Crime and development in Africa

While the data are incomplete in many respects, all available indicators suggest that Africa has a serious crime problem, including both violent and property crime, which may be interfering with the continent's development.

On reflection, this should come as no surprise, considering that crime rarely occurs in isolation. It is one of a range of co-factors associated with underdevelopment, all of which are present in Africa. Globally, crime is strongly associated with:

  • High levels of income inequality-Africa hosts some of the most unequal societies in the world;
  • Rapid urbanization-Africa is urbanizing at about twice the global rate;
  • A high share of unemployed youth in the population-44 per cent of sub-Saharan Africans are under 15 years of age;
  • Poorly resourced criminal justice systems-Africa has the world's lowest ratios of police and judges to members of the public, with consequently low conviction rates.

Crime and contemporary forms of conflict

Why fighting Crime can assist Development in Africa - ReportThe proliferation of violent conflict would also lead us to predict high levels of crime in Africa. The brutalizing effect of contemporary warfare, in which civilians are targeted by terror campaigns, can have a long-term impact on the society. Conflict destroys the capacity of the state to secure order and to provide services to its citizens, thus contributing to crime both during and after war. Conflict also overlaps with organized crime inasmuch as insurgent and terrorist groups often fund themselves through criminal activities, which they do not necessarily give up once peace treaties have been signed.

The growth of transnational organized crime

Africa is also increasingly afflicted by transnational organized crime. While in the past only the use of herbal drugs such as cannabis and khat was widespread in Africa, more recently the continent has become a transit area for international drug traffickers who have contributed to the development, in some urban areas, of problems with cocaine and heroin. With regards to the global challenge posed by human trafficking, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has reported that 89 per cent of African countries are affected by human trafficking flows. They are either source, transit or destination countries. The continent is further undermined by the theft and smuggling of its natural resources, including minerals, petroleum and wildlife.

In addition to the human suffering caused by crime itself, there is good reason to believe that, in a number of ways, crime is hurting the development process.

Crime is driving business away from Africa

According to surveys conducted for the 2005 World Development Report, African business leaders are twice as likely to say that crime is a major impediment to investment than their peers in other parts of the world. When asked about obstacles to investment, African business leaders rank corruption highest. Moreover, the World Bank has identified corruption as the single greatest barrier to development. Corruption is also believed to be behind the large bureaucracies and endless red tape that characterize some African business environments.

Crime erodes Africa's human and social capital

Crime can have a far greater impact on the lives of citizens of poor countries than of rich ones. Crime lowers quality of life and may contribute to the emigration of skilled labour. Crime also destroys public trust and undermines the basic social functions that are essential for healthy societies. Africans, for example, are more likely to say they are afraid to walk alone in their area at night than people of other regions. By impeding movement, crime impairs access to employment and interferes with small business and educational activities.

Crime undermines the ability of the African state to promote development

On a day-to-day level in many parts of Africa, corruption blocks the delivery of development assistance to the public, as government officials demand payment before providing service. Corruption allows favoured groups to monopolize the benefits produced by the state and to demand extra rents from the public, fuelling both crime and the growth of the informal sector. Large informal sectors and corruption-related tax avoidance deplete the funds available for development, and those monies that remain may be misallocated to graft-rich public works projects, rather than being invested in grassroots initiatives. In the end, crime debilitates democracy itself, as the people begin to see the state as an adversary rather than a representative body.

Africa is rising to these challenges

There is presently great international momentum around development in Africa. African leaders have been promoting projects for democratic reform and economic growth for the people of their countries, and there are signs of progress on many fronts, including in creating a legislative and institutional framework to fight crime. The time is ripe for tackling this important barrier to African development.

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Crime is a major constraint on investment - Graph

This article is a summary of the report (PDF)  Why Fighting Crime Can Assist Development in Africa: Rule of Law Protection of the Most Vulnerable.