Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director


Regional Cooperation in Combating Organized Crime in Africa in the Context of COVID-19

  22 July 2020

Distinguished Ministers,

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It is my honour to be with you today to address one of the gravest challenges facing the African continent. 

Allow me first to thank our partners Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Rwanda and Tanzania, as well as the African Union, for organizing today’s important event with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

Distinguished Ministers and Representatives, your participation in today’s event speaks to the priority your countries attribute to the security, resilience and prosperity of Africa in the face of organized crime, particularly in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. It is a priority that we proudly share at UNODC. 

For too long, organized crime has acted as an impediment to peace and security, human rights, and sustainable development in Africa. It has taken advantage of circumstances to proliferate across the continent and drain Africa of its resources.

As the first African to hold the position of UNODC Executive Director, I am keenly aware of the great potential that the African continent and its people hold.

The African spirit is defined by innovation, passion, empathy and optimism. Africa is rich in its natural resources, just as it is blessed with its human resources. These are powerful assets that can drive the continent towards prosperity, and produce valuable contributions to humankind.

At the same time, I am acutely aware of the particular challenges that Africa faces in surmounting the chronic and debilitating threat of organized crime.

Organized criminal groups operate within the gaps in our systems. They thrive on poverty and inequality. In such environments, criminal groups are far more likely to find victims and recruits willing to engage in illicit activities, and use corruption to facilitate their operations.

As the social and economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis in Africa intensifies, African GDP is set to contract by up to 2.7 per cent this year. An additional 29 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty, according to the UN Economic Commission for Africa.

Vulnerabilities are on the rise, and organized crime is finding ways to flourish.

Cashing in on public anxiety and a surge in demand, criminals are profiting from substandard and falsified medical products. Fake cures or non-existent PPE are sold online with limited payment traceability.

Corruption risks are mounting as funds are being disbursed in COVID response and stimulus packages.

Impoverished communities living near wildlife can be increasingly driven to poach on behalf of criminal groups, as noted in UNODC’s World Wildlife Crime Report released this month.

Movement restrictions are making smuggling of migrants riskier and more expensive for people who are still fleeing persecution, violence and conflict, and leaving migrants even more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. The loss of livelihoods caused by the crisis in the long term means more people, especially women and youth, could fall prey to trafficking.

Feeding on such fractures, organized crime and terrorist groups continue to develop alarming and symbiotic relationships.

Organized criminal activity can be a source of financing and support for terrorism, particularly in Africa, where organized criminal groups and terrorist groups increasingly conduct intertwined and mutually beneficial operations.

Their common ground is the exploitation of people’s suffering and frustration, in a vicious and predatory cycle that devastates African societies.

During such volatile times, we must ensure that coordinated responses based on effective criminal justice systems can match and exceed the speed and efficiency with which criminal and terrorist networks operate across Africa.

Together, we must do more to address the conditions conducive to crime and terrorism in our societies.

We must elevate our commitment to achieve sustainable development in Africa, guided by Agenda 2030, and the African Agenda 2063.  

UNODC is working with our partners in Africa to effectively combat organized crime and help countries build back better from the COVID crisis.

We are actively engaged in Africa, with a field presence across 35 countries.

UNODC acts as a pivot for facilitating coordination between regional organizations, and between national agencies in Africa, as well as building the necessary capacities to combat organized crime.

We have extensive experience on the African continent in bringing together regional entities to align their efforts, supporting the work of law enforcement and criminal justice networks, and helping develop and mutualize data collection and monitoring on drugs and crime.

We have adapted our technical assistance to deliver capacity-building programmes online that are directly relevant to current challenges, for example to help countries implement the Nelson Mandela Rules while stopping the spread of COVID in prisons.

Ahead of the General Assembly Special Session against Corruption in April 2021, and as the UN sets to roll out a common position on corruption, we will engage our African partners on protecting recovery funds in Africa from diversion by organized crime, without impeding the flow of resources to those in need.

I salute African countries’ efforts in this area and look forward to more good practices emerging from the region.

To elevate our support for Africa to the level it needs and deserves, UNODC is currently working to formulate our Strategic Vision for Africa 2020-2030. Our aim is to consolidate all of our efforts for Africa in one cohesive framework, built on the priorities of Africa, as identified by African States.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Organized crime is an enemy that is empowered and emboldened by the very conditions that hold back our societies.

If we are to succeed against this enemy, we need partnerships and coordinated efforts to address gaps and build robust cooperative frameworks.

UNODC stands ready and committed to support Africa in this endeavour. We need a compact for a post-COVID Africa, bringing together donors, financial institutions, regional organizations and Member States to advance a virtuous ecosystem of peace, security and development.

We cannot let organized crime hold the future of the continent hostage. Together, we must strive to unleash Africa’s true potential and build resilient societies where the African spirit can thrive.

Thank you.