Tell it like it is: The role of civil society in responding to serious and organised crime in west Africa

This report offers a rapid assessment of the civil society terrain in Ghana, Mali and Nigeria from the lens of tackling organised crime.

The challenges posed by serious organised crime in west Africa are significant and wide ranging, and threaten to reverse democratic and development gains of past decades. The consequences include worsening development indicators, risk of violent conflict, deteriorating governance and mounting fragility, major public health and safety threats, as well as environmental damage.

The expansion of organised crime is a direct function of the political economy of governance in the region and needs to be understood as a structural phenomenon. Serious organised crime in west Africa is likely to be a critical development and security factor for generations to come.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union, as well as other major multilateral and bilateral institutions and partners, have established a series of policy frameworks and interventions designed to curtail the pernicious effects of organised crime. However, despite some successes, the region continues to be used as a transit point for trafficking to Europe, regional domestic consumption rates of drugs are rising, and the corrosive effects of organised crime on national governance and security settings is deepening.

A brief review of response initiatives immediately conveys that an emphasis on security, as well as strengthened law and order, lies at the heart of the collective policy response. This emphasis assumes that the political and operational will exists across government to run with the anti-crime agenda, when evidence conclusively confirms that this is not always the case in practice.

Arguments for more strategic and holistic responses highlight how law and order approaches may overlook problems of state legitimacy that exist in many of the affected countries and how political actors may themselves be complicit in aspects of organised crime. Collusion in organised criminality by government officials, traditional authorities and political parties, as well as justice, law and order sector officials, significantly undermines formal efforts to tackle it.