Posted on 02 Sep 2021
This is the first issue of the Risk Bulletin of the newly established Observatory of Illicit Economies in West Africa, a network of analysts and researchers based in the region.
The articles in the bulletin, which will be published quarterly, analyze trends, developments and insights into the relationship between criminal economies and instability across wider West Africa and the Sahel. Drawing on original interviews and fieldwork, the articles shed light on regional patterns, and dive deeper into the implications of significant events. The stories will explore the extent to which criminal economies provide sources of revenue for violent actors, focusing on hotspots of crime and instability in the region. Articles will be translated into French or Portuguese, as most appropriate, and published on the GI-TOC website.
In this issue, articles scrutinize the relationship between jihadist violence and local illicit economies in Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire, the revenue sources of bandit groups behind the upsurge in violence in north-western Nigeria, and the implications of the unlawful temporary release of cocaine traffickers imprisoned for coordinating two bumper cocaine imports in Guinea-Bissau.
1. Northern Côte d’Ivoire: new jihadist threats, old criminal networks.
- A surge in jihadist activity in northern Côte d’Ivoire since June 2020 has come alongside a rise in criminal activity in the border region of Bounkani. While it is key to avoid overstating the links between jihadist groups and criminal networks, it is clear that as jihadist-fuelled violence in northern Burkina Faso has spread southward over the borders, jihadist and criminal actors in Bounkani are increasingly operating in the same space.
2. Criminal economies are a key factor in Burkina Faso’s Solhan massacre.
- A jihadist attack on an informal gold-mining site near Solhan, Burkina Faso, in June 2021 was the worst terrorist attack experienced by the country since 2015, and appears linked to groups vying for control over criminal economies. The massacre reinforces the extent to which places like Solhan can become violent flashpoints as various actors compete for control over access to natural resources, such as gold. Troublingly, the Solhan massacre is also the first confirmed major case of child soldiers being used in Burkina Faso’s conflict.
3. In north-western Nigeria, violence carried out by bandit groups has escalated so fast that killings now rival those that take place in Borno state, where extremist groups hold sway.
- On 18 July, gunfire from bandits caused a Nigerian fighter jet to crash in Zamfara state, the latest incident in Nigeria’s violent and escalating bandit crisis, which has killed hundreds and forced thousands to flee their homes over the past six months. This attack highlights the increasing boldness and sophistication of the criminal actors involved.
4 The release from prison of drug traffickers convicted of coordinating Guinea-Bissau’s largest ever cocaine seizures undermines any hopes of a brave new dawn in the country’s stance on drug trafficking offences.
- Two record-breaking cocaine seizures in Guinea-Bissau in March and September 2019 brought the near-drought of cocaine seizures in West Africa since 2013 to an abrupt end. These seizures and the ensuing convictions of the traffickers involved were interpreted by elements of the international community as evidence of a newly strengthened criminal justice stance in Bissau against drug trafficking. In May 2021, it was revealed that six individuals behind these imports had been released on seemingly spurious medical grounds, highlighting corruption in the criminal justice system and severe shortcomings in the country’s response to organized crime.