The threat of terrorism and organised crime is becoming increasingly entrenched across Africa, the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) told the UN Security Council last week.
UNODC executive director Ghada Waly has warned that illegal trafficking is depriving millions of a decent livelihood. She said there were around 3,500 victims of terrorist acts in Sub-Saharan Africa last year, nearly half of those recorded worldwide
According to UNODC, the vast Sahel region in particular has become home to some of the most active and deadly terrorist groups. Illegal exploitation of precious metals and minerals, such as gold, silver and diamonds, is believed to be fuelling the extremists with significant sources of income.
“We have established that illegally mined gold and other precious metals are being fed into the legitimate market, providing huge profits for traffickers,” said Waly.
Wildlife trafficking has also been reported as a possible source of funding for militias, she added, with the illegal trade in ivory alone generating $400mn in illicit income each year.
According to Waly, almost 500mn Africans were living in extreme poverty last year. The climate emergency and the COVID-19 pandemic have also wreaked havoc on already fragile economies across Africa.
Waly said sustainable development would be impossible without peace and stability for the continent, noting that UNODC is “the guardian” of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, the main international bulwark against the black marketeers.
“We support member countries to put in place the policies, legislation, and operational responses required to better address terrorist threats,” she said. “In 2021 alone, we implemented 25 counter-terrorism projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, with over 160 activities delivered, and trained 2,500 people.”
In the Sahel today, the UNODC works with the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute to strengthen the skills of criminal justice officials across agencies, share intelligence, and “bring down terrorist networks and those who fund them.”
UNODC also supports ten countries across the Sub-Saharan region to improve their frameworks to counter terrorist financing and money laundering, including the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Niger, and Somalia.
Waly said she was especially proud of UNODC’s youth-driven, Peace-building project, which in partnership with UNESCO, aims to empower 1,800 young people to become ‘weavers of peace’ in the cross-border regions of Gabon, Cameroon, and Chad.
“Mineral supply chains are often linked to child abuse, human trafficking, forced labour and other human rights violations. With 60% of Africa’s population under 25 years of age, young people are both the future of the continent but also its most vulnerable citizens,” Waly told the Security Council.
“UNODC remains fully engaged to support Africa’s fight against the criminal trade in wildlife and natural resources”, she said, adding that she welcomed the engagement of the Council, “to the growing concerns that these illicit revenues are financing terrorist activities and armed groups.”