Getting smart and scaling up: responding to the impact of organized crime on governance in developing countries

Getting smart and scaling up: responding to the impact of organized crime on governance in developing countries

The development landscape is rapidly changing and new centres of economic dynamism are emerging. At the same time, organized criminal activity, including illicit trafficking and financial flows, is increasing in these same settings, often fuelling tension or violence among elites or other groups vying for control of illicit markets.

Organized crime, whether transnational or domestic in nature, is established in countries around the world irrespective of their levels of development. However, as noted by the OECD, while “it may affect strong states, it is above all conflict-affected or otherwise weakened states that are vulnerable to transnational organized crime predations and may serve as bases for international criminal enterprises.” It is also increasingly evident that “one of the most important impacts of [transnational organized crime] on a state is the harm it does to the quality of its governance.

Yet, the development community has been slow to integrate an ‘organized crime- sensitive’ approach to its programming, despite a growing acknowledgement that organized crime can have important impacts on governance and development, and that organized crime and politics frequently interact to provoke varying degrees of instability.

The objective of this research project is to feed into these policy discussions by helping address the “critical research gaps” on the impact of organized crime on governance in development settings, tabling recommendations for targeted programming in governance areas affected by organized crime, and providing options for determining when to engage in a given setting.

The report presents six country case studies – Nepal, Ghana, Jamaica, Sierra Leone, Mozambique and Guyana. It offers a number of findings on each study including:

  • Out of the range of Nepal’s illicit economies, countering environmental crime promises greatest policy payoffs, while prioritizing countering drug production and trafficking the least benefit. Many interventions against human trafficking, a crime topic much favored by outside donors, have been ineffective
  • Trafficking of hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines represents a serious governance challenge in Ghana, particularly given the degree to which political and security actors at all levels have been involved in the trade
  • The capacity of Mozambique to respond effectively to both organized crime and corruption remains low.  Significant amounts of development assistance funds have been invested in both anti-corruption efforts and countering organized crime to date; yet these efforts do not seem to form part of an integrated strategy linked to longer-term development objectives
  • Recent examples of organized criminal activity reveal that prevalent norms of behavior and the structural weaknesses within and beyond Sierra Leone’s borders that nurture organized criminal activity need to be addressed by an integration of national, regional, and international efforts
  • Its entrenched political leadership and weak law and order has made Guyana’s political environment vulnerable to corruption and involvement with organized criminal activity
  • The key to resolving Jamaica’s political-criminal nexus lies with the country’s political elite. Organized criminal gangs are linked to the government through electoral politics, urban security, government development contracts, and other public works projects.
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