Trans-Africa Security: Combating Illicit Trafficking and Organized Crime in Africa
Senior Director for National Security and Diplomacy Anti-Crime Programs, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
It is an honor to join you today at this year’s Senior Leaders Seminar hosted by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS). Let me first thank ACSS for their leadership over the years in fostering critical partnerships with African nations on combating today’s transnational security threats.
Let me also thank all of you for your commitment in participating in this important program. Having studied myself at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, I believe that these peer-based learning seminars are very important, not only to assess, evaluate, and discuss the broad array of security challenges facing the continent and international community, but towards developing and harnessing more effective strategies and cross-border responses.
As you have no doubt heard throughout the week in your seminar, the United States remains a strong partner in helping safeguard communities against the threats posed by illicit trafficking networks and is keen to elevate our partnership with all of your governments.
In this regard, the U.S. Department of State is similarly committed to strengthen international cooperation in support of our U.S. law enforcement and security agencies, and the capacities of our allies and partners in Africa to disrupt and dismantle transnational organized criminals.
Converging Threats: Corruption, Crime, and Terrorism Pave Illicit Trafficking Corridor
Today’s reality is one in which we live in a world where there is no region, no country and no community who remain untouched by the destabilizing effects and corruptive influence of transnational organized crime and violent terrorism.
Their impact is truly global and their real threat centers in some cases in their convergence. In particular, we must recognize that trans-regional illicit trafficking of drugs, arms, humans, and other illicit trade goods and services, are fueling greater insecurity and instability across Africa, and in other parts of the world.
While the world’s attention has in recent months been focused on the conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan, or the efforts by North Korea and others on the weaponization of nuclear missiles, the threats posed by transnational organized criminals remain very real in the United States, Latin America, Africa, and globally.
This is especially true as it relates to the increasing links between cross-border narcotics trafficking and other forms of transnational organized crime across Africa that imperil not only the rule of law, economic development efforts, the promotion of trade and investment, but helps to fuel greater instability and insecurity.
In fact, according to General Thomas D. Waldhauser, U.S. Marine Corps, AFRICOM Commander, “parts of Africa remain a battleground between ideologies, interests, and values: [where] prosperity, and peace are often pitted against extremism, oppression, and conflict. The strategic environment includes instability that allows violent extremist organizations to grow and recruit disenfranchised populations.”
This strategic environment today that General Waldhauser underscores is also impacted by other transregional threats that further complicate security in Africa including issues related to the webs of corruption and cross-border criminality, and related converging threats.
Convergence: I often talk a lot about convergence, and this is something that I encourage you to examine more closely moving forward – and to view today’s transnational security threats through a prism of “convergence crime”.
Because the reality on the ground is that we can no longer simply focus on one component of a threat. In a world of converging threats – where various threats collide to form a more potent mix of insecurity globally; each is individually dangerous but whose sum represents a far greater threat across borders.
Thus, we need to see the threat environment more holistically – how, for example, corruption and complicit facilitators enable the illicit space for criminals and terrorist groups alike to thrive, and to exploit weaknesses in our borders and institutions that imperil our security.
And because as illicit trade operates in the shadow of the global economy, increasingly sophisticated traffickers are diversifying their portfolios in everything from narcotics, people, arms, and wildlife to counterfeits including fake medicines, and illicit tobacco and alcohol goods.
On the governance front, the proceeds of drug trafficking and other forms of illicit trafficking are fueling a dramatic increase in corruption among the very institutions responsible for fighting crime.
The collusion and complicity of some government officials with criminal networks have helped carve out an illicit trafficking corridor that stretches from the West African coast to the Horn of Africa, from North Africa south to the Gulf of Guinea.
Through these illicit trafficking routes, criminals and terrorists alike are moving people and products. From the coca and opium poppy fields of Colombia and Southeast Asia to the coasts of West Africa and its hashish plantations, drug cartels and other criminal networks navigate an illicit superhighway that serves illicit markets across the continent and around the globe. Along across these illicit routes, bad actors and networks are corrupting critical institutions and enforcement systems that exacerbate everyone’s security.
