Auteurs: Summer Walker & Mariana Botero Restrepo, Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime
Summer Walker est la représentante du GI-TOC à New York et une analyste senior. Elle dirige des projets et fournit des recherches et des analyses sur la politique internationale, sur des questions allant de la politique en matière de drogues à la cybercriminalité.
Mariana Botero Restrepo est analyste au GI-TOC. Elle a de l’expérience dans la gestion de projets de consolidation de la paix et des droits de l’homme, dans la politique, le reportage et l’analyse politique, ayant travaillé aux ambassades suisse et britannique en Colombie. Elle se concentre sur les droits de l’homme, la violence sexuelle et sexiste, l’analyse politique et la liberté des médias. Elle est titulaire d’un BA en sciences politiques de l’Universidad del Rosario à Bogotá.
Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime est une organisation indépendante de la société civile, dont le siège est à Genève, en Suisse, avec un conseil consultatif de haut niveau. Les membres de son réseau comprennent d’éminents praticiens de l’application de la loi, de la gouvernance et du développement qui se consacrent à la recherche de stratégies et de réponses nouvelles et innovantes face au crime organisé.
Author: Summer Walker & Mariana Botero Restrepo, Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime
Summer Walker is the GI-TOC’s New York representative and a senior analyst. She leads projects and provides research and analysis on international policy, with issues ranging from drug policy to cybercrime. She has worked in international policy for many years at the UN and with international NGOs, development agencies and research institutes. She holds an MSc in human rights from the London School of Economics and a BA in peace and conflict studies from Colgate University.
Mariana Botero Restrepo is an analyst at the GI-TOC. She has experience in peacebuilding and human rights project management, policy, and political reporting and analysis, having worked at the Swiss and British Embassies in Colombia. She focuses on human rights, sexual and gender-based violence, political analysis and media freedom. She holds a BA in political science from Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá.
Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime is an independent civil-society organization, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, with a globally dispersed Secretariat and a high-level advisory board. Its network members include prominent law-enforcement, governance and development practitioners who are dedicated to seeking new and innovative strategies and responses to organized crime.
Date of publication : janvier 2022 / Janurary 2022
Pages used: 4, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17,19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31, 32, 33, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 41, 43, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 65, 66
The relationship between illicit economies, conflict and instability has been long debated in academic and practitioner circles, and part of the international policy agenda for some time. The United Nations Security Council has engaged in a recurring debate on the linkages between transnational organized crime and terrorism; its most recent resolution on the topic, Resolution 2482, was passed in July 2019. In addition, the council has carried forward specific crime–conflict agendas, such as human trafficking in conflict over a multi-year period, and many of the country-level mandates reference the risks caused by illicit economies in specific situations.
The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC)’s 2021 Global Organized Crime Index shows that of the ten highest-scoring countries for criminality – meaning those with the most pervasive criminal markets and influential criminal actors – the overwhelming majority are countries experiencing conflict or fragility. Nevertheless, the dynamics between illicit economies and conflict are dependent on the type of conflict. There is a wide spectrum of modern conflict, from cyber warfare to civil wars to local insurgencies within countries, and each has its own relationship with illicit economies and actors.
This report considers three case studies at different stages of armed conflict to assess the dynamic relationship between criminal networks, illicit economies, and conflict actors and conditions. These three case studies offer unique perspectives in terms of duration, size of the conflict area and stage of the conflict:
- Armed insurgency in northern Mozambique: Northern Mozambique is experiencing a small, local insurgency fighting in opposition to the state while causing serious local impacts, including death, displacement, territorial occupation and forced conscription. This insurgency is in early stages (3–4 years) but has been escalating since 2020.
- Armed groups in Libya and Mali: The Sahel region after conflicts in Libya and Mali offers a ten-year perspective. Libya has been a catalyst across the region, where civil war in Libya (2011) has had a regional spill over effect, most directly first with conflict in northern Mali (2012) but with a broader impact that has rippled across many areas.
