State Fragility and Organized Crime in West Africa

Elaboration 2018 13 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Region: Africa











Keywords: State Fragility, Institutions, Corruption, Organized Crime, Proliferation


West African states have become increasingly porous and vulnerable to the activities of organized criminal networks which negatively impact their security situations. At the same time, there are various national and bilateral concerns to tackle these problems and restore the security situation in these countries, yet they remain vulnerable to these quagmires, which are expressed in the forms of human trafficking/ smuggling, drug trafficking, armed robbery, money laundry and arms trafficking which have had tremendous effects on the security of these countries. However, the ease at which these crimes are executed across the sub-region signals the cooptation or involvement of some state officials, whose role is to pave way for the smooth execution of these of these nefarious acts for their private gains. In line with the foregoing, it has become necessary to interrogate the role of the criminal justice systems in the sub region. This paper examined the dynamics of corruption and institutional lapses within the context of state fragility in West Africa and determined whether or not the sub-region does lack the capacity necessary to accurately respond to the methods utilized by trafficking networks in their businesses viewing from their proliferation in the sub-region despite their threats and efforts made to counter them. The research made use of secondary data and the data was derived from an in-depth review of related literature on the subject mainly from online journal articles. The result of the findings showed that states’ failure to adequately position and manage their security apparatuses can give room for infiltrations that can entirely corrupt and defeat their entire security goal. Based on the findings of this work, it becomes evident that since West African states are deficient in this regard, their national security also been prone to such deficits.


Organized crime groups have continued to target West Africa for their activities not because of geography of its low standard of governance, low level of law enforcement and high rates of corruption (Brown, 2013). Brown emphasizes here that traffickers find it more favorable carrying out their nefarious businesses in West African states with the weakest governance by law while stressing that powerful cartels and terrorist organizations would blossom in West Africa due to its tolerant environment, large uncontrolled water, land, and air spaces.(Pape, 2005) sees that West African governments are too weak and corrupt with myriads of challenges on effective enforcement of laws and monitoring of coastlines and airports. However , weak, failing, and failed states are found in every region across the globe, the African continent has in particular been noted for these, leading many observers to claim that “…state failure is a broadly African phenomenon” (Englebert and Tull 2008: 108). A state’s strength or weakness is evaluated in line with its effectiveness, responsiveness and legitimacy in matters of corporate existence. Therefore (McGuire, 2010) has noted that since these nations are impoverished, unstable, marked by official corruption and without the capability to render general goods and services to the citizenry, they are therefore notably weak. He emphasizes that the sub-region is marred by institutional incapacity, non-transparent governance and extreme underdevelopment which has opened it up for transnational criminal activities. Although many nations in the sub-region have established legitimate multi-party democratic systems and have expressed a sincere effort to enhance accountability and civil society , they nevertheless remain unstable due to corruption which has had profound manifestations on them and have compounded their challenges to the extent that the majority of them rank terribly beneath on Transparency International’s Corruption index and this has impeded on every meaningful effort to establish and maintain reasonable measures to check these criminal activities (McGuire, 2010). This situation can best be examined in the context of (Atuobi, 2007) that corruption erodes the institutional capacity of a government and leads the state into fragility and destructive conflicts and subjects it to a perpetual bondage of institutional breakdown and violence.( Alen,1999) has therefore pointed out that criminal networks seek after these loopholes within state structures and take advantage of such feebleness to their own benefits and since West African nations provide for such breakdowns, they easily get vulnerable.

The (UNODC, 2008) explains that state fragility in the region is hinged on its high rate of poverty. The report notes that the sub-region is the poorest in the world, where all except three of its members are noted by the UN as the least developed countries including the least five countries with the poorest state of human security in the globe: Mali, Niger, Guinea-Bissau, Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone. The( UNODC,2008) report has also noted that given the lack of necessary resources, many African states do not have functional criminal justice apparatuses to handle cases of such criminal organizations and as explained in the report, a country like Guinea Bissau does not have prisons in which to keep criminals when convicted and apart from Nigeria with a relatively great size national police force , no other country in the sub-region has done so well. Ghana, for example, has just a trivial number of 74 police agents for every 100,000 people, with Niger having less than half of that. Even though the will to arrest criminals abound, there can be very little or no capacity at all to subject the criminals to trial and conviction because a lot of high ranking officials are on the side of the criminals. Examining these shortcomings,( Addo,2006) asserts that even the arrested criminals have nothing to be afraid of giving the fact that they can beat the criminal justice system usually by bribing the legal officials in the process or coopting important officials of government in order to overcome the laws. This development has thus eroded the efficacy of the states’ public institutions to effectively combat these crimes in the sub-region.

