Illicit arms and organised crime threaten Africa’s development


Transnational organised crime has become a global risk to peace and security, but the focus tends to be on priorities for the developed world rather than on Africa’s efforts, goals and challenges.

A side event this week at the Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security in Africa highlights two critical issues for Africa. These are the challenges facing the continent and the African Union (AU) in controlling illicit arms flows and the threat organised crime poses to achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The side event was hosted by ENACT – a new European Union-funded project launched in 2017 that works to enhance Africa’s response to transnational organised crime.
“While one reckons there can be no development without security and vice-versa, the specific impact of organised crime on socio-economic development has yet to be fully grasped to be properly estimated and addressed,” said Antoine Gouzée de Harven, representative of the European Union delegation to Senegal.
“Ahead of this common global threat, the EU strives to do so internally and is committed to contribute to the same efforts from its African partners through the ENACT project, which complements many bilateral and regional cooperation actions at the continental level.”

Transnational organised crime is divisive and destructive. It is poison in the water of global sustainable development and a cross-cutting threat undermining each of the five core priorities of the SDG agenda – people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership.

Not only does organised crime threaten specific SDGs and efforts to reduce poverty and promote economic growth; it also compromises sustainable environments and the building of safe and inclusive societies.

This is recognised by the SDGs and – to a lesser extent – Africa’s development Agenda 2063. Statements of high-level policy have, as yet, failed to translate into implementation in a systematic way.
“Africa is moving forward with a focus on stimulating economic growth, investment and infrastructure,” said Tuesday Reitano, Deputy Director of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime. “But we need greater awareness and a mitigation strategy to counter and respond to organised crime”.

Development actors need to understand not only how organised crime will undermine objectives, but also that development presents opportunities for organised crime to flourish.
“Existing interventions must be crime-proofed so future investments are crime sensitive,’ adds Reitano, who presented an overview of a forthcoming ENACT continental report, “The crime-development paradox: organised crime and SDG achievement in Africa”, at the side event.

The event also brought into focus the challenge of illicit arms flows, ubiquitous in Africa’s fight against transnational organised crime.

Illicit arms intensify conflicts and facilitate organised crime. Even when they don’t occur in tandem, arms trafficking abets crimes like drug trafficking, human trafficking, illegal mining, fishing, wildlife trade and oil theft.
“The AU and the UN have long sought to address this challenge,” said Nelson Alusala, a senior researcher with ENACT. “The AU, in particular, has taken great strides to combat illicit arms flows – in line with its vision of ‘Silencing the guns by year 2020′. So too have regional economic communities and mechanisms”.

At the ENACT side event, Alusala explored these measures, presenting findings of new ENACT research. “The September 2017 declaration of the Africa Amnesty Month is one such initiative. These are encouraging steps but many hurdles stand in the way of effectively curbing illicit arms flows,” Alusala said.

He explained Africa’s journey towards effective arms control is marked by successes and challenges in equal measure. Successes are in the continent’s many efforts to domesticate international arms control regimes, while the challenge is to implement these regimes amid a rising tide of illicit arms flows.