Additional Reading on Combating Organized Crime

(See more recent readings on this topic here.)

IMobile money and organised crime in Africa

By Interpol, ENACT, June 30, 2020

Peer-to-peer (P2P) transfers are the most used mobile payment services globally, and providers already operate in at least 45 African countries. Transnational criminal syndicates have also embraced P2P technology: to facilitate money laundering, extortion, human trafficking and smuggling, wildlife, firearms, and drug trafficking, and terrorism. They benefit from African countries’ weak individual identification systems, a lack of consumer awareness, and a lack of resources and training of law enforcement in the collection and use of technical evidence. African governments could use assistance in understanding and tackling organized crime’s use of P2P technology.

Heart of Africa’s Organised Crime: Land, Property and Urbanization

By Eric Scheye, ENACT Policy Brief, May 9, 2019

Africa’s largest organized criminal activity is in land allocation, real estate, and property development, particularly in urban areas. Africa’s urban population is projected to double by 2035 and half of all Africans will live in urban areas. To minimize vulnerability to the corruption and crime that hinder citizen-centered urban development, enhancing transparency and engagement, such as issuing occupancy certificates to residents in informal settlements and engaging neighborhood organizations in local mapping exercises will be necessary.

Crime and Contagion: The Impact of a Pandemic on Organized Crime

By Tuesday Reitano, Mark Shaw, Global Initiative against Organized Crime, March 30, 2020

As the pandemic spreads, organized crime has been adapting to changing illicit market drivers. In Africa, increased border restrictions have impacted human-smuggling routes in the Sahel and the price of heroin in East and Southern Africa. Cocaine shipments from Latin America to West Africa are suspected of having restarted. In South Africa and Kenya, scammers have been exploiting fears and misinformation for profit. Anticipating opportunities for organized crime, particularly where security vulnerabilities already exist, will require building community support and depriving criminal groups of their legitimacy.

International Anti-Impunity Missions in Guatemala and Honduras: What Lessons for El Salvador?

By Charles T Call, CLALS Working Paper Series, June 30, 2019

Two hybrid anticorruption missions in Central America offer valuable lessons for addressing this scourge in Africa. In its mandate to combat corruption and impunity, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) combined the efforts of the UN and the Guatemalan government, while the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) was a hybrid effort between the Organization of American States and the Honduran government. Though both experienced setbacks and faced difficult challenges, the CICIG and MACCIH contributed to strengthening the judicial system, while the CICIG exposed corrupt networks that included top state officials and party leaders, including three presidents.

Players of Many Parts: The Evolving Role of Smugglers in West Africa’s Migration Economy

By Ekaterina Golovko, Mixed Migration Center, June 30, 2019

Based on interviews with over 100 smugglers and 3,000 migrants, patterns of migrant smuggling in Mali and Niger emerge. In Niger, prior to the 2015 anti-smuggling law, smuggling networks were easy to join and fluidly linked, not always adhering to a fixed, hierarchical mode of criminal operations. Since then however, more professionalized criminal networks have consolidated market control. Most migrants reported initiating their travel without the encouragement of smugglers, but subsequently used smuggler facilitation services.

Weapons Compass: Mapping Illicit Small Arms Flows in Africa

By Nicolas Florquin, Sigrid Lipott, and Francis Wairagu, Small Arms Survey and the African Union Commission, January 31, 2019

The scale of illicit small arms on the continent is hard to estimate as voluntary reporting is limited and most African states have not carried out national assessments or adopted tracking mechanisms. Nonetheless, cross-border trafficking by land is the most prominent type of illicit arms flow in Africa. Though many of the illicit weapons on the continent are legacies from past conflicts, recent seizures of newer models show that the arms trade is fueled by weapons diverted from national stockpiles and peacekeeping forces as well as arms imported from other regions as part of embargo-breaking transfers.

Trafficking in Persons in Conflict Contexts: What is a Realistic Response from Africa?

