Organized crime is becoming increasingly globally connected and more powerful. In their capacity to grow they are changing the rules of daily life for poor communities in urban centers. Organized crime units are providing social services for communities where government has failed to do so, and at the same time are becoming increasingly embedded in everyday life of poor urban communities globally.
The South Africa Node quotes Erin Torkelson (Researcher in the Organised Crime And Money Laundering Programme of the Institute of Security Studies based in the Cape Town Office) from his recent opinion piece (link below):
“ [nation-state] interdependence – international flows of people, goods and capital, improved communication and transportation networks – has made urban centres increasingly vulnerable to civic violence from non-state entities. Cities have become complex geographies where criminal groups are increasingly able to challenge national governments for authority and control – organised crime, terrorism, religious and sectarian riots and protests over perceived state failures are just a few examples of contemporary civic conflict. Of these, violence resulting from organised criminal networks is arguably the most common threat to Africa’s urban centres.
“The rise of criminal networks and their ability to form parallel systems of authority has been spurred on by globalisation, urbanisation and corruption. With regards to globalisation, gangs throughout the developing world have accumulated power over time … and now have close connections with global criminal networks and multi-trillion dollar illicit markets. In Cape Town, for example, the Americans and the Firm (names of gangs) have joined forces with the Chinese Triads to exchange abalone for the raw ingredients needed to make amphetamines. With these increasingly global business arrangements, the profitability of gangsterism has become almost limitless and has fuelled rapid expansion. Against this backdrop, escalating confrontation between criminal gangs and democratic governments seems inevitable.
“Moreover, the rapid urbanisation of Africa’s cities has frequently resulted in ‘grey areas’ that fall outside the rule of law and the ability of the state to provide protection and social services. Local authorities have frequently abandoned these areas, creating a power vacuum that is seized by those profiting off of illegal economies. Criminal networks use their money and influence to exert power within their communities through violence, fear and also beneficence. Were gangs to be entirely predatory, the surrounding community would likely cooperate with police to root out criminal groups. In the absence of effective state social services, however, criminal gangs secure loyalty from the community by providing employment, supporting local business, and funding sporting events and university scholarships.
“What results is a series of contradictions where legitimate state authorities can be involved in criminal business (bribery, highway robbery) and illegitimate non-state actors can be seen as more acceptable providers of social services and protection (bursaries, employment).”
Implications from SA Node:
“This is a fine local example of what the Global Risk Network has termed the “illegal economy” risk nexus: This nexus examines a cluster of risks including state fragility, illicit trade, organised crime and corruption. A networked world, governance failures and economic disparity create opportunities for such illegal activities to flourish. In 2009, the value of illicit trade around the globe was estimated at US $1.3 trillion and growing. These risks, while creating huge costs for legitimate economic activities, also weaken states, threatening development opportunities, undermining the rule of law and keeping countries trapped in cycles of poverty and instability. International cooperation – both on the supply side and on the demand side – is urgently needed.”
South Africa Node April 2011, pgs. 6-7
Erin Torkelson’s opinion piece: