Organized crime in the Sahel has entered a new phase of consolidation and diversification. During the past decade, criminal activity expanded exponentially, particularly in the wake of the conflicts in Libya (2011) and Mali (2012). Arms stockpiles from the Libyan regime spilled into neighbouring countries at an alarming rate following the revolution, fuelling conflict across the region and bolstering the operational capacity of criminals all the way from Mali to southern Sudan – and beyond.

Defining the geography:

In The Sahel (meaning, literally, the desert ‘coast’) is a transitional eco-climatic belt of semi-arid territory south of the Sahara desert (often also referred to as the sea of sand). It runs across the breadth of the African continent connecting 15 countries. This report focuses on a region that is more accurately described as the Sahel-Sahara (Mali, Niger, Chad, southern Algeria, southern Libya and Darfur).

For the purposes of a regional analysis of organized crime, a strict focus on the Sahel is less than ideal, as some of the most salient territories (including most of northern Mali, northern Niger, northern Chad, large parts of southern Algeria and southern Libya) are not technically part of the Sahel region despite being interconnected from a socio-economic perspective, as well as a criminal one.

In fact, there is a common pattern of criminality spanning this region that is facilitated by shared drivers: poor or weak governance, underdevelopment, insecurity and porous borders. For this reason, the term ‘Sahel-Sahara’ is used throughout this document to denote the research approach adopted, which was very much focused on regional flows and interconnectivity.

After the Storm: Organized crime across the Sahel-Sahara following upheaval in Libya and Mali

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Mark Micallef

Mark Micallef is Director of the North Africa and Sahel Observatory at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, where he leads research on organized crime, based on a field network of more than 160 Monitors, comprising local journalists, researchers and academics, established in in Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, southern Algeria, Niger, Chad, Mali and Sudan.

He is a researcher focused on smuggling and trafficking networks in Libya and the Sahel and an investigative journalist by background. His speciality is human smuggling and trafficking in Libya and bordering Sahelian states, and has been engaged with irregular migration from Africa to Europe for more than 15 years. As a journalist he reported extensively from Libya, both before and after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddaf as well as during the 2011 revolution itself with dispatches from Benghazi, Ajdabija and Ras Lanuf during the rebels’ advance on Sirte, where Gaddafi was eventually found and killed. Since then he has conducted extensive fieldwork and research on organised crime, non-state armed groups, smuggling and trafficking networks in Libya, Niger, Chad, Mali, Algeria, Sudan, Turkey, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Formerly, the News Editor at The Times of Malta, Micallef spent a substantial part of his career investigating crime. A probe in 2014 saw him track down in the UK and Dubai two Maltese businessmen wanted for multi-million-euro fraud.

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Raouf Farrah

Raouf Farrah is a Senior Analyst at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. His current researches focus on security and conflict, transnational organised crime in the Maghreb and the Sahel, digital economy and cyberspace in Africa. He regularly publishes in international media including Le Monde, Jeune Afrique, Open Democracy, La Tribune d’Afrique, Le Devoir and Mondafrique. He’s a non-resident security and conflict fellow at Club 2030 Africa and member of Ibtykar, a civic movement in Algeria.

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Alexandre Bish

Alex is a Senior Analyst at the Global Initiative researching smuggling and security dynamics in the Sahel. He is also doing a PhD in Security and Crime Science at UCL, funded by the UK’s Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). His research focusses on modelling the structure, activities and behaviours of smuggling networks operating between Niger and Libya.

Before joining the Global Initiative in 2017, Alex spent two years in Nigeria where he worked for the UNODC and the EU Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS in Abuja, as a consultant on political and security matters. He holds an MSc in Countering Organised Crime and Terrorism from UCL and a BA (Hons) in European Studies from King’s College London.

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