The threat of terrorism and organised crime is becoming increasingly entrenched across Africa, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime told the Security Council on Thursday, warning that illegal trafficking is depriving millions of a decent livelihood.
The vast Sahel region in particular has become home to some of the most active and deadly terrorist groups, and it is essential to gain more understanding of the links between organised crime and terrorism, through rigorous data collection, she added.
The evidence is there that the illegal exploitation of precious metals and minerals such as gold, silver and diamonds, are fuelling the extremists with significant sources of income, and benefitting the groups that control extraction, and trafficking routes.
She said based on UNODC research, “we have established that illegally mined gold and other precious metals are being fed into the legitimate market, providing huge profits for traffickers.”
Wildlife trafficking has also been reported as a possible source of funding for militias, she added, with the illegal trade in ivory alone generating $400 million in illicit income each year.
With a population of around 1.3 billion, almost 500 million Africans were living in extreme poverty during 2021, she told ambassadors.
“This criminal exploitation strips the people of Africa of a significant source of revenue. It robs the millions of people who depend on these natural resources for their livelihoods. And it fuels conflicts and exacerbates instability.”
The climate emergency and the COVID-19 pandemic have also wreaked havoc on already fragile economies across Africa, and illicit trafficking only serves to further jeopardize development and wind back progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.
She 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…In 2021 alone, we implemented 25 counter-terrorism projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, with over 160 activities delivered, and trained 2,500 people.”
She told the meeting that in the Sahel today, the UN training workshops are being organized with The UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, to strengthen the understanding and skills of criminal justice officials to work 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 in the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Niger, and Somalia.
Ms. Waly said UNODC was also working to strengthen inter-agency coordination among intelligence services, law enforcement, financial intelligence units and prosecutors.
She said that conflict zones in Africa were being disproportionately affected by illegal mining and trafficking in precious metals.
“Mineral supply chains are often linked to child abuse, human trafficking, forced labour and other human rights violations. With 60 percent of Africa’s population under 25 years of age, young people are both the future of the continent but also its most vulnerable citizens.”
But she said once empowered, young people can become powerful change agents: “They can create a better future and advocate on behalf of themselves and their communities and protect their natural resources.”
Ms. Waly said she was especially proud of UNODC’s youth-driven, Peace-building project, which in partnership with UNESCO, empowers young people to become ‘weavers of peace’ in the cross-border regions of Gabon, Cameroon, and Chad.
The aim, she said, was to create a network of 1,800 young “weavers of peace”. To enable them to become actors in conflict prevention and peace-building in cross-border regions, and identify alternative ways of making a living for those in vulnerable cross-border communities.
“UNODC remains fully engaged to support Africa’s fight against the criminal trade in wildlife and natural resources”, she assured ambassadors, adding that she welcomed the engagement of the Council, “to the growing concerns that these illicit revenues are financing terrorist activities and armed groups.”
She said the UN’s crime fighting effort was ready to assist all African in securing their “right to peace, stability, justice and prosperity – for today and future generations. Leaving no money for terrorists. Leaving no one behind.”