Pretoria – A new report by the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) on online organised crime in Africa shows how digitalisation is transforming almost every major crime area across the continent.
“Online crime now represents a bigger security issue for law enforcement in Africa than ever before,” said the report.
According to the report, Africa continues to rank lowest in rates of internet connectivity in the world. In 2019, only 28% of Africans were reportedly using the internet, compared to 83% in Europe.
“However, relatively low rates of online connectivity have not stopped organised crime groups from taking advantage of the internet.”
Malware incidents are increasingly prevalent in Africa. In one East African country alone, the cost of cyber-fraud more than doubled between 2017 and 2018, reaching nearly US$6.5 million.
Even the criminal activities that have longed formed the “bread and butter” of organised crime groups are being digitalised.
Social media is used to facilitate migrant smuggling, as evidenced by the Interpol-supported Operation Sarraounia, which saw the rescue of 232 victims of human trafficking in Niger, 46 of whom were minors. The operation revealed that 180 male victims had been recruited online with messages that promised “decent work”.
As in other world regions, organised crime groups in Africa also use the internet to facilitate the sexual exploitation and abuse of children, leveraging digital tools to contact and solicit victims, as well as sell child sexual abuse materials.
“The African continent is also a growing global transit hub for the trafficking of drugs and a range of illicit commodities, with narcotics, pharmaceuticals, stolen motor vehicles and other goods sold and bought online on the surface, deep and dark web,” read the report.
Interpol said a key factor driving the increase in internet-enabled crime in Africa is that many countries lack comprehensive policies and strategies to combat cybercrime.
While the African Union (AU) adopted the Convention on Cybersecurity and Personal Data Protection in 2014, by January 2020 only 14 out of 55 AU member countries had signed it.
Interpol said the convention needed to be ratified by at least 15 member countries to enter into force. As of January 2020, only seven countries had ratified it.
“This shows that cybersecurity is still not perceived as a necessity by many African countries, which further exacerbates the problem,” Interpol said.