- Armed groups in Colombia: In Colombia, armed conflict against the state has persisted for 50 years. This report focuses on the period following the signing of the 2016 Peace Accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to provide insights into the post-conflict setting where illicit economies were embedded within the conflict dynamics.
All three conflict areas overlap with areas of established illicit economies:
- Northern Mozambique: illicit drug trafficking, wildlife poaching and trafficking, and illicit mining.
- The Sahel region: cross-border trafficking in illicit drugs, weapons and contraband; migrant smuggling; and illicit mining.
- Colombia: illicit drug production and trafficking, and illicit mining.
In these settings, the connections between armed conflict and illicit markets evolve over time. The impacts may be commodity dependent, with different considerations for illegal mining as opposed to trafficked drugs. Illicit markets change over time, as do the power brokers and beneficiaries involved. Illicit economies contribute to long-term enabling environments for instability by prolonging conflict and eroding government responses to conflict. Through the case studies of northern Mozambique, the Sahel region and Colombia, this report identifies ten dynamics that influence illicit economies and conflict situations. These findings make a contribution to vital policy discussions for stabilization and conflict mediation in these – and other – regions.
TEN DYNAMICS OF ILLICIT ECONOMIES AND INSTABILITY
From the initial survey on instability and organized crime in Africa and Latin America, two expert workshops, and three case studies, we have identified ten key dynamics to consider when assessing the relationship between illicit economies and armed conflict and instability, grouped into four categories:
- Contextual dynamics:
- Development and governance deficits: Regions where instability and conflict become entrenched – and where illicit economies find a lasting foothold – experience development and political power deficits
- Local–global connections are widespread: In areas of instability, global interests (geopolitics and economic), global ideologies and global flows of licit and illicit goods interact with local political, economic, and social dynamics.
Ten highest-scoring countries for criminality – meaning those with the most pervasive criminal markets and influential criminal actors – the overwhelming majority are countries experiencing conflict or fragility
- The dynamics of actors involved in criminal economies:
- Both internal and external criminal actors hold influence: Given the prevalence of local-global connections and transnational economies, both internal and external criminal actors influence the relationship between illicit economies and conflict.
- The duration of instability influences the integration of armed groups into illicit economies: The longer instability persists, the more likely armed groups or insurgents are to capture or capitalize on illicit economic activity.
- Illicit economies absorb new actors: Larger-scale criminal groups are complemented by smaller groups with different objectives, possibly trying to corner new markets or profit from existing markets.
- Market dynamics
- Markets grow: Conflict zones provide an opportunity for market expansion and diversification as transnational actors identify easier routes through conflict areas or find a rising demand for new products.
- Arms trafficking is an accelerant market: An influx of arms not only fuels armed fighting and violence, but contributes to the fragmentation of conflict, increased numbers of criminal groups, increased violence as a vehicle for market control, and strengthening of armed ideological and criminal groups against state responses.
- The geographic reach of illicit markets expands: While markets linked to instability may expand within conflict areas, too much instability can lead established criminal networks to shift markets to areas where there are comparatively higher levels of stability for their business operations.
- The changing dynamics of community-level impact
- Criminal group governance and other forms of territorial influence are major sources of human insecurity: When instability allows for illicit economies to become the dominant economies in wider swathes of national territory, this brings greater risks to communities.
- New predatory economies emerge around existing community insecurities: The level and length of the armed fighting will compound issues in already fragile communities with shortages of food and basic supplies, disruptions to local economic activity and human rights abuses by state and non-state armed groups.
In northern Mozambique, an insurgency has taken root in a region known for low economic growth and established illicit markets. It is the youngest conflict surveyed for this paper and allows us to consider the initial interplay between illicit economies and the conflict. The insurgency’s impact on criminal markets so far has followed some patterns similar to the Sahel, such as market displacement, but there has not been any co-optation of existing markets by the insurgents.
