How does organised crime threaten development?

Responses to organised crime often fail to realise how far-reaching and complex this threat is.

Does organised crime threaten development?

  • Yes, organised crime threatens every aspect of sustainable development. It affects each of the five core priorities of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda: people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership.
  • This is increasingly recognised by international organisations like the United Nations and the African Union.
  • Responses often, however, fail to realise how complex and far-reaching this threat is and that traditional criminal justice approaches do not provide sufficient solutions.

What is wrong with traditional responses to organised crime?

  • Responses are generally underpinned by two assumptions: 1) organised crime is universally negative and 2) increased development will necessarily lead to a reduction in organised crime.
  • Responses based on these assumptions typically aim at state capacity and institution building.
  • The first assumption fails to recognise that activities in illicit markets can be a source of livelihoods. In Africa, for example, illegal mining, smuggling, poaching and other activities can serve as resilience strategies to support basic needs.
  • The second assumption is also problematic. In some cases, development may actually present opportunities for crime to flourish. For example, improved infrastructure can encourage and enable illicit trade.

Are there Africa-specific risks?

  • Corruption, clientelism and a blur between legal and illegal business practices present the risk that development investments on the continent are diverted, and do not provide essential development benefits.
  • To achieve the SDGs in Africa, significant emphasis has been placed on economic growth through large-scale infrastructure investment. These types of projects can be vulnerable to organised crime, due to poor oversight of procurement processes.

How can responses be improved?

  • Development actors need to recognise that organised crime can undermine development objectives; and how development itself can present opportunities for organised crime to flourish.
  • Policy responses should involve preventing and reversing corruption and criminal activity within governments, and providing sustainable economic alternatives for citizens.

ENACT’s approach 

  • Tackling this problem means filling research gaps to inform a better understanding of the links between transnational organised crime and development.
  • If the SDGs are to be achieved and Africa’s potential and resources are to be harnessed properly for the benefit of its citizens, both crime-sensitive and crime-proof development must be ensured.
  • Dedicated to addressing organised crime in Africa in all its forms, ENACT is leading discussions on organised crime and development and comprehensive responses to this complex challenge.

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ENACT is funded by the European Union
ISS Donors
ENACT is implemented by the Institute for Security Studies in partnership with
INTERPOL and the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime.