and criminalized market.

    Charcoal is an essential commodity in East Africa. Cheap, efficient and easily transportable, it is the main energy source in rapidly growing urban areas. Yet regulations suppressing charcoal trade – put in place to reduce deforestation – have resulted in ‘grey markets’ whereby criminality and corruption allow illegally produced charcoal to be sold. In Kenya, a ban on domestic production has inadvertently brought about just such a grey market. Drawing on ongoing GI-TOC research, we follow the path of one charcoal transporter to illustrate how criminality percolates through the Kenyan charcoal market.

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  4. Poor implementation of firearms legislation and corruption in South Africa’s firearms registry has put guns in the hands of gangsters.

    When it was first introduced, South Africa’s Firearms Control Act was intended to usher in a new era of firearms control in the newly democratized country. But 21 years after the Act was passed in parliament, monitoring systems have still not been fully implemented and systemic corruption at the Central Firearms Registry has allowed firearm licences to be issued to suspected gangsters and other underworld figures.

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About this issue

Welcome to the first issue of the Risk Bulletin of Illicit Economies in East and Southern Africa in 2021. As lockdowns and border closures continue across eastern and southern Africa, the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are cutting ever deeper. Other political upheavals are also shaking the region, such as the outcome of the contested elections in Uganda.

In this issue of the Risk Bulletin, we present stories from South Africa and Kenya, which investigate how political shifts are shaping, and being shaped by, criminal networks.

In our lead story this month, we provide a deep dive on Durban’s heroin market. South African headlines were filled in recent weeks with shocking images from Durban, where alleged drug kingpin ‘Teddy Mafia’ was assassinated and his killers themselves killed in a brutal reprisal. Going beyond the headlines, we present our analysis of the volatility and violence in Durban’s drug market, and what sets the city apart in the overall landscape of heroin trafficking across South Africa and the wider region.

We then turn to illegal markets in Kenya that have a direct impact on the environment. Waste disposal may not be something widely associated with organized crime, yet criminality in the sector has actually been reported around the world. The business of waste in Nairobi has become big business for criminal groups with connections to the city’s government. Our analysis highlights how provision of services in cities can be subverted by criminal groups and corrupt officials.

We also look at ongoing criminality in Kenya’s charcoal industry, which is a major contributor to deforestation in the region. The charcoal market in Kenya is a classic example of a ‘grey market’, whereby legal and illicitly produced goods are both available to consumers, who may therefore be unaware of a product’s illegality. The charcoal market presents a dilemma to policymakers in Kenya, given that demand for charcoal, despite its problems as a polluting fuel, remains high, as well as the fact that the market is a major source of income in rural areas.

Lastly, we report on ongoing corruption and mis-management at South Africa’s Central Firearms Registry, where corrupt officers working in the firearms registry have been able to facilitate firearms licenses being issued to gangsters. This story illustrates how poor implementation of legislation – in this case South Africa’s Firearms Control Act – can undermine the legislation’s original intentions.