FES Series on Organised Crime on Governance in West Africa

Reports by the UN Office for Drug Control (UNODC) suggest that, over the past decade, transnational criminal networks have infiltrated West African polities up to the highest circles. By means of coercion and corruption, criminal elements are realising enormous profits while gaining influence over bodies politic on both the local and national levels.

The sheer value of illicit goods and services is consistently crowding out legitimate businesses. Politicians’ and parties’ need for campaign financing and votes make them dependent on the cartels – as does the need of businesses for venture capital. Those behaving with integrity are intimidated into collusion. As a result, societies, which had been no strangers to corruption before, are becoming ever more dependent on funding from criminal sources.

Weak state authority and conflict have been both conducive to and exacerbated by these developments. As has been vividly illustrated by recent atrocities in Mali, drugs, extremism, and a weak state make a dangerous blend. But Mali is not the only place in West Africa with easily inflammable enmities; where the state’s monopoly of force or its ability to deliver public goods and services has been fading away; with feeble institutions and debilitated administrative capacities; where political will to change any of this has dwindled due to corruption – or resignation; or where, as a consequence, insurgent tendencies have been fuelled. Comparing West Africa to Central America, a future scenario of intensified criminal violence does not seem entirely inconceivable, either. Local variations aside, the accumulated effect on human security will likely be devastating.

The face of affairs does not suggest any easy answers. Despite several organisations’ attempts to bring about more transparency, the data available remains limited. Factual evidence at least suggests that the areas of political and economic governance may be a starting point for policy development. In the area of law enforcement, co-operation among West African governments has been initiated, notably through the frameworks of the West African Coastal Initiative (WACI) and the Groupe Intergouvernemental d’Action contre le Blanchiment d’Argent en Afrique de l’Ouest (GIABA). Broader policies, such as the ECOWAS “Praia Plan of Action” and the “Abuja Declaration to address the security threats posed by drug-trafficking in the sub- region” or the African Union’s “Plan of Action on Drug Control and Crime Prevention (2013- 2017)”, however, have had limited effect to date. The recently launched, non-governmental West Africa Commission on Drugs (WACD) is vowing to foster more inclusive dialogue and addressing governance issues beyond law enforcement.

The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung has recognised the need to promote the discourse on organised crime, democracy, and human security and published several papers on the issue. The study at hand had in fact been commissioned in the year of 2011. The research team, comprising of experts from several sub-regions of West Africa, was met with numerous practical difficulties at the time. Their work, however, presents hitherto under-represented arguments, such as organised crime being rooted in “dysfunctional and unproductive” economic systems, which may be traceable even back to the structural adjustment programmes conducted by the IFIs in several countries of the region in the 1980ies and beyond. “Faulty political structures and weak state institutions” are identified as further causes for the region’s vulnerability to transnational organised crime as is an “undermine[d] state [...] legitimacy”, which “aggravate[d] contentious politics, political violence, [and] social fragmentation.” The authors prescribe an “evidence-led, multi-dimensional and sustainable approach which [would] combine[...] proactive social, economic and political measures with reactive law enforcement [...].”

The report’s findings have been discussed with stakeholders from official places and from civil society in the course of meetings in Dakar, Abuja, Berlin, and Brussels. Then again, it was hoped this paper would serve as a contribution to a discussion among citizens more than anything else. While some of the information presented here remains limited in scope and currentness, it was nonetheless decided to publish the manuscript on account of its topical value.

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