This project examines the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic challenges accompanying it on criminal governance in cities. It analyzes how gangs and other non-state armed groups operating in illicit economies have altered their activities in light of the new circumstances in areas of criminal governance, and how governments and civil society have responded.

Case studies

The case studies in this project are Tumaco (Colombia), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Nairobi (Kenya), Cape Town (South Africa), and San Salvador (El Salvador).

Criminal governance

Criminal governance is defined as instances in which armed criminal groups set and enforce rules, provide security and other basic services – such as water, electricity, or internet access – in an urban area, which may be a part (or the whole) of an informal settlement or a neighborhood.


The project uses a comparative methodology, drawing from semi-structured interviews feeding into the five separate case studies. The data is then synthesized in a final report that analyzes and summarizes the main trends. A fuller description of the methodology can be found in the final report.

On this page, you will have access to a brief for each case study, and the final report, based on the following schedule:

  • Thursday 14 October: Tumaco and Rio de Janeiro
  • Thursday 28 October: Cape Town and Nairobi
  • Thursday 11 November: San Salvador
  • Thursday 25 November: Synthesising report
On Tuesday 30 November,  we will be hosting a virtual event to discuss key findings and share recommendations. Please make sure you are subscribed to our general mailing list to get regular updates about the publications and the event.