Event Details

07 Sep


07 Sep 2022
12:00 PM

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10:00 GMT (Dakar)

11:00 BST/WAT (London/Nigeria)

12:00 CEST (Geneva)

Live interpretation in French, and Portuguese will be available.


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Are you a journalist? Access the Media kit here

The deteriorating security situation across parts of West Africa and the Sahel underscores the importance of better understanding the relationship between crime and conflict.

As the nature of armed conflict in West Africa is in flux – with the constellation of conflict actors multiplying, the intensity and geographic dispersion of violence growing, civilians increasingly targets of attacks, and conflicts more commonly spreading across borders – now is a key moment to consider the role played by illicit economies in creating the enabling environments for conflicts to develop, and in prolonging them.

While large-scale civil wars have reduced dramatically in frequency over the past two decades, the fall of Gaddafi in Libya and the uprising in northern Mali in 2012 triggered a wave of instability that continues to deteriorate to this day. Among the principal security threats affecting the Sahel region is violent extremism and jihadist groups. From 2020 to 2021, violence linked to militant Islamist groups in the Sahel almost doubled. Fatalities from such attacks are on the rise and millions have been displaced, in particular in Burkina Faso, which has become the epicentre of violence.

However, while many of the armed actors operating in the Sahel subscribe to extremist interpretations of Islamic jihad, the driving force behind the continued proliferation of violent extremist groups in the region is a combination of various deep-rooted structural issues. These include corruption, poor governance, impunity among state security forces and socio-economic marginalization of communities across swathes of the region.

But there is another important driver of conflict and instability, not just in the Sahel, but in other countries such as Nigeria, Cameroon and Senegal, among others. Illicit economies are major sources of funding for countless armed actors across West Africa, and many illicit markets contribute to swelling violence, not least the trafficking of arms. Banditry in Nigeria, for example, is a significant security threat, with bandits frequently raiding, ransacking, attacking and kidnapping in villages across many of the country’s northern states.

The other side of the coin is that instability and state fragility more broadly is an important enabler of illicit economies, with criminal actors exploiting weak rule of law. The economic damage inflicted on communities by conflict can in many cases leave populations dependent on informal, and in some cases illicit, livelihoods. But the relationship between illicit trade and instability is not straightforward. In some circumstances, informal and illicit economies can sustain a degree of stability by providing communities with a livelihood. As the security situation deteriorates, and the geographies of conflict and illicit economies increasingly overlap, it is crucial to understand how these two dynamics interact.

Yet the intersection between illicit economies and instability is an often misunderstood and over-simplified subject of research and debate. The inherently clandestine nature of organized crime poses an obstacle to accurately understanding the dynamics of illicit economies and their relationship with conflict and instability. In West Africa, this is compounded by the paucity of comparable data in much of the region.

This report represents a step towards addressing this deficit. It presents the findings of a new initiative that maps the key geographic hubs of illicit economies across West Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo).

The Illicit Economies and Instability Monitor, presented in this report, assesses how the illicit economies identified at each hub impact on instability. The study therefore creates a public, consolidated repository of evidence surrounding illicit economies, which could in the future be built on and analyzed over time to reveal longitudinal trends.

Contact claudio.landi@globalinitiative.net and nicole.helou@globalinitiative.net to request the Media Kit

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