The fighting has contributed to shifts in trafficking routes. Medium-sized drug shipments have moved southward, while small packet heroin trafficking from Tanzania for local consumption in northern Mozambique has moved westward. There is a risk of an escalating arms trade in the region, as well as increasing numbers of vulnerable populations. So far, the insurgent group has not approached the mining hubs and there are no reports that they have begun to engage in or tax the trade. There are also no reports about involvement in the illicit wildlife trade.
The insurgency in the north
The main insurgent group is the Islamic sect ASWJ, known locally as Al Shabaab. ASWJ has been seeking a breakaway territory under Sharia law in the north. The Mozambican leaders of the group mostly come from coastal populations between Palma and Macomia, usually kiMwani speakers. 6 The group consists mostly of Mozambican citizens but has a very close relationship with southern Tanzania and there are numerous Tanzanian fighters.
Other foreign fighters from countries including Uganda, Somalia and South Africa have joined the group for periods, but not in large numbers. The group originated as a conservative Islamic sect in Cabo Delgado Province in 2007/2008. Its teachings reject the Mozambican state, and its education system in particular.
Illicit economies contribute to long-term enabling environments for instability by prolonging conflict and eroding government responses to conflict
Struggling to contain the insurgency in the north, the Mozambican state sought external support, which initially came through foreign military contractors, first the Russian outfit the Wagner Group followed by South Africa’s Dyck Advisory Group. Since July 2021, the Rwandan Defence Force has supported the government followed by Southern African Development Community troop involvement in late August 2021. This has helped the government recapture the majority of the bases and territory it lost to ASWJ.
The province of Cabo Delgado, the insurgency’s area of origin and primary operation site, borders Tanzania and is one of the poorest regions of Mozambique, although it is rich in minerals and natural gas. Yet, local economic opportunity is ‘viewed as being captured by the elite, or by foreigners who are allowed access to the resources under corrupt systems. Youth often experience competition amongst themselves and with the older generations for low-paying, menial jobs, pushing them to seek opportunities in the informal sector, often at the ‘margins of legality
The illicit economy and instability
Northern Mozambique has been connected to trading routes along the east coast of Africa for centuries. Mozambique, and Cabo Delgado in particular, is a transhipment point for illicit drugs, predominantly heroin and more recently methamphetamines. The region has been a site for extraction and exportation of illegally sourced rubies, gold, timber and wildlife for decades.
Most markets are dominated by networks of foreigners and local businessmen, with political corruption providing the protection for operations.
The northern insurgency and illicit economies
The GI-TOC has undertaken three rounds of fieldwork over the last two years to investigate possible links between insurgency and illicit economies in northern Mozambique. In the case of Cabo Delgado, there is no evidence that insurgents have taken over any illicit economies. Rather, illicit economies seem to have contributed to the conditions which gave rise to the insurgency and continue to drive it: endemic corruption, elite economic capture and a lack of legitimate economic opportunities for large sections of the population.
The insurgency is largely driven by resentment of endemic corruption and the feeling that local youths are having their futures stolen from them.
Prior to the insurgency, there was not a significant illicit arms trade in northern Mozambique. There was a small trade in assault rifles left over after the previous war, and rentals of AKs from the military by poachers. Arms trafficking has not yet become a significant phenomenon in the north. The majority of arms used by ASWJ are Mozambican military arms which they stole while overrunning major military camps.
The insurgency’s impact on criminal markets so far has followed some patterns similar to the Sahel
Trafficking of heroin and cocaine was known to occur in Mozambique in the 1990s and early 2000s, with northern Mozambique being the primary transit region. In recent years, heroin has been the dominant product in drug shipments, with methamphetamine and cocaine becoming increasingly common, particularly since the beginning of 2020.
Heroin destined for local consumption in the north is imported to Mozambique overland from Tanzania.
High-level corruption is apparent in how land concessions are granted and the board appointments of mining companies. Prime land in both areas has been awarded as concessions to elite families, and key national and international ruby-mining companies have the sons of political elite families on their boards. Corrupt access to residency permits in Montepuez, for example, has resulted in foreign nationals capturing the various secondary and illicit economies associated with the ruby mining: from market stalls selling wheelbarrows and spades, to buying rubies on the black market and the local heroin market.
