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Observatory of Illicit Economies in Eastern and Southern Africa


Summary highlights

  1. Bucking the trend: The impact of COVID‑19 on drugs markets in the islands of the western Indian Ocean.

    Restrictions to limit the spread of COVID‑19 – lockdowns, curfews and states of emergency – have had a significant impact on illicit markets. However, monitoring of drug flows through the Indian Ocean region suggests that the drugs market has been fairly resilient to the impact of the pandemic. Ongoing GI-TOC research across the Indian Ocean island states has also found that drug use may have grown as a result of the pandemic. Yet the impacts – on patterns on use, trafficking use and drug prices – have been complex across the island states and continue to evolve as the pandemic continues.

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  2. As decriminalization of cannabis production gathers pace in East and southern Africa, Madagascar’s large-scale cannabis market remains a criminal enterprise.

    Madagascar is the most significant producer of cannabis in the Indian Ocean island region. Tonnes of cannabis are grown every year in the remote northern highlands of the Analabe region, providing a significant source of income to some in local communities who are cannabis growers and transporters. However, even as legalization for medicinal and recreational use is fast becoming a reality elsewhere in East and southern Africa, it remains strictly illegal in Madagascar. The cannabis-producing regions are home to armed trafficking groups, which, in the view of local police, are a major challenge to the rule of law. Cannabis production is also a major cause of deforestation in Madagascar’s biodiverse northern forests.

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  3. The new administration in the Seychelles fought the election on corruption issues. Are they addressing drug-related corruption?

    The Seychelles’ presidential election in October 2020 was described as a ‘political earthquake’. The campaign by the successful opposition candidate, Wavel Ramkalawan, had pledged to tackle corruption and counter drug trafficking, major issues in the Seychelles, the country with the highest level of heroin use in the world. Drug-related corruption is reported to be high among law enforcement, yet no cases of corruption are currently being prosecuted. At the same time, police strategies have shifted towards a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to drug use, and behaviour towards people who use drugs appears to have become more aggressive. Time will tell whether the focus of the new administration is really on tackling corruption or rather on penalizing drug use.

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  4. Parc Coson: What dynamics in the drug-dealing capital of Mauritius tell us about networks, protection structures and the challenges to responses.

    The Mauritian drugs market appears unaffected by COVID‑19 containment measures such as lockdowns and border closures. On 10 March 2021, Mauritius entered its second lockdown to counter the spread of the virus and all non-essential businesses closed. Yet in Parc Coson, a slum in the Roche Bois suburb of Port Louis and Mauritius’ drug-selling capital, it was business as usual. Stakeholders point to the resilience of the drugs market during border closures and the lack of lockdown enforcement in Parc Coson as further evidence of corruption, which underpins Mauritius’ drugs markets. Scrutinizing dynamics in Parc Coson during both lockdown periods in 2020 and 2021 provides insight into the evolving nature of the networks profiting from the trade, the protection structures underpinning the island’s drugs market and the challenges undermining current government responses.

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  5. The case of Wandile Bozwana: A killing that epitomizes the role of assassinations in South Africa today.

    Wealthy businessman Wandile Bozwana met a violent end when he was gunned down in his car in Pretoria in October 2015. Bozwana’s death is not unique, and bears many of the hallmarks seen in other assassinations in South Africa. The alleged mastermind of the killing was a businessman in the taxi industry, a sector notoriously associated with assassinations and hitmen in South Africa. That Bozwana had political connections also reflects a trend of political rivalries being settled through violence. Bozwana’s alleged killers are on trial only now, six years after his death, perhaps reflecting the corrosive impact that intimidation and violence has had on South Africa’s criminal justice system.

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About this issue

The islands of the western Indian Ocean are known globally as tourism hotspots, as offshore financial centres in the case of Mauritius and the Seychelles, and as hubs of abundant biodiversity in the case of Madagascar. All the islands – which include the Comoros islands and Mayotte, Mauritius and Réunion, the Seychelles and Madagascar – are home to a wealth of natural and marine resources and are tied into centuries-old maritime trading routes around the Indian Ocean and down the East Africa coastline.

However, illegal markets are also a significant part of the political economy of the region, particularly illicit drug markets. The proximity to the significant ‘southern route’ for heroin trafficking – where heroin cultivated in Afghanistan is trafficked through East and southern Africa for consumption there and for transit to markets in Europe and the US – has made the Indian Ocean islands vulnerable. The Seychelles and Mauritius have some of the highest rates of heroin use in the world, and markets for synthetic cannabinoids have also become established in Mauritius, Mayotte and the Comoros. Drugs markets are diversifying as cocaine and methamphetamine trafficking through the region grows.

Madagascar is also home to significant illegal markets in natural resources, from logging to gemstones and endangered species. Mauritius and the Seychelles have been identified as conduits for illicit financial flows. Corruption is a major facilitator of drugs markets and other forms of organized crime and erodes the governance of the island states.

This special issue of the Risk Bulletin aims to cast light on how illicit drugs markets are woven into the political landscape of the Indian Ocean islands. The GI-TOC has been conducting research on the political economy of drug trafficking across the islands since April 2020, which forms the basis of a forthcoming research paper titled ‘Changing tides: The evolving illicit drug trade in the western Indian Ocean’.

The final story in this issue looks at what the assassination of South African businessman Wandile Bozwana means for the state of politics, crime and justice in South Africa today. This story is the focus of a new podcast series from GI-TOC in partnership with News24 that will dive deep into Bozwana’s death, a killing involving top politicians, taxi bosses, assassins and flamingoes.