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The hidden costs of crime

Country Map - Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe
Recurrent drought conditions in southern Africa has seen millions go hungry (IRIN)

The rise of transnational organised crime in Africa has scared off foreign investment and undermines economic progress across the continent, a new United Nations study has found.

In a report released on Tuesday, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) argued that despite the lack of credible or official data on crime, indicators suggest that Africa has a serious problem in maintaining law and order.

Criminal activities in Africa were mainly the result of high levels of income inequality, rapid urbanisation, unemployment and poorly resourced criminal justice systems, the study found.

It also noted that low conviction rates were directly linked to the lack of police and judges, with political instability seen as an additional catalyst for criminal activities. "Conflict had also destroyed the capacity of the state to secure order and to provide services to its citizens, which contributes to crime both during war and afterwards," the authors observed.

In recent decades, Africa has experienced more wars than any other part of the world.

Rising crime had also taken a toll on business confidence. Surveys conducted for the 2005 UN World Development Report revealed that African business leaders were twice as likley to cite crime as a major impediment to investment, compared to their peers in other parts of the world. The World Bank has identified corruption as the single greatest barrier to development.

"Corruption allows favoured groups to monopolise the benefits produced by the state, and to demand extra rents from the public. Predicatably, this tends to alienate those who are not part of the inner circle, fuelling both crime and the growth of the informal sector," the report commented.

Studies undertaken by the South African Institute for International Affairs have attributed the growth of organised criminal operations in southern Africa to the porosity of borders.

Political analyst Mark Shaw noted that South Africa was largely seen as key to the development of organised crime syndicates: this was largely due to the country's comparative wealth, which was both a target and a source for criminal groups, he said.

UNODC research expert Ted Leggett pointed out that as the financial and transport hub of the region, South Africa's organised crime network was far more advanced than that of its neighbours.

Southern African criminal networks were especially difficult to police, as criminal activities in the region were "loosely organised", which proved difficult to penetrate, often effectively frustrated the efforts of the authorities.

Both analysts acknowledged the efforts made by governments to clamp down on crime, but said that despite significant legislative work, international assistance was needed to build capacity for implementation.

Crime was ultimately unaffordable, "impeding investment, destroying human and social capital, and undermining the ability of the state to promote development ... the impact on tourism and on emigration of skilled labour are both areas of particular concern for the region, particularly South Africa," Leggett told IRIN.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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