They employ the latest technological advances and use commercial jets, fishing vessels, and container ships to move drugs, people, small arms, crude oil, cigarettes, counterfeit and pirated goods, and toxic waste through the region, generating massive profits.
How massive are these profits? As I will point out shortly in my slides on the recent research of the OECD Task Force on Countering Illicit Trade, the illegal markets in Africa, and globally, are booming with staggering levels of illicit wealth in the global economy. Hundreds of millions of USD every year enable criminals and other threat networks to corrupt the regional economies and the global financial system.
At a time when many are heralding the rise of some of the world’s fastest-growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa, these criminal entrepreneurs are undermining that economic development and growth by financing flourishing illicit markets, turning many vulnerable communities into a corridor of insecurity and instability, and siphoning the real potential of the legitimate economy.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Economic Forum (WEF), Global Financial Integrity (GFI), and other international organizations, generally estimate that the illicit trade in arms, drugs, and people, and other forms of “convergence crime” generate approximately between 8–15 percent of GDP, or several USD trillions to include corrupt proceeds and illicit financial flows.
Cocaine trafficking remains among the most lucrative illicit activities. In April 2017, the UNODC reported that developing markets are fueling a resurgence of cocaine trafficking through West Africa. UNODC further added that seizures on the Atlantic island of Cabo Verde, in the Gambia, Nigeria, and Ghana had contributed to a 78 percent increase in cocaine seizures from 2009-2014 compared to the previous reporting period.
Smugglers and traffickers who intake the cocaine from the Americas will typically transport drugs and other contraband overland across the Sahel and North Africa, before crossing into destination markets in Europe and these new developing markets in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
West Africa has also become a major transit point for heroin destined for the United States.
Illicit markets are growing across Africa to meet global demand for arms, counterfeits, cigarettes, natural resources, diamonds and other precious minerals, wildlife, illegally-harvested timber, illegal fishing, stolen luxury cars, and other illicit commodities.
The Crime-Terror Continuum: Regional Spillover Effects
Unfortunately, what happens in Africa does not stay in Africa.
A convergence of actors is further paving the corridor of illicit trafficking and crime-terror continuum across Africa – including North Africa – as criminal insurgencies are becoming players themselves in illicit markets and using the proceeds to finance their terror campaigns, secure their training camps, establish safe havens, and export violence to other regions. Violent extremist and terrorist groups draw on public anger towards corruption as a means to radicalize, recruit new members, and deepen sectarian division.
We only have to look at some of the current regional hot spots to clearly comprehend how certain crime-terror dynamics continue to contribute to insecurity and instability that have a ripple effect across borders.
Today’s thriving illegal economy is so lucrative that terrorists are increasingly turning to criminal activities to fund their violent campaigns such as those that we are witnessing today by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and others.
In Mali, as drugs are trafficked through the country, the Sahel, and Maghreb, AQIM and its sympathizers are manipulating socio-economic conditions to further advance an illegal economy that allows them to tax the drugs through the territory that they control and finance their terror campaigns.
Libya also continues to be challenged with violence and insecurity. AQIM and ISIS are attempting to forge alliances with violent extremist networks in Libya and across the Maghreb, Sahel, and West Africa, and are involved in smuggling and trafficking in persons. Organized crime networks exploit a currency black market, irregular migration and illicit trade across borders to enrich themselves and militias that defy law and order.
Nigerian organized criminal networks remain a major player in moving cocaine and heroin worldwide, and have begun to produce and traffic methamphetamine to and around Southeast Asia. In addition to drug trafficking, some of these criminal organizations also engage in other forms of trafficking and fraud targeting citizens of the United States, Europe, and globally.
Widespread corruption in Nigeria further facilitates criminal activity, and, combined with Nigeria’s central location along major trafficking routes, enables criminal groups to flourish and make Nigeria an important trafficking hub.
