P047 – Crime, Coping and Resistance in West Africa and the Sahel
9 July, 16:00-17:30

Strazzari Francesco / NUPI
Bøås Morten / NUPI


Organized crime is closely connected to the mobilisation of people and resources, to governance systems and the state itself. While increasingly debated, phenomena such as corruption, smuggling and trafficking are nothing new to West Africa and the Sahel. Underlying definitions and working definitions are far from unequivocal ­ often falling seriously short of establishing firm conceptual distinctions between criminality, coping strategies, and various projects of political and social resistance. This panel aims to organise a methodologically informed and empirically anchored conceptual discussion about the layers between criminality, coping and resistance in West Africa and the Sahel. It will emphasize the intertwined, layered relationship existing between organised crime and armed insurgencies, contributing to questioning widespread notions such as Œcrime-terror nexus and Œungoverned spaces. Patterns of branching and branding, and a focus on the geopolitical imaginaries will be also analysed, with the aim of discussing the extent to which organised crime may represent a form of expression, coagulation and articulation of collective identities that fills the political and moral void left by vacant states, tribal orders in decomposition, and civil societies built around networks of patronage.

Criminalité, stratégies d’adaptation, et résistance en Afrique de l’Ouest et au Sahel
Le crime est lié à la mobilité et mobilisation des personnes et des ressources, ainsi qu’à la gouvernance et à l’État. La corruption, la contrebande ou les trafics en tout genre existent depuis longtemps en Afrique de l’Ouest et au Sahel. Pourtant, les définitions et les hypothèses de travail sous-jacentes ne permettent souvent pas de poser des distinctions conceptuelles claires entre la criminalité, les stratégies d’adaptation, des projets politiques ou des résistances sociales. Les stratifications de ces dimensions en Afrique de l’Ouest et au Sahel feront l’objet d’un débat animé par un souci méthodologique et un ancrage empirique forts. Les entrelaces et superpositions entre crime organisé et rebellions armées seront analysées afin de remettre en question les notions de « lien crime-terrorisme » et des « espaces non-gouvernés ». Les modèles de branchement (branching) et labellisation (branding), ainsi que l’analyse des imaginaires géopolitiques, seront également pris en compte, afin de discuter dans quelle mesure le crime organisé peut représenter une forme d’expression, de coagulation et d’articulation des identités collectives face au vide politique et moral laissé par des États vacants, des ordres ethniques en décomposition, et des sociétés civiles bâties autour des réseaux de clientèle.


Paper 1

Borszik Anne-Kristin / Bayreuth University

Organized responses to crime: evidence from semi-urban Guinea-Bissau

This paper suggests a specific variety of the assumed nexus between organized crime and “vacant states”. By drawing on fieldwork data from a semi-urban setting in Guinea-Bissau, it argues that from citizens’ perspectives it is rather the organized responses to crimes (committed by individuals) than the phenomenon of organized crime that worries them with regard to the national legal system of this ‘weak state’.
Organized responses to crime concern local dispute settlers’ frequent practice of communicating and cooperating with one another and often benefitting (materially) from the joint settlement of cases. Expressions like e ta banbun utru (“they support each other for the pursuit of their interests”) and e ta kolabora (“they collaborate [for obtaining material benefits]”) illustrate such forms of organized responses to crimes.
Since – as many Bissau-Guineans agree – “there is no justice” (djustisa ka ten na Guiné) in their country and because impunity prevails, aggrieved parties frequently cope with dispute settlers’ organized responses to crimes by activating supporters from outside the legal realm.
The paper will relate these two phenomena, discussed on the basis of a specific legal case, to general debates on organized crime, statehood, coping strategies and legal pluralism in legal sociology and beyond.

