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Observatory of Illicit Economies in Eastern and Southern Africa


Summary highlights

  1. From Afghanistan to Cabo Delgado – political volatility along the ‘southern route’ of drug trafficking.

    Afghanistan is a major supplier of drugs flowing to and through East and southern Africa. The country has long been the world’s leading source of heroin but is also increasingly producing methamphetamine, some of which in the past two years has begun to be trafficked to southern Africa. Some have speculated whether the Taliban, now in control of the country, will deliver on its pledge to curb opium production in Afghanistan, or whether production will increase as Afghanistan’s economy contracts. In Cabo Delgado, regional forces have been deployed to support the Mozambican military in combating the Al Sunnah wa Jama extremist group and have recaptured territory, including the town of Mocímboa da Praia, but whether these developments will influence drug trafficking routes through the region is still an open question.

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  2. How young men in Kenya’s coastal region fall victim to sex trafficking.

    Young men in informal work on the Kenyan coast – known as ‘beach boys’– are at risk of being trafficked for sex. After forming relationships with women who have travelled to Kenya for tourism – often much older European women – these young men travel abroad, enticed by a good lifestyle or education provided by these ‘sponsors’. Once out of the country, these young men find themselves in a precarious position, exploited and coerced into sex work. It is difficult to know how many men have found themselves in these situations, as monitoring is scant. Perceptions that sex trafficking mainly victimizes women, and stigma around being a male victim, has seen many victims keep their traumatic experiences a secret.

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  3. The targeting of three women in South Africa shows how violence is shaping politics in the run-up to local elections.

    Between July and August, three women in South Africa were the targets of assassination attempts. Babita Deokaran and Nokuthula Bolitye were both killed, while Ntobe Shezi survived. All had political roles: Deokaran was a crucial witness in a corruption investigation at the Gauteng Department of Health; Shezi was standing for election as a ward councillor in KwaZulu-Natal; and Bolitye was a ward councillor in Cape Town. Their deaths and injuries are not outliers: data gathered by the GI-TOC on assassinations in South Africa has shown a consistent incidence of political hits since 2000. KwaZulu-Natal is a hotspot for political hits, which have often spiked around election time. With municipal elections looming, politically linked assassinations may become more frequent.

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  4. How informal miners in Mozambique bear the brunt of criminalization while elites seize more control of mining concessions.

    Mozambique is estimated to produce as much as 80% of the world’s rubies, many extracted by artisanal and small-scale mining operations, much of which is illegal. During GI-TOC fieldwork in early 2021 in Montepuez and M’Sawize, miners and gem traders described how corrupt police – nominally charged with securing the mine concessions – and other powerful local groups act as gatekeepers to the mines and can abuse and extort miners. While the informal miners have endured this abuse, figures in the Mozambican political elite have strengthened their control of the region’s mining concessions.

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About this issue

The eyes of the world have been on Afghanistan, as the Taliban have taken control of the country once again. Perhaps the leading supplier of illicit drugs to East and southern Africa, Afghanistan is a source most commonly of heroin – which is trafficked by the ‘southern route’ overland to the Indian Ocean and then overseas to the East African seaboard – but also increasingly methamphetamines. As described in a previous issue of this Bulletin, reports of a new supply of Afghan-produced meth have emerged in our drugs market monitoring work in southern Africa in the past 18 months.

Northern Mozambique is a landing point for these Afghan-produced drugs. Here, too, the past two months have seen major new political and military developments, as regional forces have been deployed to counter the insurgent movement fighting in Cabo Delgado province. In the past decades of military intervention in Afghanistan, the relationship between conflict and the drug trade has often been misunderstood or overestimated. There is a risk that the same thing could happen in Mozambique now that Cabo Delgado has become a theatre for international military intervention.

Two stories in this issue look at how economic precar­ity shapes how people participate in, or become victims of, crime. In northern Mozambique, artisanal miners search for rubies, as the region is home to some of the world’s richest ruby fields. However, much of this mining is illegal because it is unlicensed or takes place on concessions owned by large-scale mining companies. The informal miners are in a precarious position: mining is one of the few ways of making a living in the deeply impoverished region, yet the fact this activity is illegal leaves them open to abuse and extortion by corrupt police, working in a dangerous and unregulated space.

The Kenyan coast is known as a hotspot for sex tourism. Young men – particularly those known as ‘beach boys’, working along the coast – are at risk of being trafficked. Several victims shared their stories of being coerced into sex work by mainly European older women, with whom they had formed relationships while in Kenya, and then been persuaded to move to these women’s home countries. This trend is in large part driven by the inequity between the beach boy’s poverty and the tourists’ relative wealth. These young men form these relationships in the hope of economic benefit and, ultimately, a better life, only to find themselves cut off and exploited overseas. As in Mozambique, it is the economic pressure that drives these men to make these decisions that, ultimately, put them in harm’s way.

South Africa is due to have municipal elections on 1 November. Unfortunately, the exercise of democracy appears to bring with it a spike in politically linked assassinations. Several political figures have been targeted in July and August alone. Our monitoring of assassination trends in South Africa has found, in certain volatile provinces, that violence increases around election times.