The recent article in African Affairs, “Does Organized Crime Exist in Africa” by the late Stephen Ellis, and Global Initiative Director, Mark Shaw, observes that there is increasing international concern about the growth of organized crime in Africa. Important criminal organizations and professional criminals are present in Africa, but the authors argue that the term “organized crime” is not a very useful description of their activity, since what we are actually witnessing is a reformulation of politics and crime into networks that transcend the state/non-state boundary in ways that are hardly subsumed in standard concepts of organized crime.

Similar processes are taking place in various parts of the world, and thus African countries are not exceptional in this regard. The process, however, does take particular forms in Africa that arise out of the histories of individual countries.

The article describes the evolution in countries as diverse as Libya, Guinea-Bissau, and Zimbabwe of a market for protection, as business people – legitimate and otherwise – seek protection for their activities and their personnel. This market for protection is created by making private arrangements, often with state officials working in private capacities.

The implications are profound: they could amount to a new mode of governance connecting Africa to international markets and institutions in which the distinctions between licit and illicit economic activity become difficult to detect.

The Political Economy of Criminal Enterprise Protection