What does the year ahead hold for organized crime in eastern and southern Africa?

Organized crime is a notoriously difficult phenomenon to measure quantitatively. Not only does most organized criminal activity take place undetected, with those involved going to great lengths to conceal their role, but what is considered ‘organized crime’ is in fact disputed. In some countries, it is a politically contested issue, and it may be difficult to define the boundaries of what constitutes a ‘criminal group’ or ‘network’.

Quantitative indicators of organized crime also have their limitations. With regards to drug markets, for example, drugs seizures are often used as a proxy for measuring drug-trafficking trends, when in fact the frequency and quantity of seizures may be shaped by the efficacy of policing strategies or levels of corruption, for example.

The ENACT Organised Crime Index – developed by the GI-TOC, the Institute for Security Studies and INTERPOL – is the first tool of its kind designed to assess levels of organized crime and states’ resilience to organized-criminal activity, in a holistic manner.

The 2021 results of the Index offer insight into how organized crime has changed over the past two years in eastern and southern Africa. This data can, in turn, be used to predict how trends may develop into 2022. The assigned scores show an overall increase in organized-criminal activity in eastern and southern Africa since 2019. They also indicate that states’ resilience to the harms of organised crime has increased in East Africa but decreased in southern Africa.

How the Index works

The Index is modelled on three constituent elements, two of which combine to provide a ‘criminality score’: the scale and impact of criminal markets (10 in total, ranging from environmental crime to drugs markets and human trafficking) and the influence of criminal actors (comprising four types, from mafia-style groups to criminal actors embedded within government).

The third element is ‘resilience’, which is defined as a country’s ability to withstand and disrupt organized-criminal activity through political, economic, legal and social measures. The indicators in the ‘resilience score’ include witness protection and anti-money laundering measures. Both scores are measured on a scale from 1 to 10.

A significant update to the 2021 Index is that it captures the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on organized crime across the African continent. The pandemic has taken a severe economic toll and put pressure on governments to deliver essential services while addressing an ongoing health crisis. In this context, organized crime in Africa has evolved and taken advantage of the confusion wrought by the pandemic; it has filled in the gaps left by state institutions, by adapting illicit activities in order to circumvent pandemic restrictions and by providing alternative sources of income and parallel services.

The Global Organized Crime Index (of which the ENACT Africa Index forms a part) found that Africa has the second-highest continental score for criminal markets, after Asia. In late 2020, the UN Conference on Trade and Development estimated that the African continent experiences an annual loss of US$88.6 billion in illicit financial flows linked to criminal activities.1 The Africa Index findings from 2021 indicate that this figure has grown in the intervening months.

East Africa

East Africa scored the highest levels of criminality in Africa (with a criminality score of 5.66). Criminality in East Africa is driven by several extensive criminal markets as well as by a strong presence of criminal actors in fragile areas beset by prolonged conflicts. Index data showed that six of the nine countries that make up this region have significantly high levels of criminality, with scores ranging from 5.79 to 6.95.

The Index identified human trafficking as the most pervasive criminal market in East Africa. The extremely high average score is driven largely by the scores of Eritrea (9.0), South Sudan (8.5), Sudan (8.0) and Somalia (8.0), all four of which rank among the five most affected countries for human trafficking on the continent.

Although all countries in the region are afflicted by high levels of human smuggling (with the exception of Uganda, at 5.0), the very high average score is largely a result of the situation in Eritrea. Repressive border-control procedures are imposed by the government, which compel potential migrants (including those who do not wish to participate in Eritrea’s compulsory military service) to rely on illegal channels.

East Africa’s overall criminality score increased from 5.51 in 2019 to 5.66 in 2021. Criminal markets such as human trafficking and human smuggling saw an increase of 0.78 and 0.67 respectively, constituting the highest score increases for the region. During the same period, arms trafficking and fauna crimes increased by 0.33 and 0.39, respectively. The increase in arms trafficking could be linked to ongoing civil unrest and violence in the region, most notably Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict, which has spurred demand in the regional small-arms trade.

