10 Jul 2019

Three key organised crime threats

Financial crimes, drug trafficking and wildlife crimes remain the primary challenges to the region.

Organised crime remains a growing threat to peace, stability, security, development and economies in Southern Africa. The following three threats are likely to dominate the organised crime landscape in the region in the second half of this year.

Financial crimes

INTERPOL’s organised crime report for 2018 indicated that financial crimes represent approximately 43% of organised crimes committed in Southern Africa. Among these are illicit financial flows, counterfeiting, fraud, money laundering, bribery, corruption and tax evasion, all of which are often perceived to be the most profitable areas of operation for organised crime groups. Corruption, bribery and money laundering continue to present a serious threat to Southern African Development Community countries, as evidenced by the infamous activities of the Gupta family in South Africa and the recent arrest of Manuel Chang, the former finance minister of Mozambique.

In 2018, financial crimes represented approximately 43% of organised crimes committed in Southern Africa

Closely linked to financial crime is the challenge of cybercrime. The top three countries targeted in Africa in 2018 are South Africa, Nigeria and the Central African Republic. However, the fact that most African countries – including those in Southern Africa – are determined to join the technological world puts them at a higher risk of becoming targets of cybercrime.

Drug trafficking

While financial crimes form the bulk of organised criminal activities in the region, drug trafficking comes in second, contributing 23% in the past year. The region is rapidly becoming a global hub for the smuggling, trafficking and distribution of drugs. Since 2013, South Africa has been identified as a key hub in the transhipment of drug consignments to other parts of Africa and Europe.

One of the major threats to the region is heroin trafficking. It is important to note that while the heroin is intended for European markets, there is a spin-off trade for local consumption, and a developing local market.

Besides rhino horn and ivory, Southern Africa is seeing increasing traffic in pangolins, abalone and sea turtles

In addition to heroin ­– cannabis, cocaine and new psychoactive substances (NPS) have emerged as lucrative business for the criminal markets. The recent seizure of R720m worth of cocaine from the Port Elizabeth harbour attests to this trend. Furthermore, in 2018 South Africa emerged as the leading regional importer of chemicals used in the production of synthetic drugs, signalling that NPS is a growing issue.   

Wildlife crimes

Wildlife crimes are estimated to constitute 21% of organised crimes detected in the region, with an increase in 2018 in elephant poaching in Botswana and South Africa. While rhino poaching has decreased in South Africa, the recent arrests of seven Chinese nationals in Zimbabwe who were in possession of rhino horn indicate a reverse trend in that country. While rhino horn and ivory trafficking have received the most attention in the region, there is increasing traffic in other, less publicised forms of wildlife, including pangolins, abalone and sea turtles, among other species.  

While it is impossible to eradicate organised crime entirely, understanding the threats and addressing them as comprehensively as possible is a plausible first step towards doing so.  

Richard Chelin, Researcher, ENACT project, ISS

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