Nigeria is also confronting a terrorist insurgency led by Boko Haram and its offshoot ISIS-West Africa, which remains the cause of the insecurity in the Lake Chad Basin.
Maritime crime has also captured the attention of the regional states and international community. The reported number of incidents in the Gulf of Guinea and the level of violence associated with those acts remain a concern.
The Economic Communities of West and Central African States, the Gulf of Guinea Commission, and their member states should be commended for the continued commitment to implement the June 2013 Yaoundé Summit. The signed Gulf of Guinea Code of Conduct (GGC) covers not only armed robbery at sea and piracy, but also other illicit maritime activity such as illegal fishing, maritime pollution, and human and drug trafficking. The Yaounde Code of Conduct, along with the updates to the Djibouti Code of Conduct to cover other transnational maritime crime, and the newly adopted Lomé Charter, provide excellent frameworks for African states to adopt strategies and implement programs to counter transnational crime in the maritime domain.
In recent years, INL has partnered with the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, AFRICOM, and our African partners on maritime security and regional threat mitigation strategies and to build the capacities and capabilities to disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal networks.
U.S. Diplomatic Efforts and International Cooperation in Africa
The United States strongly supports the great strides many African countries have made to improve security, good governance, rule of law, and sustainable economic development.
As President Donald J. Trump highlighted in new Executive Order on Transnational Criminal Organizations (E.O. TCO), the United States will continue to assist our partners to strengthen their security footprint and capabilities to combat today’s threat networks.
In support of the President’s E.O. TCO, the United States is committed to strengthen and sustain our resolve and capabilities to protect the homeland and break the corruptive power of transnational criminal networks, attack their financial underpinnings, strip them of their illicit wealth, and sever their access to the financial system.
The United States and its partners continually recognize the importance of net-centric partnerships to confront converging threats and the lethal nexus of organized crime, corruption, and terrorism along global illicit pathways and financial hubs.
For example, targeted financial actions like the 2011 311 finding against LCB can have a major impact, strengthening deterrence and showing that the international community is keeping close watch on Hizballah’s global financial architecture. Through years of cooperation with the Lebanese banking sector and the Lebanese Central Bank, the country has significantly improved its capacity to detect the kinds of behavior that led the United States to designate LCB six years ago.
Let me now share how the Department of State helps fight transnational crime, and in particular the organization I work for, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL).
INL training efforts help countries build effective rule of law institutions, strengthening criminal justice systems, and strengthening their police, courts, and anti-crime efforts—everything from anti-corruption money laundering, cybercrime, and intellectual property theft to trafficking in goods, people, weapons, drugs, or endangered wildlife.
In coordination with partners in sub-Saharan and North Africa, INL develops and executes foreign assistance programming to promote civilian security and criminal justice sector reform in support of U.S. policy objectives. INL programs improve access to justice, promote stability and democratic reform, professionalize law enforcement entities, support local justice sector officials, and strengthen correction systems.
INL’s sub-Saharan and North Africa projects support partner governments’ efforts to respond effectively to the growing demand for peace and security. INL’s four main objectives are to assist African partners in combating transnational organized crime, drug trafficking, and terrorism, and their effects; support post-conflict stabilization operations and security sector reform; strengthen criminal justice systems to be accountable to the public and to respect human rights; and promote regional cooperation. INL implements its Africa program through a comprehensive range of bilateral and regional initiatives designed to maximize positive change in host countries and regions.
Let me highlight a few examples of these bilateral INL projects across Africa on criminal justice reform, anti-crime, and in support of counter-terrorism efforts:
• Deployment of Resident Legal Advisors (RLAs) and Senior Legal Advisors: U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) prosecutors embedded in U.S. Embassies to support justice sector development and capacity building: Some countries hosting RLAs include Ethiopia, Nigeria, Benin, Senegal, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, and others.