Paper 2

Bøås Morten / NUPI

Organisation without organisations – criminality, coping and resistance in the Sahel periphery

Drawing upon ongoing fieldwork in the Mali-Sahel region, this paper will show that there is no such thing as an ʻungoverned spaceʼ and that the crime-terrorʼ nexus simply does not exist in any form that makes it possible to depict it as a fixed entity. Rather, the logic of the relationship between criminality, coping and resistance in the Sahel periphery is one of ʻships that pass in the nightʼ, where different competing ʻbig menʼ aspire for the role of nodal points in different networks of informal governance: some mainly profit-driven, others combine income-generating strategies with social and political objectives (secular and religious), whereas yet others simply aim to cope (and hopefully thrive in the distant future). As the very constellation of these networks constantly is changing this is therefore acts and behaviour that is organised, but without any form of formal or permanent organisation attached to it. This makes it possible to combine various strategies of criminality, coping and resistance without necessarily loosing sight of neither immediate nor long-term objectives. The outcome is a narrative-driven space of co-existence, collusion and conflict in which the leaping together of different actors’ interests, ideas and actions only will lead to confusion and misguided policies and not analytical clarity.

Paper 3

Boutellis Arthur / MINUSMA & International Peace Institute (IPI)

Should and how could MINUSMA deal with Organized Crime in Mali?

By the time MINUSMA deployed to Mali in July 2014, transnational organized crime (TOC) had long been part of the reality of armed groups but also of the State apparatus. The issue gained considerable visibility through a number of publications and events on TOC and Mali throughout 2014, describing the problem but providing little actionable recommendations on what the UN could and should – or not – do about it. Similarly, Member States have increasingly recognized terrorism and TOC as both a direct threat to peacekeepers and a strategic threat to the implementation of the mandate but have so far given little guidance and means to UN missions for dealing with such threats and implementing effective stabilization mandates. This paper analyzes how new information collection and analysis tools within MINUSMA have led to a better understanding of the TOC issue, particularly in relation to armed groups, and its implications on the mediation process in particular. This however did not translate into new approaches in part due to the short-term terrorist threat to peacekeepers taking precedent (in the revision of the mission concept). The paper concludes on the need for UN multidimensional stabilization missions in contexts such as Mali, to develop mission-wide crosscutting stabilization strategies that factor in the TOC issue, including in its sub-regional dimensions, in collaboration with UN regional offices and agencies and Panel of Experts.

Paper 4

Raineri Luca / Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies (Pisa)

Mali: criminal(ized) economies and insurgent identities. A spatial analysis

Based on fieldwork conducted in Sahel in late 2014, the paper focuses on the changing dynamics of armed insurgencies, illicit economies and identity claims in Mali.
A first descriptive part attempts to shed lights on trafficking routes of key products and their relevant actors in the region. It aims to complement the existing literature that researched into similar phenomena either before (Brachet et al. 2011, UNODC 2008) or during (Lacher 2012, Shaw and Tinti 2014) the conflict with an up-to-date overview of the current hybrid (Boege et al. 2009) context. Taking into account the geographical dimension recommended in the study of organized crime (Bayart 2004, Snyder and Duran-Martinez 2009), the evidence collected will be displayed through a specific cartographic apparatus.
The second, analytical part assesses to what extent (if any) the war has changed the dynamics, rules and actors of criminal economies in Mali. It shows how blurred appears in this case the dichotomy between profit-seeking and rent-seeking behaviours (Berdal and Malone 2000). The validity of the crime-terror continuum theory (Makarenko 2004) will equally be questioned.
Building on the concepts of connectivity (Scheele 2012) and informal patronage networks (Utas 2012), the concluding, explanatory part suggests a reformulation of Reno’s categorization of African insurgencies (2011), and explores the relationship between identity claims, criminal(ized) economies and resistance.

Paper 5

Strazzari Francesco / NUPI

The making of a hybrid security order: dynamics of (para)militarization in the Sahara-Sahel region

This paper explores evolving regional security dynamics in the Sahel-Sahara region, delving into the way in which extra-legal flows of human beings and commodities have been upscaled, coming to be represented as a security threat, or even a key facilitator for terrorism, in a desert or semi-desert region where borders have historically been little more than lines in the sand. Far from assuming an ontological divide between (challenged) law enforcement agents and (increasingly powerful) insidious outlaws, the paper takes stock of the growing availability of weapons, evolving mechanisms of protection and extraction, new modes of border control, and mutually reinforcing phenomena of para-militarization and externally-assisted militarization. In conclusion, a number of reflections are presented regarding the way in which ongoing dynamics are related to broader regional and European security.

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