The Evolution of Organised Crime in Africa Towards a New Response

"This paper attempts to better understand the drivers behind the growth of organised crime in Africa by examining its evolution over time. It finds that organised crime is inextricably linked to the development and changing nature of the African state itself and has been facilitated by the increasing connections between Africa and the global economy. Three phases of organised crime were identified, which occurred around tangible shifts in the prevailing social, political and economic environment. The first phase is a foundation period, which began in the 1970s with decolonisation. While organised criminal activity was initially largely concentrated in two subregions – South Africa’s Western Cape and South-Eastern Nigeria – across the continent a combination of wider political and economic trends established the conditions for the growth and spread of criminal networks. Structural adjustment and contracting economies created both political and business elites that would later seek out, or were vulnerable to, criminal networks in the same period that large scale cocaine trafficking was being introduced to the continent. The second phase began with the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, when brutal, protracted conflicts in West and Central Africa created armed groups that sought alliances with foreign criminal networks to fund conflict. The continent also achieved closer economic integration, partly through the development of stronger cross-border linkages. The weakening of some states created a series of criminal networks and connections within fragile or corrupted state institutions, which served as a foundation for the rapid growth of organised crime in the next phase. Organised criminal groups linked to narcotics trafficking also found havens in fragile states in West Africa, using illicit funds to buy unprecedented collusion at the highest levels. The third phase, which began around the start of the new millennium, saw the dramatic and devastating impact of illicit trafficking. The resourcing of increasingly powerful criminal networks with strong state connections that proactively drive organised criminal activities has exploited developments in communications technology and has benefited from the closer integration of Africa into the licit and illicit global economy."