Therefore, suffice to state that these structural quagmires expressed through uncontrolled borders, feeble organizations of government , corruption and political patronage, are existing conditions that permeate almost all available reports of organized criminal activities in the sub-region and can be all expressed in two ways as follows: institutional inefficiency and corruption and they are the key reasons for the perpetuity of these crimes in the sub-region over the years despite successive government efforts.


An effective state according to Weber is an organization which has control over the means of violence within its territory for the purpose of law and order. Weber is of the opinion that a state must ensure to completely claim control and monopoly of the legitimate use of force within a given territory (Weber, 1921) which therefore explains (Olson, 1993) postulation that anarchic violence cannot be rational for a society. With regards to West Africa, (Herbst ,2000) has argued that defective control over the hinterlands of African states is responsible for incidence of disorder , stressing that the inability of African leaders to spread their tentacles of control across their territories is responsible for the emergence of criminality, while remarking that the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, for example, have clearly been gripped by disorder due to their government inability to project power. Therefore, in many West African states, there are very limited expressions of statehood and these give room for the success of criminal enterprises in the sub-region. While trans-national crimes in West Africa may be linked to vincible institutions, the high rate of corruption within these institutions especially among security personnel and border officials worsen the problem (Atuobi, 2007). In the same vein, (Medard,2002) notes that in many countries in the sub-region, political power is exercised outside the ambit of the formal state machinery of governance and political actors obviously exhibit clientelism, patronage and rent-seeking behavior and anywhere in which political and economic powers are expressed through informal and illegitimate administrative outlets, criminality may, therefore, be seen as an avenue to accumulate resources and retain political power (Mc Guire, 2010) . Hence, (Atubi, 2010) adds that this condition weakens the state and hampers the government capacity to provide services, as corruption has appropriated the resources needed for the functioning of the public sector. (McGuire, 2010) has also noted that the institutional decay of the sub region did not occur overnight but did after decades of misrule and economic stagnation, blaming the unaccountable political leadership in the sub-region for its successful development as an international transit zone for criminality and the Latin American drug cartels have therefore exploited this vulnerable condition of the sub-region, (UNODC, 2008). The report notes that the police can do very little about the situation, considering that they have very sophisticated and well-connected traffickers to face. More worrisome about the situation according to this report is what is seen as the lack of security correspondence. Therefore, available data on these crimes in the sub-region are unrealistic due to very little wherewithal to collect them and where the majority of the institutions are run through non-formal structures.


Fragile states are deficient in law enforcement and open to criminality. Rice and Patrick (2008) see them as being in lack of the requisite ability or the will needed to fulfill the critical responsibilities of government. The criminal networks on the other hand cannot operate in environments where laws are effective and as such look out for states like those of West Africa with defective legal apparatuses that provide safe havens for their businesses which attest to the postulation that the sub-regions governance and law enforcement are all linked to its underdevelopment (Brown2013). This analogy has been succinctly discussed below.


West Africa as a prominent environment for the activities of organized criminal groups is not about geographical location but of defective administration, defective law enforcement and corruption within the security system since. On this note, (Gberie 2016) has also noted that West African governments have not been proactive in responding to security needs and the challenges of governance except on highlighting them at the international scene. He asserts that many West African countries are greatly faced by the impact of insecurity manifesting in drug trafficking, irregular migration, arms trafficking, human trafficking and terrorism all of which have continued to soar due to lack of statistic. (Gberie, 2016) is therefore of the opinion that West African governments have been lukewarm in their responses to security matters. These countries are insecure owing to their failures in local governance, state authority and territorial control which have exposed their borders to all sorts of threats which impede on national security, regional integration and economic growth and development, (Andres, 2008). Andres notes here that the porous borders of the sub-region have consistently paved way for these illicit enterprises owing to the absence of adequate security measures. Therefore (Vorrath, 2013) adds that it is difficult to estimate with assurance the annual value of illicit enterprises in the sub region and what the situation is in the respective nations. Vorrath notes here that even the skepticism about the reliability of UNODC and other records used by the global community on the control of drugs concede admit that in about a decade , the sub region has become highly pulled into transnational trafficking activities. Another explanation was given for West Africa as an important arena for organized crimes evidenced in the complexity of the means of shipping illegal items. Sequel to this, a (UNODC, 2007) report, notes that the smugglers have properly organized and established direct flight linkages with small aircrafts between Latin America and Western Africa.



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State Fragility Institutions Corruption Organized Crime Proliferation




Title: State Fragility and Organized Crime in West Africa