By Lucia Bird & Tuesday Reitano, ENACT, December 31, 2019

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.

Where Crime Compounds Conflict

By Simone Haysom, The Global Initiative against Translational Organized Crime, October 25, 2018

While the illicit economy provides a plentiful source of income in Northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, impunity allows local elites to benefit from it while security forces punish citizens for trying to do the same. A growing Islamist insurgency in the region, that inspires itself from similar movements in Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan, enjoys some local support but security forces have responded with heavy-handed tactics harming and alienating local citizens. To build trust, the government must enable local communities to participate in the licit, extraction economy (natural gas and mining) as well as reinvest some of that wealth into the province.

How China Fuels Deforestation In Nigeria, West Africa

By Dayo Aiyetan, International Centre for Investigative Reporting, January 18, 2018

Chinese demand for Nigerian rosewood has created a lucrative, yet illegal commercial logging sector in Nigeria’s eastern states. The Nigerian government has chosen profits over environmental protection or the rule of law. Corruption that ranges from bribery of forestry guards to misrepresentation of logging shipments bound for Chinese ports has created the conditions for illegal logging to continue—at least until resources run out and loggers move to the next state. The extensive environmental impacts of illegal logging include increased flooding, erosion, and the removal of animal and plant ecosystems, which leaves certain species facing extinction. Illegal logging also denies communities a source of food and livelihoods.

Tipping Point: Transnational Organized Crime and the ‘War’ on Poaching

By The Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, July 31, 2016

While the illicit economy provides a plentiful source of income in Northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, impunity allows local elites to benefit from it while security forces punish citizens for trying to do the same. A growing Islamist insurgency in the region, that inspires itself from similar movements in Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan, enjoys some local support but security forces have responded with heavy-handed tactics harming and alienating local citizens. To build trust, the government must enable local communities to participate in the licit, extraction economy (natural gas and mining) as well as reinvest some of that wealth into the province.

How Killing Elephants Finances Terror in Africa

By Bryan Christy, National Geographic, August 31, 2015

The link between wildlife poaching and terrorism and instability is often discussed but rarely documented. This investigative piece maps the precise trail of an illicit ivory tusk from southeastern Central African Republic deep into Sudan. It also highlights the complicated calculus behind Joseph Kony’s LRA, national militaries, and other poachers as they kill elephants for meat, cash, or future insurance, as well as the impact on local populations and park rangers.

Does Organized Crime Exist in Africa?

By Stephen Ellis and Mark Shaw, African Affairs, August 17, 2015

In parts of Africa, there is a reformulation of politics and crime into networks that transcend the state/non-state boundary in ways that are not standard concepts of organized crime. The blanket term of organized crime can distract from this distinct problem that arises in a particular form based on the histories of individual countries. In diverse countries like Libya, Guinea-Bissau, and Zimbabwe, the needs of both legitimate and illegitimate business people have led a natural market for protection to emerge. When this leads to extensive private arrangements with public officials, it can amount to a new mode of governance. Africa becomes connected to international markets and institutions in a fashion where the distinctions between licit and illicit economic activity become difficult to detect.

Trading in Chaos: The Impact at Home and Abroad of Illegal Logging in the DRC

By Greenpeace Africa, May 2015

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is home to a major part of Congo Basin rainforest region. The DRC’s government logging legal and regulatory framework are opaque, ineffective and corrupt. This creates a logging industry that is so convoluted it is unclear which activities are legal or illegal. Timber-importing countries should launch investigations into logging practices to confirm legality of ongoing operations, while the DRC should implement greater oversight over the companies operating in the country.

Libya: A Growing Hub for Criminal Economies and Terrorist Financing in the Trans-Sahara

By Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, May 31, 2015

The fall of Gaddafi in Libya facilitated a significant increase in smuggling and trafficking throughout the Trans-Sahara region. This includes the transport of drugs, counterfeits and contraband, weapons, and migrants. Terrorist and militant groups have become increasingly involved in these networks as a means to fund their operations. The increase in illicit activities has been most pronounced in the smuggling of migrants. Thus, international actors should prioritize countering human smuggling in order to limit funding to terrorist groups.

