Smuggling syndicates gain foothold in Namibia

The market for exotic hardwood is one of the largest illegal enterprises in Namibia, while illegal drugs are a growing problem.

04 October 2021 | Crime

ELLANIE SMIT

WINDHOEK

Although Namibia is rated among countries globally with low organised crime, organised criminal networks are well established within the country and working in all illegal markets.

The market for exotic hardwood is one of the largest illegal enterprises in Namibia, while illegal drugs, especially cocaine, seems to be a growing problem in the country.

An analysis into Namibia’s criminal markets indicated that there are well-established criminal networks with syndicates working on an industrial scale to smuggle wood to East Asia, using Namibia as an export hub.

However, according to the latest Global Index of Organised Crime by the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime (GI-TOC), Namibia outperforms most countries in the world with a crime rate of 4.33 out of 10. The global average is 4.88.

Namibia is ranked 130th out of 193 countries globally and 42nd in Africa regarding organised trade.

According to the index, the market for exotic hardwood is one of the largest illegal industries in Namibia and runs parallel to the legal markets for wood and charcoal.

Flora and fauna crime

When it comes to the environment, however, the ‘flora crime rate’ is as high as 6.5, while fauna crime gets a score of 4.5.

The report said this is due to several consignments of illegal timber exported from the north of the country to China and Vietnam in 2020.

“Criminality surrounding flora species is rife. Corrupt forestry officials issue fraudulent permits for the harvesting and exporting of rosewood in particular. The trade is facilitated by local criminal actors and Chinese cartels, and stimulated by high and increasing demand from East Asia.”

It added that Walvis Bay is also a transit point for other African wood destined for Asia, including timber from Mozambique and Angola.

Drugs

Meanwhile, drugs are also a growing problem in Namibia, with a crime rate of 4.5 specifically for cocaine trafficking as well as synthetic drugs.

According to the report, Namibia’s involvement in the cocaine trade has grown, both in terms of its domestic consumption and its role as a transit country.

“Namibia is a minor trans-shipment point for cocaine coming from South America, with onward shipping to South Africa.”

It further added that the availability of synthetic drugs is growing, particularly in urban and tourist centres.

The industry is dependent on imports from South Africa and mandrax is often confiscated by authorities.

“Synthetic drug use is likely to have increased during the Covid-19 liquor ban. However, the incidence of syntheticopioid use is marginal, as pharmacies and medical doctors are well regulated and law enforcement agencies have a strong grip on distribution networks.”

The report further said Namibia is emerging as a trans-shipment point for Afghan heroin, which enters the country overland from the south.

“From Namibia, it either continues into West Africa or is shipped to destination markets in Europe.”

Domestic consumption is growing, especially of adulterated and

cheaper versions of the drug. Nevertheless, no foreign organised crime groups have succeeded in establishing a foothold in the heroin market.

“Its seizures rates are lower than for other drugs and, overall, the heroin market in Namibia is fairly limited.”

Despite being the most-seized drug in the country, Namibia is not a noteworthy transit hub for cannabis, the report noted.

In terms of human trafficking, while it exists in Namibia, it is not widespread, and is generally confined to specific groups. Criminal syndicates appear to be increasingly involved in poaching and wildlife trafficking.

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