There are reports of women and girls being kidnapped by ASWJ, and of the use of child soldiers. An estimated 1 000 girls have been abducted by insurgents and held captive.
There are also reports that the group kidnaps people based on their potential skill offering.
Wildlife and timber
Mozambique has long been known as a wildlife-trafficking hub. Until recently, northern Mozambique was an epicentre for elephant poaching, illegal wildlife trade and illegal logging on the continent. A significant case of a known ivory trader has all but stopped the trade for the time being. So far, this market has not been impacted by the insurgency, and major sales points are outside the conflict region.
The Sahel spans the breadth of the African continent, connecting 15 countries. Here we focus on a region that is more accurately described as the Sahel-Sahara (i.e. Mali, Niger, Chad, southern Algeria and southern Libya). For the purposes of a regional analysis of organized crime, some of the most salient territories (including most of northern Mali, northern Niger, northern Chad, large parts of southern Algeria and southern Libya) are not technically part of the Sahel region despite being interconnected from a socio-economic perspective, as well as a criminal one.
Taking the Libyan civil war of 2011 as a starting point and looking at developments across a corridor to the south, encompassing Chad, Niger and Mali, one can see a number of the key dynamics uncovered in the larger study.
The number of actors involved in illicit economies have grown, as have the types of illicit economies. There has been geographic expansion of markets, especially in areas that lack national political power, and political resolutions must contend with the expanded number of beneficiaries of these economies.
National-level political instability and regional armed conflicts
Instability at the national political level has persisted to differing degrees in each country of the Sahel region, as well as within specific areas and communities. With the exception of Niger, the national governments of Mali, Libya and Chad continue to undergo uncertain transitions. Across each country, armed groups seek to rule pockets of territory or even regional areas, while some seek to overthrow the state.
Niger, Chad, Mali and Libya all experience low rankings on the UNDP Human Development Index and Niger, Chad and Mali remain on the list of least developed countries. In Libya and Chad, the oil industry makes up the dominant economic activity and Mali is a significant gold exporter. These countries face serious challenges for development.
Illicit markets and instability
Organized crime in the Sahel–Sahara has mostly been centred on cross-border trafficking and its protection, ranging from weapons trafficking to human smuggling and contraband. Before the outbreak of the conflicts in Libya and Mali, the region was primarily a trafficking region for goods such as subsidized goods and cannabis resin, building on long-running trans-Saharan trade routes. Smuggling in cigarettes and cannabis resin as well as migrant smuggling, have a decades-long history in the region. The business models were well established over time.
Local economic opportunity is ‘viewed as being captured by the elite, or by foreigners who are allowed access to the resources under corrupt systems
Armed groups and illicit economies
Armed group involvement in criminal markets across the Sahel has been extensive. In northern Mali, criminal actors have sought political expedience to conduct business in part by aligning with armed groups. Meanwhile, armed groups themselves have sought financial gains from control of local trafficking routes.
The case of migrant smuggling in Libya shows the flexibility of armed groups to capitalize on both illegal activity and responses to it. Organized banditry is a secondary illicit economy that profits off existing routes for the movement of goods and general instability.
Regional spread and market expansion
Some armed groups have moved throughout the region to capitalize on areas of opportunity and instability. For instance, Nigerien, Chadian and Sudanese rebel groups, as well as less organized armed gangs, have based themselves in various parts of Libya, using these bases to access revenues through various forms of trafficking, protection rackets and mercenary services.
Niger is a major transit corridor for weapons destined for conflict zones in the region
Military operations have also caused a number of groups to relocate. A growing military presence in Mali, Algeria and, to a lesser extent, Niger – with the French military Operation Barkhane since 2014 and US surveillance and security operations – have added pressure on trafficking across the region, especially in the corridor connecting northern Mali to southern Libya through northern Niger.
