Expanded militant Islamist group activity combined with increased wealth from artisanal gold mining in the tri-border region between Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, and Burkina Faso has heightened the risks of insecurity, fueling demand for illicit small arms. This scenario may degenerate into a self-perpetuating cycle where the availability of arms sparks further insecurity, pressuring communities to seek more firepower for self-defense or retaliation. Community members frequently participate smuggling and trafficking as informants, providers of storage, and subcontractors for the repair of motorcycles, etc. Law enforcement activities must balance against the possibility of disrupting income streams to already poor border communities, or they risk pushing some actors further into the criminal economy perpetuating this cycle.
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Despite 8 years of violent insurgency in northern Mali, the region continues to be a transit zone for regional and global drug-trafficking networks. The networks have endured by ingratiating themselves with a rotating cast of actors whose tactics are based on pragmatic local conditions rather than ideology. For example, an implicit nonaggression pact among key elements of the CMA, Plateforme, and jihadist groups enables traffickers to continue unmolested. International partners should help regional governments better understand and dismantle these networks.
In countries experiencing protracted conflict, state-centric approaches to countering trafficking in persons (TIP) that depend on prosecution, protection, prevention, and partnership are likely to be insufficient because of the state weakness and humanitarian needs common in such settings. Counter-TIP efforts in African conflict contexts may therefore also benefit from focusing on building community resilience to organized crime, further engaging with non-state actors on TIP challenges, and avoiding over-reliance on securitized responses.
Human trafficking remains a significant problem in Africa, exploiting vulnerable individuals—children, women, and men—for forced labor as well as prostitution.
While migrant-smuggling in Libya has been decried for its brutality, international assistance to Libyato counter smuggling while protecting migrantshas actually inflicted further harm to migrants. When smuggling is treated as a serious crime, the more criminal and brutal of actors are encouraged rather than deterred from operating. They merely pass the risk and cost onto migrants by adding elements of trafficking or other abuses. Ending the abuse of migrants in Libya requires stabilizing, securing, and supporting Libya and all who reside there.
Trafficking in persons has become a multibillion dollar business in Africa that African governments have been slow to address.
African countries are among the world’s most vulnerable to and least prepared for climate change. African citizens prioritize issues that are related to climate change, such as water supply, food shortages, and agriculture. Rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns have devastated African countries that depend on agriculture. Only about 3 in 10 Africans are fully “climate change literate,” combining awareness of climate change with basic knowledge about its causes and negative effects. Building climate resilience will require commitment and coordination, backed by significant resources and a population that supports prioritizing it.
Drug trafficking is a major transnational threat in Africa that converges with other illicit activities ranging from money laundering to human trafficking and terrorism.
Drug trafficking in West Africa has increased dramatically over the last two decades, with nearly a quarter of all of Europe’s cocaine being trans-shipped through the region at one point. An essential locale in this trafficking was Guinea-Bissau, often called a “narco state.” In reality, however, the trafficking stemmed from a small politico-military elite that worked in conjunction with independent entrepreneurs. The institutional entanglement implied by the term “narco-state” was not there.
Surging demand for ivory and rhino horn, mainly in Asia, has put wild African elephants and rhinoceroses on the path to extinction. More than an environmental tragedy, however, wildlife poaching and trafficking has exacerbated other security threats and led to the co-option of certain African security units. African states need to develop a broad range of law enforcement capabilities to tackle what is effectively a transnational organized crime challenge. Asian and other international partners, meanwhile, must take action to reduce runaway demand for wildlife products.
The integration of justice initiatives within conventional security efforts can mitigate conflict, improve societal resilience, and build a stronger culture supportive of the rule of law.
(This article originally appeared as a chapter in "Russia Strategic Intentions White Paper," Strategic Multilayer Assessment (SMA) publication series, NSI, May 2019.)
Russia has significantly expanded its engagements in Africa in recent years. These engagements often take the form of propping up embattled and isolated autocratic leaders of countries that are rich in natural resources. The United States can draw a distinction with Russia’s destabilizing role by pursuing a positive engagement strategy in Africa. The United States must avoid the Cold War trap of competing with Russia for the affections of corrupt, autocratic leaders in Africa, however, as such a policy would be disastrous for Africa while not advancing US interests.