Outdated laws make Southern Africa vulnerable to cross-border crimes

By Lahja Nashuuta

Windhoek – Southern African region has become a haven for transnational criminal groups because of non-existent and outdated laws as well as inadequate patrol along the porous borders.

According to the Southern African Chief Justices’ Forum (SACJF) that met in Windhoek from September 20 and 22, the region also does not have adequate relevant border technology, while customs and immigration officials lack  regular training or are corrupt.

The forum that was attended by justices from from East Africa explored the current trends on the prevention of transnational organised crimes with special reference to terrorism, cybercrime, money laundering, trafficking in persons and proliferation.

Speaker of the Namibian National Assembly Professor Peter Katjavivi told the forum that today’s organised crime threat is broader and more complex and disguised than ever “because of the advancement in information and computer technology.

He also said the porous national borders in particular are challenge to some of the countries.

“For instance contraband may be sourced in one continent, trafficked in another and marketed in the third. This can permeate government agencies. This can permeate government agencies and institutions, fuel corruption, infiltrate business and politics and hinder economic and social development.

“In this way, it undermines good governance and democracy by empowering those who operate outside the law,” he said.

Katjavivi stressed that wildlife and forest transnational organised crime is acute in developing countries because of under resourced governments often lack capacity to regulate the exploitation of their natural asserts.

Since transnational organised crime is a growing threat to national and international security, Katjavivi noted that combating of this scourge “requires a concerted effort of all stakeholders and lot of commitment from law enforcement agencies”.

“There is a need to expedite all cases and this exercise could be assisted by ensuring that personnel in general are well trained and capable of making foolproof submission in the courts of law. This will go a long way to help our legal system to ensure that cases do not fall through the cracks,” Katjavivi said.

Although the concept of organised crime often evokes images of “mafia-like figures and secret societies” involved in acts like drug trafficking and cash-in-transit operations and poaching syndicates, Katjavivi said, organised crimes also include white collar crime involving business cartels and state institutions corruption.

“Organised crime, if uncurbed, has the potential to sabotage national institutions and national security organs to such a point that the state can be ungovernable,” the speaker warned.

Namibian Chief Justice Peter Shivute pointed out that the increase in organised crime is worrisome as syndicates are becoming more and more organised and hiding under layers of criminal veneers that are difficult to investigate and unravel.

“Organised crime does not only threaten peace and human security, but violates human rights and undermines economic, social, cultural, political and civil development of societies in the region.

“People are put on ‘sale’ and subjected to jumble through transnational crime. We can no longer bask in the glory of the end of slavery. Some transnational crimes such as human trafficking and smuggling of immigrants are still happening and that is what we call ‘modern day slavery” he said.

Shivute also said the problem “is a repeatedly wakeup call that needs attention from all parties involved in the administration of justice.

“It is sad that our productive people are driven into the unproductive edges of human existence under our watch, as trafficking in drugs overcomes the productive age group and kills millions and simultaneously puts our health sector and social security systems at risk” he said.

Chief Justice stressed that the alarming rate of organised crime is an evident that countries’ legal systems are no longer well suited to the new and complex nature of organised crimes and most of criminal justice systems are generally unprepared and not well resourced in the face of challenges posed by organised crime, particularly financial crimes and cyber-crime.

Shivute said there is a greater need for effective coordination and cooperation among all stakeholders, be it at national or regional level.

“In the circumstances, no government, no matter how strong or technologically advanced, can fight and hope to win the war against organised crime syndicates without cooperating with other governments, both regionally and globally” he said.

For instance, Namibia like several countries in Southern, central and eastern Africa has seen a recent increase in wildlife crime, specific emphasis on rhino and elephant poaching jointly undertaken by local and international syndicates.

The illegal and unregulated fishing activities that have compromised fish quality and stocks and the illicit movement of small arms and illegal ammunition has become an issue of particular concern not only for the region but in Africa as a whole.

Furthermore, human trafficking has continued to promote modern day slavery and exacerbated the challenge of child marriage on the continent.

The next stop to deliberate on the issue will be at Commonwealth parliamentary Cyber security and Cybercrimes workshop for Africa to be held in Namibia from November 23 to 24, 2016.

The conference aimed at assisting lawmakers to develop and implement robust cybercrime legislation as well as support the delivery and implementation of National Cyber security strategy.