Libya has been the primary source for the arms trade in the region since 2011. The outflow of arms from government stockpiles in Libya fuelled an illicit arms trade across the region, and contributed to increased conflict, strengthening the capacity of criminal groups. The French and US security forces in Niger and Libya, and the militarization of the Algerian border, have also undermined weapons trafficking.
In Mali, Libya was an important source of illicit arms and ammunition for armed groups. Arms collected in 2012 are still circulating in the arms trafficking market. Niger is a major transit corridor for weapons destined for conflict zones in the region. The deterioration of Niger’s own security and stability however has increasingly made it a destination market for arms.
Migrant smuggling through the Sahel and Libya to Europe experienced a boom in the years after the conflict, reaching its peak around 2016. State collapse in Libya greatly amplified the movement of people migrating irregularly through the region, many of them heading for Europe. This became the primary illegal market targeted by Western governments at the time.
Partnerships struck by some EU member states with various actors in Libya and Niger ushered in a law-enforcement campaign that reduced the industry’s capacity while driving it underground. The number of migrants leaving Libya for Europe remained constant through 2019 and 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit Niger’s human smuggling economy hard in 2020 due to local and regional travel restrictions, following a year in which irregular migratory flows had recovered slightly from the massive declines after mid-2016.
There has been geographic expansion of markets, especially in areas that lack national political power, and political resolutions must contend with the expanded number of beneficiaries of these economies
In Mali, Gao and Timbuktu served as northern Mali’s two principal hubs of human smuggling activities. However, from 2018 into late 2019, Gao became increasingly isolated, owing to insecurity in central Mali and the neighbouring areas of Burkina Faso and Niger.
According to one analysis, human smuggling has shrunk but become increasingly clandestine, resulting in longer routes, increased costs to smuggling services, increased profits for smugglers, and greater risks to migrants moving through more dangerous territory.
Large-scale trans-Saharan cocaine trafficking is declining as Libya’s conflict and banditry in Niger and Libya have undermined the reliability of these routes. This dynamic has been augmented by greater use of maritime routes, connecting South America to Europe via West and North Africa, especially Morocco, Algeria and Libya.
Illicit gold mining throughout the region has been on the rise since the 2012 discovery of a significant gold vein in the region.
Mali is Africa’s third largest producer of gold, and deposits have been found in Niger, Chad, Algeria and Sudan.
Gold mines have played a key role in the development of criminal operations in northern Chad as mining sites act as logistical hubs for various criminal activities, such as drug trafficking and human smuggling and trafficking.
These case studies have provided examples of protracted armed insurgencies where violence is sustained within portions of a country, including after formal conflict resolution with the national government. They are also examples of areas where illicit economies overlap with areas of instability and armed conflict.
Responses to these conflicts have included a combination of national, regional and international interventions. While over time illicit economies often become deeply intertwined with conflict dynamics, responses do not always share the same goals or approaches. In some cases, the goals of stabilization and combating transnational illicit markets are actually in conflict.
A growing military presence in Mali, Algeria and, to a lesser extent, Niger – with the French military Operation Barkhane since 2014 and US surveillance and security operations – have added pressure on trafficking across the region, especially in the corridor connecting northern Mali to southern Libya through northern Niger
Implications for analysis and response
Integrate strategic imperatives for stabilization and for organized crime. International interests – multilateral and bilateral – can be different for illicit economies (particularly those linked to transnational flows) and conflict.
Map the actors involved, including the criminal networks and government connections. Tracking shifting power dynamics and strategic interests of governments, local elites, armed groups and criminal networks will paint a more comprehensive picture of the dynamics of armed conflict and instability, beyond a binary analysis of armed groups versus a centralized state.
Strengthen accountability to local communities. This paper has outlined how development and government deficits create enabling conditions for illicit economies to entrench themselves, as well as for armed conflict and instability to persist. Engaging a wide range of local actors and community members is needed to build a wider fabric of economic and social cohesion in communities over the long run.
Source photo : kofiannanfoundation.org/