Fixing a Fractured State? Breaking the Cycles of Crime, Conflict and Corruption in Mali and the Sahel

By Tuesday Reitano & Mark Shaw, The Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, April 1, 2015

Militants, terrorists, and clans have taken advantage of the weak governance in Mali and the Sahel to expand and entrench criminal networks. To properly respond to this trend the international community and Mali should institute a new conceptual framework. It will need a nuanced understanding of the actors involved and their basis in community legitimacy, and restore the relationship between the government and service provision that has been undermined by parochial interests.

Illegal Logging and Related Trade: The Response in Cameroon

By Alison Hoare, Chatham House, January 31, 2015

Cameroon made strides in creating structural mechanisms to limit illegal logging through government and private sector policies, until progress stalled in 2010. Due to continued corruption in Cameroon’s forest sector, lack of transparency and a dearth of political will to implement change, illegal logging has been permitted to continue. Improvements in governance within Cameroon to limit corruption, supported by international stakeholders can help in minimize illegal logging in the country.

Out of Africa: Mapping the Global Trade in Illicit Elephant Ivory

By Varun Vira, Thomas Ewing, and Jackson Miller, C4ADS & Born Free USA, August 2014

The illicit ivory trade in Africa is an extremely profitable criminal industry. It also degrades ecosystems, undermines the rule of law, and catalyzes corruption in some of Africa’s most fragile states. To tackle this threat, better data and analysis is needed on the trafficking networks and supply chains. Actionable intelligence on criminal organizations and networks will assist African policymakers to disrupt supply chains and combat the illicit ivory trade.

Unholy Alliances: Organized Crime in Southern Africa

By the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation & the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, June 2014

Criminal organizations in Africa have become ever more intertwined with governmental and political institutions. This proliferation has been possible because of globalization and technological advancements, not only embedding organized crime further into domestic state structures and communities, but also assisting criminal groups to gain global reach. Systematic sub-region analyses are needed to better understand this evolving phenomenon, allowing African leaders to create a counter-organized crime framework.

From War to Illicit Economies: Organized Crime and State-building in Liberia and Sierra Leone

By Judith Vorrath, Stiftung Wissenschaft & German Institute for International and Security Affairs, November 30, 2014

Liberia and Sierra Leone are both fragile, post-conflict states that are vulnerable to criminal activity. Although a lack of effective regulation and law enforcement exacerbates the challenge in these two countries, it is the complicity and involvement of government officials that allows organized criminal networks to proliferate. Broad government reforms combined with development initiatives need to be implemented to dismantle state sponsored corruption and crime.

Paying Ransoms, Europe Bankrolls Qaeda Terror

By Rukmini Callimachi, The New York Times, July 31, 2014

Kidnapping expatriates of wealthy countries for ransom has been a growth industry in Africa since 2008. Each payment incentivizes future kidnappings, and the commission taken by negotiators contributes to pushing ransoms increasingly higher. Perpetrators include terrorists, organized crime syndicates, and collaborations of the two. Countries whose citizens are being kidnapped have struggled to balance immediate and long-term priorities while weighing the appropriate response.

Wildlife Poaching: Africa’s Surging Trafficking Threat

By Bradley Anderson and Johan Jooste, May 31, 2014

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.

Smuggled Futures: The Dangerous Path of the Migrant from Africa to Europe

By the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, May 2014

Africa is witnessing an exponential rise in the number of people illegally migrating to Europe. This trend has become a highly lucrative smuggling and trafficking industry for criminal groups. Thus far, countermeasures taken by European states have only resulted in shifting migration routes. To limit the flow of illegal migrants a comprehensive regional policy involving Europe and Africa is needed to address the root causes of mass migration.

