A Triangle of Vulnerability – Illicit Trafficking off the Swahili Coast

Reports such as this should serve as intelligence for any law enforcement entity within the region as well as countries impacted by such illegal activities downstream.

A triangle of vulnerability for illicit trafficking is emerging as a key geographic space along Africa’s eastern seaboard – the Swahili coast.
At one apex of this triangle is Zanzibar, a major hub for illicit trade for decades, but one that is currently assuming greater importance. Further south, another apex is northern Mozambique. This area is experiencing significant conflict and instability, and is increasingly a key through route for the illicit trafficking of heroin into the continent and wildlife products from the interior. The final apex of the triangle is out to sea: the Comoros islands, lying 290 kilometres offshore from northern Mozambique and north-east of Madagascar. Comoros is not yet a major trafficking hub, but perennial political instability and its connections into the wider sub-regional trafficking economy make it uniquely vulnerable as illicit trade continues to evolve along the wider Swahili coastal region. These three apexes are linked by illicit economies and trade routes which take little heed of modern political boundaries.

Two main factors underlie the illicit markets that form the primary focus of this study. First, the powerful market demand for illicit wildlife products from Asia (and China in particular), and second, the steady growth in the volumes of heroin moving down the coast, with landings being made further and further south. The Indian Ocean islands themselves have long had serious challenges with heroin trafficking and use, and these are being exacerbated. Developments in Zanzibar, northern Mozambique and Comoros will have a crucial impact on wider patterns of trafficking and trade across the Swahili coast as a whole. For example, as we doc- ument the trade in endangered species from Madagascar which flows to Zanzibar and Comoros, Madagascar is also seen as a potential risk area for an increase in heroin trafficking.

At the time of writing, the impact of COVID-19 in the wider region was just becoming clearer as countries entered lockdown and began to restrict some forms of trade. The effect of these developments on the illicit political economy will still unfold in time to come.

Source: A Triangle of Vulnerability – Illicit Trafficking off the Swahili Coast authored by Alastair Nelson, June 2020

Also read: The Heroin Coast

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