Delegation of the European Union to Kenya

Transnational organised crime in Africa, COVID-19 and EU programming

15/02/2021 - 14:43
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In the context of an EU-financed webinar, three panelists analysed recent trends in trafficking in narcotics, human smuggling and the illicit arms trade. While there was expectation that COVID 19 related travel restrictions and enhanced border control would limit illicit trans-border movements, the ENACT webinar argued that, while this was perhaps the case during the initial onset of COVID-19 in the first half of 2020, criminal markets have meanwhile re-bounded.

On 11 February 2021, the EU-financed continental programme on ‘enhancing African capacities to respond more effectively to transnational organised crime’ (ENACT) hosted a webinar discussing the current state of illicit markets on the continent, with particular reference to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Representatives from the three agencies implementing the ENACT project –the Institute for Security Studies, Interpol and the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime- made the following statements:

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) described the broader political, economic and security-related developments on the continent and how they have been impacted by COVID-19.  Thanks to earlier experience in reacting to pandemics (e.g. Ebola), the continent as a whole did fairly well in its response to the first wave of COVID-19, even though economies have suffered as a result from lockdowns.  Looking ahead at 2021 and beyond, the challenge will be to ensure that law enforcement and police forces will be able to focus clearly on fighting criminals and terrorists.  In 2020, substantial government resources were allocated for policing lockdowns and other COVID-19 related work (to the detriment of the fight against crime).

Interpol informed that COVID-19 related lockdowns and other measures hampering international movements (e.g. reduced flight frequencies) initially caused a setback for international crime syndicates active on the international drugs market or trading in firearms and wildlife.  However, these syndicates have been able to adapt to and circumvent enhanced checks and controls by altering routes, making more use of cargo shipments –in which they conceal illicit goods- and offering bribes to port officials  to look the other way.  A new lucrative market are substandard and falsified medicines –including fake COVID-19 cures and vaccines- which transnational organised crime groups sell on the black market in African countries.  

The Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime presented the Organised Crime Index.  The Organised Crime Index is a landmark output of the ENACT project and ranks African countries according to the presence of organised crime actors in the country, the country’s vulnerability to organised crime, as well as its capacity to combat the scourge.  The first Organised Crime Index was published in 2019 and a new iteration for 2021 has just been finalised.  The 2021 update of the Organised Crime Index confirms that the levels of transnational organised crime in Africa have not decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a question & answer session with the panellists, some of the issues presented were further discussed.  Among other things, meeting participants were interested to know whether the ENACT project expects the volume of illicit activities (narcotics, wildlife, firearms) to go further up, if the work of law enforcement agencies on the continent continues to be stretched through additional COVID-19 related work.  A further issue highlighted by Interpol is that COVID-19 has resulted in more people spending time on-line, offering more opportunities for fraudsters (cyber-crime).     

Nathalie Pauwels, the Head of Unit in charge of Global & Trans-Regional Threats at the European Commission’s Service for Foreign Policy Instruments, commended the presentations as well as the research work done by the ENACT project.  She mentioned that transnational organised crime continues to pose a significant challenge for governments worldwide, including in Africa.  Through the ENACT project and other interventions, the EU stands ready to help its African counterparts to fight the scourge and disrupt criminal networks.  In addition, the issue deserves to be looked at closely in the context of the current programming exercise to define priorities for the EU-Africa partnership during the next multi-annual financial framework (2021-2027).

More information on the ENACT project, including the Organised Crime Index, is available at: ENACT Africa Website

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