Entry points for development actors

It is important for development agencies to recognise that ‘understanding in this area is difficult from the outset, unlike health or education-related work, for example‘; and that, as ‘newcomers’ in this field, development donors have few tested policy responses to build on. By the same token, in a manner similar to the earlier debates about how (and whether) development interventions could be linked to and support security strategies in fragile and conflict-affected states, development actors will have to tread carefully with respect to engaging with organised crime and strategies to counter it. Considering the broad range of challenges involved, some of them very serious, there is certainly more than a grain of truth to the observation that

a combination of the extent of the impact of organised crime, but also the acknowledgement that many of its causes relate to a wider set of governance, social, developmental and other factors, has highlighted incontrovertibly that a narrow security approach will not be effective in countering the problem. If an effective and sustainable solution to organised crime is to be found, it is imperative that the weight of the development response is brought to bear (Global Initiative, 2016, p. 2).

The key question that then arises is how a development response can be brought to bear and make a difference in a complex, fast-evolving and not well-understood policy field that traditionally has been dominated by law enforcement and security actors and agendas, and where there is little evidence on what actually works or could work. A milestone on the road of the development community’s engagement with organised crime, the World Bank’s 2011 World Development Report on conflict, security and development approaches the issue by linking what it calls ‘large-scale, organized crime’ to the persisting and even increasing insecurity of a quarter of the world’s population: ‘insecurity not only remains, it has become a primary development challenge of our time. One-and-a-half billion people live in areas affected by fragility, conflict, or large-scale, organized criminal violence. […] New threats – organized crime and trafficking, civil unrest due to global economic shocks, terrorism – have supplemented continued preoccupations with conventional war between and within countries’ (World Bank, 2011, p. 1).

While not inaccurate, this framing of the development–organised crime nexus focuses the attention on (in)security and violence, glossing over the many other challenges posed by organised criminal activities and groups for inclusive and sustainable development. It is important to remind ourselves that there is no “automatic” relationship between organised crime, insecurity and—particularly—violence. Further, as Scheye (2015) observes, the political and economic challenges arising from organised crime are at least as important as law enforcement challenges – in some cases perhaps more so. Therefore, especially given state actors’ involvement in organised crime,

it appears that political and social responses to organised crime in fragile, conflict-affected and post-conflict states need to rise to the top of the agenda. In fact, it may be best to think of law enforcement as a discrete tool and a means by which to acquire increased leverage within an overall political and economic anti-organised crime strategy (Scheye, 2015, p. 4).

So an integrated approach to organised crime is needed. However, as the Global Initiative (2014) points out, while this idea is increasingly discussed it is less common in practice. In addition:

Development actors remain concerned about a subordination of development to security priorities caused in part by some early experimentation of an ‘integrated approach’ used in Afghanistan, where development aid was both delivered by and held contingent upon military access (Global Initiative, 2014, p. 3).

As mentioned above, ‘this has parallels to […] earlier debates on the need to apply integrated approaches to post-conflict state-building within the paradigm of fragile states’ (Global Initiative, 2014, p. 3) and to debates about the problems inherent in joining up development and security interventions in international peacebuilding scenarios, such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti and Sierra Leone. It has therefore been highlighted that, ‘without an overarching conceptual framework or approach, programmatic interventions are likely to be scattershot, or return to the default responses that often fund law enforcement capacity building or border security with little understanding of how that fits within the socio-economic or governance framework, or the linkages to a wider set of activities’ (Global Initiative, 2016, p. 2).

Fundamentally, ‘the efficacy of an integrated approach is affected by the way the challenge is originally cast. Organized crime is caught within the framework of law enforcement, justice and security’ (Global Initiative, 2014, p. 4). Yet this framing of the problem ‘vastly [underestimates] the extent of the threat. Organized crime is an evolving, innovative network, which leverages on economic, social and political opportunities to integrate into institutions of the state and to crowd out legitimate activities in its wake’ (Global Initiative, 2014, p. 4). ‘It has been proven now in a number of theatres that investments concentrated on building the capacity of security institutions […] cannot alone provide a sustainable solution’ (Global Initiative, 2014, p. 1). ‘One of the characteristics that makes organized crime challenging to respond to is that its negative impacts are so broad […] The erosion of state institutions, the dampening of legal trade and the threats to human security […] make it a multi-faceted threat’ (Global Initiative, 2014, p. 4).

  • In a meeting with development practitioners convened by the Global Initiative, participants expressed that they felt the “perception of the ‘securitization of development’ that has come to fruition in other areas where development has been mobilized to counter security threats, and this has been a key driver in the reluctance of development actors to engage with organized crime. This concern has been exacerbated by the ‘war on terror’ and the ‘war on drugs’ rhetoric that has permeated the lexicon of international cooperation in recent years. The development practitioners present expressed that they felt that there is often a dichotomy between security goals, which is target oriented and prioritizes quick wins and external action, where development is a more incremental process of sustained engagement to build capacity and sustainable change in national partners and institutions” (Global Initiative, 2014: 3).
  • Email communication of the author with one expert reviewer of a previous version of this Topic Guide.