Comprehensive Assessment of Drug Trafficking and Organised Crime in West and Central Africa

By Mark Shaw, Tuesday Reitano, & Marcena Hunter, The African Union, January 2014

Although organized crime is widely recognized as a serious security threat in Africa, data, intelligence, and scholarship on crime in the region remains insufficient. There are few primary sources and the majority of analytical work on crime has been conducted by Western scholars based on perceived threats to the United States or Europe. To effectively confront organized crime, African states must build internal capacity by increasing African-based analysis on how crime affects local populations as a means to inform policy.

Organized Crime and Conflict in the Sahel-Sahara Region

By Wolfram Lacher, Carnegie Endowment of International Peace, September 2012

Fragility in the Sahel-Sahara region is driven in part by worsening organized crime. Collusion between smugglers of cigarettes, drugs, and weapons and state officials has eroded state authority and created lucrative funding channels for Islamist terrorists, ethnically-aligned militias, and criminal groups in the Sahel-Sahara region. To reverse this worsening instability, governments and international partners should aim to break up alliances between militias and other local criminal networks that lack strong ideological or principled bonds. Meanwhile, improved opportunities for genuine political participation for marginalized groups can further diminish support for organized crime.

Termites at Work: Transnational Organized Crime and State Erosion in Kenya

By Peter Gastrow, International Peace Institute, September 2011

For many African states, powerful transnational criminal networks constitute a direct threat to the state itself, not only through open confrontation but also by penetrating state institutions through corruption and subverting them from within. With a sharp rise in narcotics and illicit trafficking, countries risk becoming criminalized or captured states. Advanced investigative law enforcement units are needed to stem transnational crime and oversight of government agencies and regulations should be made more rigorous.

Irregular Warfare: Brazil’s Fight Against Criminal Urban Guerrillas

By Gen. (ret.) Alvaro de Souza Pinheiro, Joint Special Operations University, 2009

Brazilian urban criminal groups are large and highly organized with sophisticated command-and-control.  In several neglected urban slums they now overshadow the state’s presence and assume de facto authority over both legal and illegal activities.  Brazil’s experiences offer useful lessons as urbanization, crime, and illicit trafficking increasingly shape Africa’s security threats.

Organized Crime in South Africa


An in-depth analysis of the history, structure, and geography of organized crime in South Africa. While cognizant of the tremendous strides the South African government has made from the apartheid days when organized crime formed a key role in many industries, the article emphasizes the continued attraction of South Africa as an attractive destination for organized crime.

West Africa under Attack: Drugs, Organized Crime and Terrorism as the New Threats to Global Security

By Amado Philip de Andrés, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2008

The author provides an overview on the current situation in West Africa with regard to drug trafficking, organized crime (human trafficking, diamond trade and its link with terrorism financing) and terrorism. Discusses the symptoms and effects of drugs, organized crime, and terrorism in West Africa with emphasis porous borders. The article uses statistics to illustrate threats to security in West Africa and beyond.

‘Shadow Networks’ and Conflict Resolution in the Great Lakes Region of Africa

By Laurence Juma, African Security Review, 2007

This paper explores the limitations of international legal regimes in combating illicit trade networks and suggests some improvements aimed at increasing their effectiveness at reducing conflict in the region. Focuses on the case of the ‘conflict network’ phenomenon in the Congo War.

Are There Emerging West African Criminal Networks? The Case of Ghana

By Kwesi Aning, Global Crime, 2007

Original, thought-provoking research by the director of the Kofi Annan Peacekeeping Training Centre in Accra. The author takes an in-depth look at three types of organized crime: computer crime, drug trafficking, and weapons trafficking and presents the initial results of an empirically based KAIPTC study on these three areas in Ghana. It concludes with an engaging, well-written conclusion about how such activities potentially undermine public institutions like the police, customs, and judiciary in Ghana. Finally, it places these types of organized crime in the context of the cultural norms of a Ghanaian society that for the most part has accepted these activities due to the social welfare roles played by those involved in such crimes.

Security Topics:  Combating Organized Crime