Marcus Goncalves, Associate Professor of Management / Chair, International Business Program, Nichols College, Dudley, MA. USA

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A voice against criminal networks in Africa 19 Nov 2015

Every year, the Institute for Economics and Peace reports the relative peacefulness of nations and regions through a ranking of 162 countries in its report: Global Peace Index (GPI). The index measures global peace using three broad indicators, namely, the level of safety and security in a society; the extent of domestic and international conflict; and the degree of militarization.
The GPI does not include indicators specifically related to violence against women and children, but I believe it is important to assess this as well.

According to the 2015 GPI report, 13 African countries are among the bottom-30 most dangerous countries in the world. The list of these countries, from less to most dangerous, comprise Kenya, Cameroon, South Africa, Egypt, Rwanda, Chad, Libya, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Somalia, Central African Republic, and the most dangerous, South Sudan.

According to this report, Libya, where governance has disintegrated since the deposition and death of Muammar Gaddafi, is safer than Nigeria.

Paraphrasing Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, extreme levels of violence and conflicts around the world are evidences of the massive resources governments are squandering.

Trouble spots

Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, was until recently the world’s most dangerous city. The United Nations and other international and foreign missions pulled out of the country following the collapse of the last fully operational government in 1991. Al Qaeda-linked militant group, Al-shabaab, have held sway in much of the city from 2007 until last year, when the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) and the Somali National Armed Forces fighters pushed out the Islamist terrorist group. Al-Shabaab still maintains large control of areas of south-central Somalia, where it dispenses public executions and beatings and inhibits basic human rights. Al-Shabaab has also been deploying deadly assaults on government-controlled zones in Mogadishu, aiming at civilians, including policymakers and other government officials.
The threat of Al-Shabaab reaches Kenya where it has carried out deadly attacks including the Westgate Mall attack in September 2013. 67 persons (including four militants) were killed. Beyond the terrorist attacks, there is high rate of criminality in some areas of Nairobi, Kisumu, Mombasa, and some coastal resort areas.

Reports of assaults against travelers by gangs of armed assailants are typical, but the most common crime in Kenya is carjacking. In addition to such street crimes, traveling at night is unsafe; looting of belongings and assaults on travelers are general concerns.

In South Africa, violent crimes have increased for a third year in a row. The country's murder rate has swelled by more than four percent in 2015, compared to the previous year. Cape Town, a very popular tourist destination in the country, has been fighting exceptionally high crime rates. The city is prone to mugging, and has become one of South Africa’s most dangerous cities at night, especially for women.

Organized crime

There are also reports of organized crime in Africa. The ranks of big criminal organizations and professional criminals are swelling. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says Nigerian criminal enterprises are considerable. Some of them operate as transnational criminal syndicates involved in human and drug trafficking as well as financial frauds.

The evolution of organized crime in African nations takes specific forms. In Libya, Guinea-Bissau, and Zimbabwe, there is a thriving market for protection. Business individuals, lawfully and otherwise, seek protection for their activities and personnel. Very often in these countries, establishing private arrangements with wealthy individuals and government officials in their unofficial capacity, has created this market for protection. But the repercussions include ineffectiveness of state law enforcement and possible diversion of resources, including official security budgets. With weak regulation and absence of strong command structure, the alternative civil protection groups can also engage in criminal activities.

According to the UN Office for Drug Control (UNODC), over the past decade, transnational criminal networks have infiltrated African organizations up to the highest circles. This trend appears to be more prevalent in Mali, Guinea and Guinea Bissau.

Countries emerging from wars and conflicts such as Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire, and Liberia, are also experiencing substantial rates of organized criminal activities, which may continue to deter their move to stability.

Although Nigeria has avoided another civil war since the first one ended in 1970, the country is facing similar challenges. Insurgent, ethnic and religious militias and criminal gangs have proved difficult to subdue due to the proliferation of arms. In addition, there are incidents of violent contest of elections with the primary purpose of gaining access to government resources for self-enrichment and fostering of narrow group interests.

Weak structures

Generally speaking, the government’s ability to combat organized crime has been substantially weakened by the association of organized crime with politics, as it is the case throughout the Africa region. Consequently, by way of coercion and corruption, criminal organizations are realizing enormous profits while gaining influence over political factions at both the local and national levels.

The prevalence of violence and crimes throughout the African continent is actually a result of deeply embedded problems of lax national security enforcement. There are factors contributing to the increase in crime and violence including poor judicial systems that encourage impunity by long delays in prosecuting cases or lack of arrests in the first place.

As it has been intensely exemplified by numerous brutalities across many African nations, drug trafficking, radicalism, and weak governance make a dangerous blend. The GPI’s 13 most dangerous countries in Africa are actually not the only places with high crime rates. Such realities are always present where governments’ monopoly of power or its capabilities to deliver public goods and services have been declining.

Violence and crime, organized or not, deteriorates government competencies by draining resources away, as well as the capability and legitimacy necessary for a sound and democratic government. The many lives and monetary resources squandered in conflicts, imprisonments, and weapons trade could be redirected to end poverty, foster education, and safeguard the environment.

Development, not militarization

African governments must take responsibility for ensuring public safety in their countries, as it is a basic responsibility entrusted on them. The fight against violence and crime, whether organized or not, cannot be won through militaristic law enforcement approaches alone, though. Policymakers must realize that criminal activities are often rooted in an economic structure that is dysfunctional, unproductive and incapable of providing required employment, basic services and public goods. These also happen where political structures are unable to guarantee free democratic participation.

All of these factors contribute to undermine the capability and legitimacy of governments. These factors exacerbate violent politics, social disintegrations and fight for the capture of the state by various factions and groups, including criminal networks.

A policy approach that combines proactive social-economic and political measures should be at the top of policymakers’ agendas in curbing violence and crime throughout the continent. It is important to implement economic and politically inclusive policies to ensure the benefit of economic growth go round.  
In the words of William Faulkner, the American writer and winner of Nobel Prize in Literature, you should “never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world...would do this, it would change the earth,” and I believe, it could change Africa.