Overall resilience to organized crime has improved across Africa since 2021, but resilience levels are not keeping pace with rising crime.
That is according to the Africa Organized Crime Index 2023, compiled by the Enhancing Africa’s Response to Transnational Organized Crime (ENACT) project, which found that crime “has grown undeterred since 2019, with illicit markets increasing in pervasiveness and the influence of criminal actors expanding” around the continent.
The rise in crime is tied to ongoing conflicts, rampant insecurity, declining democratic order and state accountability, according to the report, which is published every two years. It lists human trafficking; emerging cocaine markets in East Africa, West Africa and Southern Africa; and financial crimes as the most pervasive.
Between 2021 and 2023, criminality increased in East Africa, North Africa and Southern Africa but slightly decreased in West Africa and Central Africa.
Since 2019, East Africa recorded the continent’s highest levels of crime. The region continuously grapples with high levels of armed and ethnic conflicts, and the presence of nonstate armed groups and militias.
East Africa has the highest levels of human smuggling, extortion and protection racketeering, as well as arms trafficking and human trafficking.
“The activities of Al-Shabaab in parts of Somalia and the border regions between Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia contributed to the region’s high extortion and protections racketeering scores,” the report said.
West Africa has consistently had the index’s second-highest level of crime due to political instability and violence. Its most pervasive criminal market is the cocaine trade.
In 2021 and 2022, local authorities seized notable amounts of cocaine in Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia and Nigeria. Seizure data from Brazilian authorities identified Benin, Cabo Verde, Guinea and Nigeria as the most common destinations for trafficked cocaine.
“The escalating levels of seizures emphasize West Africa’s growing significance in the transnational cocaine trade, building on its already established status as a transshipment point,” the report said.
Crime in North Africa rose between 2021 and 2023, giving it the continent’s third-highest crime rate, according to the index.
Human trafficking and human smuggling are widespread, and the region led the continent in the cannabis and synthetic drug trade.
The cannabis trade is driven by Morocco, one of the largest producers of cannabis resin in the world. Cannabis trafficking is prevalent in Algeria.
Between 2021 and 2023, Tunisia experienced a significant jump in the trade of synthetic drugs, although Egypt remained the region’s main hub for the synthetic drug trade.
North Africa also had the worst rating for financial crimes in Africa and the world. Financial crimes often are aided by connections between powerful families, businesspeople and ruling elites.
“The region’s vulnerability to fraud, embezzlement and tax evasion is further fueled by the financial sector’s lack of operational transparency and thriving informality,” the report said.
Crime rates in the region dropped slightly since 2021, although the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) had the continent’s highest crime rate.
Central Africa had the continent’s highest rate of nonrenewable resource crime, as illicit gold and diamond mining and smuggling are widespread, especially in the Central African Republic and DRC.
Arms trafficking also continued to expand, due to renewed hostilities between armed groups and state forces in conflict zones, political instability, and military coups, the report found.
There also was an increased number of human trafficking and human smuggling victims, mostly among vulnerable people displaced by violence.
Although Southern Africa had the continent’s lowest levels of crime, four of its countries — Madagascar, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe — had high levels of organized crime, the report found.
Wildlife crimes and heroin and cocaine trafficking increased in most countries in the region. In some areas, wildlife trafficking overlapped with drug trafficking or extortion along the supply chain.
“These networks are supported by corrupt public officials who protect organized criminal groups from law enforcement and facilitate the movement of illicit goods across borders,” the report said.