An article in The Economist caught my attention this week. It was about how cocaine from Latin America is now being routed through Africa prior to arriving in Europe (see article). It speculates over whether or not Guinea-Bissau is the first narcocracy in Africa. The article resonated with a talk given at the RSA by Misha Glenny in March (see lecture details and access podcast of lecture), where it was argued that global organised crime is an inevitable corollary to the process of globalisation. If we were to have a theory of globalisation, then it would also have to explain the development of global organised crime.
Strangely enough, our path to this conclusion originated in a different direction. We were giving some thought to the ‘War on Terror’, and were contemplating the differences between the European approach (‘terror’ is an extended form of violent criminality that requires a policing solution) and the Atlanticist approach (‘terror’ is an act of war waged by a group upon a national entity that requires a military solution). Although these differences appear profound, in practice the policing solution requires the police to adopt a para-military stance and the military solution requires rules of engagement similar to armed policing operations.
An interesting feature of the current manifestation ‘War on Terror’ is how it operates internationally, using a network of groups. Previous manifestations have been essentially national and hierarchical. All of the benefits of globalisation that have assisted the development of the global economy (the internet, global communications, cheap air travel) have also assisted global terrorism (or, if you like, global organised crime). This is exactly the conclusion of Misha Glenny.
If this hypothesis is correct, then it helps to explain where we should look for the situation to develop. Although the violent organised criminality may manifest itself in the developed (interconnected and globalised) societies, much of it originates and develops in the fractured and failed states – the pre-moderns, if you wish. These ‘failed’ states are located in an arc that sweeps from Central Asia, the Middle East, through Africa, and into parts of Latin America – those areas that have been bypassed by the process of globalisation.
The analysis also gives a clue to the answer to the problem. If the absence of globalisation has assisted the development of global organised crime, then the inclusion of these states in the process of globalisation will also help to reduce the development of global organised crime. To date, the assistance given by the globalised world to Africa has been miserable. A vacuum has been created that is being filled by the drugs gangs of Latin America, the people smugglers of the Near East, and the Jihadists of South Asia.
This is why Africa matters to us. This is why poverty relief and debt reduction are such pressing priorities. It is vital to our own interests that Africa is absorbed into the global economy if we are ever to win the ‘War on Terror’. Beefing up policing operations will help to relieve the effects of the problem, but an effective solution to the cause of the problem requires much more effort on our part.