East Africa also reported the lowest regional average score for resilience in Africa (3.54). Law-enforcement capabilities (scoring just 3.39) were judged to be poor, as the lack of trust in law-enforcement agencies, in addition to their limited integrity, corruption and weak capacity are ongoing problems across the region. Similarly, the judicial system and detention indicator scored low (3.67) because of the lack of independence as well as poor access to justice and harsh prison conditions, which in some cases do not meet fundamental human-rights principles. Again, countries experiencing episodes of violence and conflict (such as Ethiopia) scored poorly.

However, East Africa’s overall score for resilience has shown a small improvement since 2019 (+0.03). With the exception of Tanzania, Djibouti and Ethiopia, all countries in the region saw their overall resilience scores increase. Notably, Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict has affected almost every facet of resilience to organized crime scored in the Index.

East Africa overall criminality and resilience scores.

Figure 4 East Africa overall criminality and resilience scores.

SOURCE: ENACT Organised Crime Index 2021.

Resilience scores for East Africa.

Figure 5 Resilience scores for East Africa.

SOURCE: ENACT Organised Crime Index 2021.

Southern Africa

At first glance, criminality in southern Africa appears moderate, as the region has an average score of 4.67 – the lowest in Africa. In fact, most countries in the region do not feature markets that are beyond a moderate influence when it comes to criminality. Yet high levels of criminality are concentrated in four southern African countries: South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Madagascar.

The most pervasive criminal market in southern Africa is fauna crimes, which affect more than half of the countries in the region. Criminal groups target keystone fauna species, such as elephants and rhinos, of which the largest remaining populations are found in southern Africa.

South Africa remains the region’s highest-scoring country in terms of criminality. The high crime levels are stoked by endemic gang violence, with groups particularly active in the drug trade and extortion, and with an illicit arms market that is at least partly fuelled by weapons diverted from police stockpiles.2

In addition to recording high levels of heroin consumption, South Africa is home to the most deep-rooted consumption market for methamphetamines, meaning that the country’s score for synthetic-drugs market is the highest in the region, at 8.0. This market is supplied by domestic production as well as meth imports from West Africa. In addition, recent GI-TOC research has tracked how Afghanistan-produced meth is being trafficked into southern Africa along maritime routes typically used to transport heroin.3

Southern Africa tends to outperform the rest of Africa on most resilience indicators, including international cooperation on counter-crime strategies. The regional resilience scores have, however, decreased since the 2019 Index, owing to the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2021 Index points to ‘law enforcement’ (3.73) being the factor behind resilience with one of the worst overall scores in southern Africa, as was the case with East Africa. Almost half of the countries in the region have severely limited law-enforcement agencies, which are crippled by flagrant corruption. Severe lack of resources and capacity, as well as the poor treatment of people by security forces and subsequent lack of popular trust in the police, are among the factors inhibiting anti-organized-crime efforts throughout the region.

Southern Africa overall criminality and resilience scores..

Figure 6 Southern Africa overall criminality and resilience scores.

SOURCE: ENACT Organised Crime Index 2021.

Resilience scores for southern Africa.

Figure 7 Resilience scores for southern Africa.

SOURCE: ENACT Organised Crime Index 2021.

What does this mean for 2022?

In the year ahead, we can expect some forms of criminal activity to further increase as the economic effects of the pandemic persist. As the research found that the majority of people in Africa live in countries with high levels of criminality and low levels of resilience to organized crime, we can expect organized crime to continue to have a significant damaging effect on the lives and prosperity of many communities. However, we hope that the incremental gains made in resilience in some areas – particularly in parts of East Africa – continue. Countries can use the Index as a tool to identify areas of weakness and improve in those policy areas. Civil society groups can also use the Index as a tool for advocacy and to effect change.


  1. UN Conference on Trade and Development, Africa could gain $89 billion annually by curbing illicit financial flows, 28 September 2020, https://unctad.org/news/africa-could-gain-89-billion-annually-curbing-illicit-financial-flows

  2. Jenni Irish-Qhobosheane, How to silence the guns? Southern Africa’s illegal firearms markets, GI-TOC, September 2021, https://globalinitiative.net/analysis/southern-africas-illegal-firearms-markets

  3. Jason Eligh, A synthetic age: The evolution of methamphetamine markets in eastern and southern Africa, GI-TOC, March 2021, https://globalinitiative.net/analysis/meth-africa