• Kenya: Build the capacity of vetted units within the National Police Service and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission investigations unit to investigate and prosecute high-level and government-wide corruption
• Tanzania: enhance the criminal justice system in Tanzania to successfully prosecute wildlife crimes.
• Benin: Build capacity of Benin’s law enforcement and judicial sectors to investigate and prosecute cases involving transnational organized crime, particularly drug trafficking; support to Benin’s border security agency; training of Formed Police Units (FPUs) for peacekeeping deployment; support to the Office Central de Répression du Trafic Illicite de Drogue et des Précurseurs
• Ghana: Training police-prosecutors, creating a counternarcotics unit, training police SWAT unit; training FPUs for peacekeeping deployment; and improving the investigations and administration of justice related to maritime crimes, cyber-crime, and border-related crimes
• Nigeria: Advise and support the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency; Justice and security dialogues project with law enforcement and civil society; international police education and training; curriculum reform; forensics support; Embedding advisors to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
• South Africa: Senior law enforcement advisor support to professionalize law enforcement and fundamental police operations; building investigative and enforcement capacities to combat wildlife trafficking
Finally, INL also administers the Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program (TOCRP) which offers rewards up to $5 million for information, leads, and tips that help hobble transnational criminal organizations involved in activities beyond drug trafficking, such as human trafficking, money laundering, trafficking in arms, counterfeits and pirated goods, and other illicit trade areas.
Our embassies and/or our INL offices would be happy to share further information on INL bilateral and regional programming in specific countries in Africa as requested.
Let me say also few words on several regional initiatives that INL supports:
The West Africa Regional Security Initiative (WARSI)
WARSI funds assist the 15 Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) members to establish and sustain effective, professional, and accountable criminal justice and civilian security sectors. Technical assistance facilitates partner-country efforts to counter transnational threats including illicit trafficking and to strengthen conflict mitigation and state legitimacy. WARSI focuses on security sector reform (SSR) in countries with more foundational assistance needs and criminal justice sector reform to counter transnational organized crime (TOC) in countries with more stable institutions. Counter-TOC assistance is more advanced, and often includes training specialized units, such as counter narcotics task forces.
The Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership
The Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP) is a multi-faceted, multi-year U.S. strategy aimed at developing resilient institutions that are capable of preventing and responding to terrorism in a holistic, long term manner. INL TSCTP programs in Africa work to counter and prevent violent extremism by empowering partner countries to (1) provide effective and accountable security and justice services to enhance citizen cooperation with and trust in law enforcement and (2) develop the institutional foundation for counterterrorism and related capabilities, including border security and prison security and reintegration efforts. In doing so, INL focuses on enhancing and institutionalizing cooperation among TSCTP countries so that they increasingly learn with and from each other. Partner countries include Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia.
The Partnership for Regional East Africa Counterterrorism
The Partnership for Regional East Africa Counterterrorism (PREACT) is the U.S. government’s multi-year, multi-sector initiative to build the long-term capabilities of East African partners to contain, disrupt, and marginalize terrorist networks in the region. INL’s PREACT funds empower East African criminal justice institutions to confront complex challenges posed by cross-border terrorism. INL’s active PREACT partners include Kenya, Somalia, and Tanzania.
Security Governance Initiative
The Security Governance Initiative (SGI) is a multi-year effort between the United States and partner countries to improve security sector governance and capacity to address threats. SGI partners with countries to undertake strategic and institutional reforms required to tackle key security challenges. Together with six current partners – Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Tunisia – SGI focuses on shared security priorities and enhance security sector management. SGI is managed by the State Department’s Africa Bureau but leverages expertise and experience from across the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the National Counterterrorism Center. Coordination and collaboration both within the U.S. government and with partner countries is a hallmark of SGI. INL’s activities undertaken as part of SGI seek to develop, support, and strengthen criminal justice institutions and capabilities to ensure citizen security and promote the rule of law, including sound policies, institutional structures, systems, processes, and effective management methods so that governments can efficiently and effectively deliver security and justice in a sustainable manner.
