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International cooperation to combat trafficking and terrorism, factors in destabilizing the MENA region by University professor, international expert Dr Abderrahmane MEBTOUL is given on the occasion of U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s Maghreb tour in Tunis, Algiers and Rabat.

This visit is officially aimed at strengthening ties with these three North African countries to combat terrorist threats. This visit to Algiers follows that of the head of the US Africa Command (Africom) Army General Stephen Townsend. It is not an insignificant visit because the United States of America considers Algeria, through the actions of its armed forces and its various security services,  as a critical player in the stability of the Mediterranean and African region. This is because the stakes in the MENA region foreshadow significant geopolitical and geoeconomic reconfigurations. This region has become a sensitive area with significant rivalries between Russia, China and Europe.  

With recent geostrategic tensions, traffic has increased in particular with the conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Mali, Niger and Libya. Transnational crime refers to organized criminal networks and consequently to terrorism that benefits from the sale of illegal goods. These international illicit markets, anonymous and more complex than ever, generate billions of dollars each year. This threat is worrying, not only for Algeria but also for the world and especially Europe. In the Sahel, armed groups have increased their capacity for nuisance, diversified into terrorists, insurgents, criminals and militias with a convergence that unites these groups. The most troubling aspect of the connection seems to be how the illegal drug trade undermines efforts to pursue the political reforms and development needed to stem the radicalization and rise of terrorist groups in several already fragile African countries. There is a deep vulnerability of states in the region characterized by poor governance and strong population growth. Only the Sahel, which will see its population double in 25 years, and has more than 100 million inhabitants by 2020. This growth affects human security, especially food security in the region as a whole. This is compounded by inequalities that promote radicalization, due to a combination of factors related to the individual, his relationships, his community and his relationship to society. Nevertheless, there are economic issues, where the Sahel is a space with critical departmental resources. Hence the foreign interference that manipulates different actors in order to position themselves within this strategic corridor and to take control of wealth are numerous. Libya, a wealthy country with a population of no more than 7 million, is an example where different foreign actors clash in interposed groups. The Sahelian arc is rich in resources: after salt and gold, oil and gas, iron, phosphate, copper, tin and uranium are all riches feeding the lusts of powers wishing to ensure control. The drug trade, for example, has the potential to provide terrorist groups with recruits and sympathizers among impoverished, neglected and isolated farmers who can not only cultivate on behalf of traffickers but also popularize and strengthen anti-government movements. More recently, with the impact of the coronavirus epidemic, this situation of vulnerability is likely to increase. The world of tomorrow will never be the same again because of the geostrategic implications in the political, social, security and economic fields at the level of North Africa and Black Africa.  In an interview given to the American Herald Tribune of 23 April 2020, the author said: “We Have Witnessed a Veritable Planetary Hecatomb and the World Will Never Be the Same Again.”

In the face of these complex geostrategic situations at the regional level, international coordination is needed, including Maghreb integration, a bridge between Europe and Africa thus contributing to shared prosperity for the Mediterranean and African region to reduce migration flows.  (see two important works coordinated by Professor Abderrahmane Mebtoul and Dr Camille Sari (from the Sorbonne) were published between 2014/2015 at Paris Edition Harmattan “The Maghreb facing geostrategic issues” – volume 1-dealing of institutions and governance (480 pages) and Volume 2 of the economic strands in different aspects (500 pages) bringing together for the first time -36 international experts, military-political scientists, economists, lawyers, sociologists, historians, Algerian-Moroccan- Tunisian- Mauritanian and Libyan- European).

Faced with these new geostrategic challenges that are upsetting the planet, international terrorism takes advantage of the dysfunctions of state regulation and has at least five characteristics in common. First,  on networks often established in large geographic areas where people, goods and money circulate. Second,  command control and communication. Third,  is their need to process large amounts of money, launder them and transfer them across countries and continents. Fourth, criminals and terrorists tend to have private armies, hence the need for training, camps and military equipment. Fifth,  terrorists and criminals in the Sahel region share common characteristics: frequent clandestine operations seeking legitimacy in supporting populations with the use of durable guerrillas to control territory and populations; sixth, contempt for international norms, the rule of law, or the notion of human rights, and a desire to kill those who oppose them; seventh,  these guerrillas also create specialized cells specializing in the use of the media and the Internet to disseminate their propaganda and their demands. Thus, we have different forms of transnational organized crime that is an ever-changing industry, adapts to markets and creates new forms of illicit trade that transcend cultural, social, linguistic and geographical boundaries, and knows no limits or rules.

