Development Co-operation Directorate


Illicit Financial Flows

The Economy of Illicit Trade in West Africa

This report is a first step towards building a qualitative understanding of the way illicit or criminal activities interact with the economy, security and development of West African states. Going beyond a traditional analysis of illicit financial flows (IFFs), which typically emphasises the scale of monetary flows, the report examines the nature of thirteen overlapping, and oftentimes mutually reinforcing, criminal and illicit economies, with a view to identify their resulting financial flows and development linkages. In taking this approach, this report identifies the networks and drivers that allow these criminal economies to thrive, with a particular emphasis on the actors and incentives behind them. As a conclusion to this work, this report proposes a series of policy considerations to assist countries to prioritise and focus their responses to reduce the development impacts of IFFs. Resolving the problem of IFFs requires responding to underlying development challenges, and tackling all parts of the problem in source, transit and destination countries.

Published on February 20, 2018Also available in: French


Foreword and acknowledgements
About the authors
Abbreviations and acronyms
Executive summary
West Africa: Regional context and susceptibility to criminal economies
Criminal economies and illicit financial flows in West Africa
Conclusions and recommendations
Research methodology
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Key recommendations

Development concerns that constrain the ability of law-enforcement officials to address criminal enterprises effectively: instability; limited state authority or presence; long and porous borders; and limited capacity, resources or political support for sustained investigations.
Leadership by national governments needs to be the primary driver of any kind of response, as reducing or returning Illicit Financial Flows will fail to translate into development benefits for ordinary people if elite corruption persists.
Conditions needed to ensure effective security responses by law enforcement: developing sustainable livelihoods; promoting the rule of law; enhancing financial inclusion; reducing corruption; strengthening the capacity and development orientation of the state and its institutions.