Regional Anti-Wildlife Trafficking Efforts
As many of you are aware, the United States continues to partner with the international community to combat the illegal wildlife trade.
INL is part of a whole of government approach to combating wildlife trafficking. We work closely with other parts of the Department and other agencies to support the global fight against wildlife trafficking through assistance to multiple countries in Africa. Under the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking (CWT), INL builds the capacity of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute wildlife crimes and develops regional cooperation mechanisms.
Activities can include training, mentoring, and equipment provision for park rangers, police, prosecutors, non-governmental organizations, and civil society entities to address the multiple dimensions of poaching and wildlife trafficking. Our first projects began in Kenya and South Africa, followed by Namibia and Tanzania. Future projects will cover larger areas of central and southern Africa, and address both source and transit countries.
Regional Law Enforcement Training
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not highlight INL’s International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in Gaborone, Botswana. The ILEA program delivers courses on a wide range of law enforcement topics, and builds regional law enforcement networks to detect, disrupt, and dismantle transnational criminal organizations regardless of their means of operation and income.
Since inception in 2001, ILEA Gaborone has trained thousands of mid- and senior-level criminal justice officers in specialized skills on counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics operations, forensic accounting, customs interdiction, various forms of trafficking, document fraud, and illegal immigration. The program also engages with senior officials on the factors that facilitate these criminal networks, addressing public corruption, discussing modern community-oriented policing models, and cooperative international security networks that hinder illicit networks from flourishing.
As an outbranch of the successful ILEA network, INL opened the West Africa Regional Training Center (RTC) in Accra, Ghana, in January 2013. The RTC has convened hundreds of law enforcement, security, and judicial officials from multiple countries in West Africa and the Sahel, creating relationships across the region, and building knowledge and skills on topics ranging from investigative analysis to anti-corruption to counternarcotics.
We continue to explore future areas of assistance to include strengthening capabilities to preserve crime scenes for complex investigations, create strong case packages, and build more effective, evidence-based trials.
Conclusion: Partnerships for Sustainable Security
In closing, I want to again extend the appreciation on behalf of the U.S. Department of State for your commitment to work across borders, improve coordination and information-sharing, and leverage our respective capabilities and capacities to defeat our common adversaries.
We must continue to leverage all national economic, intelligence, and diplomatic powers to make it riskier, harder, and costlier for threat networks to do business within Africa, and externally.
Illicit trafficking remains the lifeblood of the numerous bad actors and networks, creating vulnerabilities for nations.
We must crackdown on corruption at all levels and cut off the ability of kleptocrats, criminals, and terrorists to enjoy the fruits of illicit enterprise and that enable the financial capacity to execute their operations.
By combating corruption, we can also shut the door and keep violent extremists from exploiting their grievances to wage jihad. We must prevent narco-corruption from destroying countries like Guinea and Guinea-Bissau.
In addition to our law enforcement and security cooperation, we also need to address underlying causes that are contributing to today’s conflicts and insecurity in Africa: food and water security, poverty, economic integration and development, and other socio-economic areas that empower communities and nurture growth markets, investment frontiers, and resiliency.
With careful, targeted assistance, and smart diplomatic engagement, together we can advance our common objectives and strategic interests.
If we do not act decisively, the region will remain an exporter of terror and a provider of safe havens where terrorists from other conflicts all over the world find refuge, illicit trafficking will continue to expand, arms and weapons will dangerously proliferate, women, men, and children will be trafficked, and drugs and illicit enterprise will corrode the rule of law and the gains of globalization.
We can only tackle these threats effectively if we work together and jointly synchronize our full spectrum capabilities and capacities. We must stay connected and continue to harness our network of networks at every level – local, regional, and global to win our fight against convergence crime.
If we do this, we can create hope, stability, opportunity, and an enduring peace.