Civil Society Observatory of Illicit Economies in Eastern and Southern Africa - Risk Bulletin Issue #17
In Issue 17 of its regular Risk Bulletin, the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime reports on a range of recent developments in the Eastern and Southern African region.
The attack by insurgents on the coastal town of Palma, Cabo Delgado, in March 2021 is a major escalation in the conflict in northern Mozambique that began in late 2017. Humanitarian agencies report that thousands of people, traumatized and without shelter, have arrived in neighbouring districts and that thousands more are on the move. By Easter, thousands more were still believed to be hiding in bush surrounding the town. As in other insurgencies, one of the most pressing questions is how the insurgents are funding and supplying themselves. Illicit flows are a major part of the political and economic landscape of northern Mozambique. A year ago, the GI-TOC warned that Ahlu-Sunna Wa-Jama’a, the insurgent group, may have been trying to take control of key trafficking routes and profit from them.
International observers continue to voice speculation as to whether this is the case. New fieldwork has found that this has not happened. Instead, trafficking networks have shifted to new routes outside of the insurgent-controlled area, which is highly militarized.
In this issue GITOC also report on other organized crime trends in the region. In South Africa, the trade in poached abalone (a type of marine mollusc, known locally in Afrikaans as ‘perlemoen’) has long been intertwined with the market for methamphetamines and methaqualone, as South African gangs began bartering abalone with Chinese crime networks in return for precursor chemicals for these synthetic drugs. Today, the methamphetamines market in South Africa has diversified, with supplies coming from Nigeria and, recently, Afghanistan. However, the link between meth precursors and abalone has remained strong.
In a previous issue of this Bulletin, we reported on how heroin is sold in the form of pharmaceutical-style capsules around the South African port city of Durban. In this issue, GITOC return to Durban to investigate this phenomenon in more depth: what advantages does capsulized heroin offer drug networks and what impact has this had on Durban’s violent and volatile drugs market?
GITOC have previously reported on the impact of COVID-19 on illicit gold miners in South Africa, organized large-scale thefts at gold-processing facilities in South Africa, and violence related to gold mining in Zimbabwe.
This issue also turns to Uganda: a longstanding, important livelihood for many communities in East and southern Africa, the gold trade is a draw for organized crime because of its high-return, low-risk nature, ease of movement and the anonymity offered in gold markets.