The combination of these various elements in too complex patterns induces a climate of increasing insecurity conducive to the destabilization of the states of the region with different forms of trafficking numbering eight interdependentFirst,  the traffic of goods amplified for some countries that subsidize necessities such as Algeria, accentuated by distortions in exchange rates. Secondly,  the “black” market for weapons and their ammunition, necessarily derived from the “white” market since each weapon is manufactured in a legal factory, is a theme that allows us to understand the wills of power of various geopolitical actors around the world. Arms trafficking is regulated by states that profit from it and the advantage of arms trafficking for terrorists is that they can both use it and make a profit. The best prevention remains a sales control, a contractual framework, i.e. define beforehand the use of weapons and the establishment of international conventions on the sale of automatic or non-automatic firearms.  Thirdly,  the rise of drug trafficking at the regional level has implications for all of North Africa and Europe where we can identify actors with geostrategic implications where drug traffickers create new national and regional markets to transport their products. In order to secure the transit of their goods, drug traffickers resort to the protection that terrorist groups and various dissents can provide, by their perfect knowledge of the terrain, thus contributing to their financing.

Moreover, according to some intelligence sources, if drug traffickers were a country, their GDP would rank them 20th in the world.  Fourth,    human trafficking is an international criminal activity in which men, women and children are subjected to sexual exploitation or exploitation through labour. Fifth, as we are currently seeing in the Mediterranean through migrant trafficking, which is an organized activity in which people are displaced around the world using criminal networks, many smugglers do not care whether migrants drown at sea, die of dehydration in a desert or suffocate in a container. Each year, this trade is valued at billions of dollars.  Sixth, the trafficking of natural resources which includes the smuggling of raw materials such as diamonds and rare metals (often from conflict zones) and the sale of fraudulent drugs that are potentially lethal to consumers. Seventh,   cybercrime,  which is linked to the revolution in information systems, can destabilize an entire country militarily, security and economically, encompassing several areas, including increasingly exploiting the Internet to take private data, access bank accounts and sometimes fraudulently obtain strategic data for the country. Digital technology has transformed just about every aspect of our lives, including the notion of risk and crime, so that criminal activity is more effective, less risky, more cost-effective and more accessible than ever. Eighth, money laundering is a process in which money earned by a crime or an illegal act is washed away. It is a matter of hiding the origin of the money to use it after legally (investment, purchases). The multiple tax-havens, clearing companies (also Off Shore) allow hiding the origin of the money.

This different traffic linked to the importance of the informal sphere produces malfunctions of the state apparatuses, in fact, governance, the weight of bureaucracy that maintains diffuse relations with this sphere and exchange rate distortions, representing in Africa according to the latest ILO-2020 report – more than 75/80% of employment and more than 20 50% of gross domestic product(GDP)  (Study of Professor Abderrahmane Mebtoul – French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) Paris December 2013- The informal sphere in Maghreb countries and its geostrategic impacts).   The main determinants of informality can be summarized as follows. First, the weakness of formal employment is obvious. This is a factor that explains the evolution of the informal sector in both developed and developing countries. As a result, the supply of formal jobs in the labour market can no longer absorb all the demand as the labour force; particularly the unskilled labour force is growing at an accelerated rate. Second, when taxes are numerous and too high, businesses are encouraged to hide some of their income. Third, the weight of regulation or the complexity of the business environment discourages business registration. Where the institutional framework is not conducive to the creation of businesses in a formal way, entrepreneurs prefer to operate in the informal sector and avoid the burden of regulation. Fourth, the quality of public services provided by the government is an important determinant of the informal sector because it influences the choice of individuals. Individuals active in the informal sector cannot benefit from public services (protection from theft and crime, access to financing, protection of property rights). That is one of the drawbacks of this sector. Fifth,  as a result of economic policy, the primacy of bureaucratic administrative management is required when transparent economic mechanisms refer to governance are required.

In short, Algeria’s security is at its borders; with Mali, 1376 km; with Libya 982 km; with Niger 956 km; with Tunisia 965 km as can be imagined not an easy task  It is because the reading of the threats and challenges facing the world and the region is based on the need to jointly develop a collective and effective response in a strategy on international terrorism, human trafficking and organized crime through drugs and money laundering. All safe for security has limitations that exist dialectical links between development and security. Also, the fight against terrorism implies, first of all, an internal development, linked to new governance of Africa, of regional sub-integrations where inter-African trade according to the UN only exceeds 16/17% in 2019, and to put an end to this inequality where a minority takes over a growing fraction of the national income giving birth to misery and therefore terrorism, referring to the morality of those running the show.  ademmebtoul@gmail.com