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Observatory of Illicit Economies in Eastern and Southern Africa


Summary highlights

  1. Why did two major ivory trafficking cases in Tanzania collapse, with one conviction quashed and the other resulting in only a small fine?

    Developments in two headline-grabbing ivory trafficking cases in Tanzania are not what conservationists might have hoped for. The conviction of Boniface Mathew Malyango, known as ‘Shetani’, was quietly overturned in 2020. Shetani was alleged to be one of the most prolific ivory traffickers in the world and became globally infamous after featuring in the documentary The Ivory Game. Mateso ‘Chupi’ Kasian – also allegedly responsible for thousands of elephants killed in Tanzania and Mozambique – was deported from Mozambique to Tanzania and faced wildlife trafficking charges as a result of years of investigations by regional authorities and conservation organizations. However, his recent conviction resulted only in a small fine. Both cases highlight the challenges faced by major wildlife trafficking investigations in the region.

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  2. The assassination of William ‘Red’ Stevens: a violent entrepreneur who symbolized South Africa’s evolving gang culture.

    William ‘Red’ Stevens, a ‘general’ in the 27s gang, was gunned down in northern Cape Town on 2 February 2021. The 27s are one of South Africa’s notorious prison ‘number’ gangs – made up of the 26s, 27s and 28s. Stevens’s career provides a lens into the traditions and culture of these gangs, as well as showing how individual gangsters can reshape these traditions to their own advantage.

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  3. Drug pricing data: why the methodology matters.

    Data on drug prices has real-world impact. In several countries in East and southern Africa, the estimated value of drugs can have a direct impact on sentencing of offenders. Price data can also give an insight into how drugs markets work. But such data is not often widely available and the methodologies used to generate such data leave much to be desired. The GI-TOC has been developing new methods of conducting drug pricing surveys that involve people who use drugs (PWUD). This method responds to calls by PWUD and civil society organizations for PWUD to be meaningfully involved in drug research and policymaking.

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  4. New findings on the supply of methamphetamine from Afghanistan to South Africa.

    South Africa is home to the largest and most established meth consumption market in East and southern Africa. New GI-TOC research has found that meth consumption is far more widespread and markets far better established across the region than previously understood. Interviews with meth importers and suppliers also cast light on the emerging supply route by which meth produced in Afghanistan is trafficked to southern Africa.

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  5. Some groups are advocating for new international frameworks on illegal wildlife trade. What impact would this have in practice?

    Some conservation groups are advocating for a new international legal framework to counter illegal wildlife trade, namely, a fourth dedicated protocol of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC). Yet what would the impact of a new legal framework be? As well as drawing upon in-house expertise amassed from monitoring the developments of the UNTOC, the GI-TOC also conducted interviews with a number of law enforcement investigators working in East Africa to assess if and how they see such an initiative impacting on police investigations into illegal wildlife trade.

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About this issue

Collecting accurate, reliable information on illegal markets is no straightforward task. In this issue of the Risk Bulletin, we seek to explain how the GI-TOC has developed methods – working with networks of people who use drugs – to collect up-to-date information on retail drug prices and the shifting dynamics of drug markets. Information on drug prices has real-world impact: in at least three countries in East and southern Africa, the value of drugs involved in an offence has a direct effect on either the offence charged or on sentencing. Our monitoring of the market for methamphetamines has also uncovered how vast regional consumption for this drug really is, and how this market is now being fed by global supply chains, connecting to as far as Mexican drug cartels and Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan.

We also look at how two major ivory trafficking cases being prosecuted in Tanzania seem to have collapsed, with the conviction of ‘Shetani’ – believed to be one of the most prolific ivory traffickers in the world – being overturned, and another suspected trafficker, Mateso ‘Chupi’ Kasian, being convicted on possession charges but only given a cursory fine. Both cases faced the recurring challenges that have affected many other wildlife trafficking cases: issues of corruption, lengthy delays in court cases and problems in the preparation and presentation of evidence.

This also raises questions for civil society: many conservation NGOs were involved in building the cases against Shetani and Mateso, and celebrated Shetani’s initial conviction. Yet, the eventual outcome of both cases passed with little comment from the media, NGOs or international partners. Is there an excessive focus on arrests and initial prosecutions, and not enough monitoring of the long, drawn-out legal processes that these cases often involve?

Both the Mateso and Shetani cases required cross-border cooperation between law enforcement. Some civil society organizations are currently pushing for a new international legal framework for wildlife crime that would, it is argued, help such cooperation to take place. In this issue we look into these proposals and draw from interviews with law enforcement on what they see as the building blocks to successful cross-border investigations.

Finally, we also report on the assassination of William ‘Red’ Stevens, a ‘general’ in the notorious 27s gang. The 27s are one of the infamous ‘number’ gangs, which are a powerful force in South Africa’s prisons and in its wider criminal landscape. The number gangs have a long, complex history and a unique gang culture. Stevens’ death, and its aftermath, shows how this culture works today and gives us an opportunity to understand the role of the number gangs in South Africa.