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Updated Feb 4, 2020

The fourth edition of the Risk Bulletin of Illicit Economies in Eastern and Southern Africa focuses on the countries of Uganda, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. The Risk Bulletin, published by the Civil Society Observatory of Illicit Economies in Eastern and Southern Africa, covers a wide range of illegal economic activity, from the ivory trade to counterfeit drugs, and examines the response of national authorities to organized crime.

In Zimbabwe, violence escalated dramatically in the final weeks of 2019 over the country’s artisanal mining sector. Gangs of artisanal miners armed with machetes have been battling it out over control of mining areas, leading to the deaths and injuries of miners, gold buyers, police officers, and ordinary citizens caught in the crossfire. Most of the violence was localized in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s home province of Midlands. The underlying causes are immense, but can be narrowed down to the ongoing drought, which forces Zimbabweans to seek out livelihoods such as artisanal mining, a no-questions-asked buy policy of the state gold buyer, and corrupt interests by ruling ZANU-PF officials in illegal mining.

Nearby Malawi faces a more promising future in its efforts to counter organized crime, primarily against wildlife trafficking. Raids conducted by Malawian security officers in May 2019 were largely successful and have resulted in some convictions for wildlife-related crimes. The raids targeted a wildlife trafficking network allegedly run by Yunhua Lin, one of Malawi’s most wanted criminals. Malawi also convicted two Chinese nationals, Li Hao Yun and Qin Hua Zhang, in November, the first time non-African foreign nationals have been detained in Malawi for wildlife offenses. The ongoing investigation into Lin’s trafficking network demonstrates a serious commitment to better manage such complex cases.

South African citizens have regularly been used as drug mules for international drug-smuggling operations, resulting in close to 800 South Africans nationals currently being detained abroad for drug-related offenses. Monitoring the statistics surrounding these arrests would help South African law enforcement and intelligence agencies make sense of the crime networks operating in the country, but obtaining reliable data has proven difficult in past years, with civil society organizations lamenting that the data is sporadic and incomplete.

Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni recently took part in a conference in Lomé, Togo, that pledged to aggressively go after counterfeit drugs, which have been responsible for tens of thousands of deaths across West and East Africa. The country’s National Drug Authority has undertaken its own initiative, drawing on guidelines established at the Lomé Conference, but is struggling to make significant inroads, as so little is known about how the counterfeit drug trade is structured and who the major actors are. Research carried out as part of the Risk Bulletin points to India as the primary supplier of counterfeit drugs. Uganda remains heavily reliant on Indian imports for legitimate medications, making prosecution of those providing counterfeit goods more difficult, as the illicit trade is supported by corrupt Indian officials outside the country’s jurisdiction.

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