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Monograph 60: Organised Crime in the SADC Region, Police Perceptions, Peter Gastrow
1 August 2001

It is common cause that organised crime has become a global phenomenon, which can no longer be countered effectively relying only on national initiatives. Subregional, regional and global responses have to be put in place to achieve this. Significant progress has been made at all three these levels. The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, signed by more than 120 states in December 2000, constitutes the most far-reaching global response. At regional and subregional levels, there are ongoing attempts in various parts of the world to improve co-operation between states and to co-ordinate strategies against organised crime. Much remains to be done. The developed countries and regions, for understandable reasons, have been able to advance at a faster pace than the poorer parts of the world.

The Southern African region, which consists of the 14 member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), includes both developing and least developed countries. Since 1995, these countries have embarked on their own regional initiatives to address organised crime. A lack of resources, expansive geographical areas, borders and coastlines, as well as ongoing conflicts in parts of the region, have made this task difficult and painstaking. Not enough reliable information is available about the nature and extent of organised crime in the region to assess its real threat accurately.

The Institute for Security Studies undertook a survey during 2000 as part of a broader project aimed at throwing more light on the magnitude and scope of organised criminal activities in the SADC region. Police perceptions about this phenomenon are very important (although not conclusive) when attempting to construct a regional picture of organised crime. Police agencies were therefore surveyed by way of a standard questionnaire containing questions that, in addition to focusing on organised crime, also enquired about matters such as definitions, resource levels and areas of need. Nine police agencies in the region completed the questionnaire.

As can be expected from countries that experience severe resource constraints, there are vast areas in the region which are seriously underpoliced. The survey showed that the police:population ratios vary from 1:270 in Botswana (which compares favourably with developed countries such as Germany`s 1:315) to 1:737 in Zambia and 1:1 298 in Tanzania. Although police:population ratios are not necessarily indicative of a country`s capacity to combat organised crime, they do indicate the extent to which criminals can operate in a relatively low risk environment.

Responses to the survey indicated that much work needs to be done within SADC countries and regionally to develop definitions of organised crime that not only define it adequately for the benefit of investigators, but that also serve to facilitate effective regional co-operation between police agencies. Of the nine police agencies surveyed, five had not adopted a definition of organised crime while the remaining four used different definitions from the other. The lack of clarity about a definition of organised crime inevitably contributes to a lack of focus among police investigators when confronted with such criminal activities. Responses to the survey indicate that all of the police agencies that contributed have specialised investigative units focusing on specific crime categories such as dealing in narcotics or motor vehicle theft. Although organised criminal groups often commit such crimes, the investigators will also be required to investigate cases in which no organised groups were involved. Except for one police agency, none have established specialised units that focus specifically on the activities of organised criminal groups.

The countries surveyed experience a wide range of criminal activities which involve organised criminal groups. Most of these activities are transnational in nature as the groups involved commit the crimes or elements of such crimes in neighbouring countries and further afield. All nine police agencies reported that organised groups were involved in dealing in counterfeit notes, the smuggling of firearms, vehicle theft and hijacking, and armed robbery. Eight of them also experience drug-trafficking, forgery, and the smuggling of rhino horn and ivory. What becomes clear from the responses is that Southern African police agencies have an extraordinary task at hand if they want to deal effectively with such a wide range of activities, over such a vast geographical area, with such limited available resources.

The five organised criminal activities that constitute the most serious threat to the nine countries surveyed, in the order of their seriousness, are theft and hijacking of motor vehicles, robbery, drug related offences, illicit dealing in gold, diamonds and emeralds, and illicit dealing in firearms and ammunition. The responses also show that, in addition to the widespread involvement of their own nationals in organised crime, organised criminal groups involving nationals from other Southern African states and countries abroad are very active and constitute a serious threat. Noteworthy are the widespread activities in the region of criminal groups involving South African and Nigerian nationals. As far as transnational organised criminal groups are concerned, those involving South African nationals are among the top three that constitute the most serious threat in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Organised criminal groups involving Nigerian nationals, pose a serious threat in Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Both South Africa and Nigeria therefore appear to be significant exporters of organised crime to the SADC region.

When asked about the need for additional or more effective legislation to deal with organised crime, the respondents highlighted different issues that they believed should be covered by additional legislation. However, the issue that featured the most prominently was legislation to deal with money-laundering. This seems to be an area where a number of Southern African police agencies believe that they are ill-equipped to counter it effectively. As the laundering of their proceeds affects the life blood of organised criminal groups, this aspect should receive attention both regionally and internationally to reduce the attractiveness of Southern Africa to money launderers.

All nine respondents expressed a need for international assistance to enhance their ability to combat organised crime. Their responses suggest that the training of police investigators is probably the most important contribution that international organisations and governments could make. This is a relatively low capital-intensive form of international assistance which will hopefully be forthcoming from the international community.

It is also clear that improved co-operation among the police agencies in the region is necessary. All the respondents agreed that this would enhance their capacity to combat organised crime. Most of them emphasised the importance of joint operations within the region. They seem to suggest that the number of joint operations conducted thus far have been inadequate. Another area of regional co-operation that the police agencies thought should be improved, related to the flow and exchange of information. Respondents expressed the need for the greater exchange of information relating to crime trends and criminals, as well as the need to establish a central database for all SADC countries.

The survey therefore produced data that can be of considerable use in constructing a regional picture of organised crime, areas of shortcomings, and the opportunities available to address some of these shortcomings. It was the first survey of its kind and a critical evaluation will be required to enable future surveys to produce more accurate and reliable data. Judging by the response to this survey, the national police agencies in the region appear to be supportive and willing to assist. This augurs well for future regional and international co-operation.