How is Africa’s crime rate affecting development prospects? What short- and long-term measures are available to reduce crime rates? This report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime examines the issue of crime in Africa and its connection with underdevelopment, and gives suggestions for action by policy makers. It argues that crime is an under-appreciated source of suffering in Africa and that it is essential to understand the dynamics between conflict, crime, corruption and development.
Many of the development challenges that Africa faces are also associated with high crime, such as income inequality, rapid urbanisation and the youthfulness of the population. In addition, there is widespread violent conflict that is often linked with organised crime, and has profound societal after-effects that can promote crime. Due to Africa’s weak enforcement capacity, it can act as a conduit for illicit commodities, and organised crime thrives there due to high levels of corruption. These factors make a high crime rate in Africa likely but this is difficult to substantiate due to a lack of empirical data.
Crime has a disproportionate impact on vulnerable people, who are less well equipped to deal with all kinds of shocks. Its effects can create a vicious circle: Poor developing countries have high levels of crime, which in turn derail further development. Crime undermines development in a number of ways:
- It erodes social and human capital: It encourages skilled people to emigrate, destroys trust relations between citizens, makes them risk-averse and debilitates poor people economically through loss of productive assets.
- It drives business away from Africa: Crime is bad for investor confidence. Private inflows into Africa are extremely low, and there is a high rate of capital flight. Also, corruption is a major constraint for businesses.
- It undermines democracy: A corrupt state does not serve all of the people, which leads to social exclusion and lack of legitimacy. It can also provoke vigilantism as the public lose confidence in law enforcement, and has many direct and indirect costs for the national accounts.
Development makes everyone more secure, but social development takes a long time, and there are some well-tested strategies that can produce quick gains:
- There is a need for a detailed understanding of the nature of crime on the continent. Due to under-reporting, it is important that survey work is done periodically in every African country.
- African countries have demonstrated the will to adhere to international standards but need international assistance to intervene effectively. Donors need to help alleviate resource and capacity shortages and ensure that aid does not feed corruption.
- Approaches to peacekeeping must be based on alleviating the social tensions that lead to both conflict and crime. Crime and corruption prevention should be included in reconstruction programming, with assistance for transition to democratic policing.
- Integrating crime prevention in every aspect of grassroots development, in particular: Housing and urban planning, public works, health and education. Other key areas are victim support and interventions aimed at both supply and demand in the drugs trade.
- Corporate business should be part of the solution. Foreign direct investment is critical for Africa’s development but has also contributed to crime. Business contributions to crime prevention are not charity, but essential for nurturing investment.