Organized Crime and Conflict in the Sahel-Sahara Region

Organized Crime and Conflict in the Sahel-Sahara Region

From a new Carnegie paper by Wolfram Lacher:

The Sahel and Sahara region is far from a pivotal area for transnational organized crime. The importance of organized criminal activity there stems from the fact that there are few alternative activities that produce similar profits and rapid enrichment. This particularly applies to three undertakings that have expanded significantly since around 2003: smuggling of Moroccan cannabis resin, cocaine smuggling, and kidnapping for ransom. Individuals and networks involved in these activities have converted their wealth into political influence and military power. Contraband trade in licit goods, which had developed across the region in previous decades, laid the institutional basis for the development of these high-profit activities.

This kind of drug networks have their origins in cigarette trafficking that took off in the 1980s and were instrumental in financing Algeria's jihadists in the 1990s.

Cigarette smuggling in particular has greatly contributed to the emergence of the practices and networks that have allowed drug trafficking to grow. The smuggling of cigarettes to North African markets began to thrive in the early 1980s, and it developed into a large-scale business controlled by a few major players. Cigarettes, imported through Mauritania, supplied a large portion of the Algerian and Moroccan markets, while those imported through Cotonou in Benin and Lome in Togo were routed through Niger and Burkina Faso to Libya and Algeria. In 2009, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated cigarettes smuggled along these routes accounted for around 60 percent of the Libyan tobacco market (or $240 million in proceeds at the retail level) and 18 percent of the Algerian market (or $228 million).

The key actors in this trade are legal cigarette importers and distributors, who import their merchandise from free trade zones such as Dubai. The trade is therefore best interpreted as a deliberate strategy by tobacco companies to circumvent tax regimes or break North African state monopolies on cigarette distribution.

Funny to think that something as technocratically banal as a Maghreb customs unions would have discouraged such things.

1 Comment

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Links for 08.16.09 to 08.17.09

U.S. group invests tax-free millions in East Jerusalem land - Haaretz - Israel News | Prosecute them: "American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, a nonprofit organization that sends millions of shekels worth of donations to Israel every year for clearly political purposes, such as buying Arab properties in East Jerusalem, is registered in the United States as an organization that funds educational institutes in Israel." ✪ Palestinian state is not synonym for terrorist entity - Haaretz - Israel News | "The Jewish army's work in the territories we still call "Judea and Samaria" is done by non-Jews: Arab police, American instructors, European money. How has Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman put it? Paradise." ✪ Al-Ahram Weekly | Region | Hamas faces Gelgelt | On links between the Salafist Jihadist group and "our son of a bitch" Muhammad Dahlan. ✪ Is the Trans-Sahara Gas Pipeline a Viable Project? The Impact of Terrorism Risk - The Jamestown Foundation | To me this is a ridiculous idea but what do I know? ✪ Al-Ahram Weekly | Culture | Tractatus Franco-Arabicus | A Wittgensteinian review of Sonallah Ibrahim's latest.
Read More

Links for 07.13.09

Class action at 3arabawy | Hossam's latest article, covering a strike at a QIZ factory, highlights practice of forcing workers to sign a resignation letter when hired so they can easily be fired. Maybe Ahmadinejad just likes gallopinto | The Majlis makes a good point about the huffing and puffing made by Hillary Clinton over the fact that Iran is boosting its ties with Latin American countries. Maybe if Bush hadn't let the Monroe Doctrine slip, this would have not have happened. La mafia sicilienne, colombienne et russe s’offre les services d’El Qaida au Maghreb | Algerian newspaper claims AQIM working with Moroccan, Sicilian, Russian and Colombian mafias for drug trafficking. The Dark Sahara by Jeremy Keenan [PDF] | New book by Jeremy Keenan, leading investigator of Algerian govt. involvement in "Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb." Qashtamar Rules Everything Around Me (Q.R.E.A.M.) « THE BOURSA EXCHANGE | Very funny. Britain revokes five Israeli arms export licences - Yahoo! News | Out of 182, over Gaza war. Note here that the Perfidious Albion claims humanitarian concern, as if they don't continue to export arms to other unsavory types, or that this decision did not come out of domestic pressure rather than routine humanitarian review. Israel to keep only Hebrew names on road signs (AFP) | This reminds me of the Flemish-Waloon road sign wars of Belgium - except they had the good sense to keep the English: "AFP - The Israeli transport ministry said on Monday that it will get rid of Arabic and English names for cities and towns on road signs, keeping only the Hebrew terms."
Read More