Conflict, weak governance and uncertain rule of law make East African states vulnerable to a host of criminal activities, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) said Wednesday as it convened a conference in Nairobi, Kenya, to develop a concerted response to the problem.
Spearheading the “Regional Program to Promote the Rule of Law and Human Security in Eastern Africa 2009-11,” experts are meeting this week to develop a comprehensive approach to countering illicit trafficking and organized crime, building justice and integrity and preventing terrorism.
“Poor governance, insecurity, conflicts, poverty and economic disparities among and within countries of the region are providing opportunities for transnational organized crime,” UNODC’s operations director Francis Maertens said, adding that the result is “widespread illicit trafficking in drugs, persons, money, arms, wildlife and timber products.”
Maritime piracy, especially along the coast of Somalia, is another recent example of what can happen when the rule of law is absent, he said.
In a news release, UNDOC said it is seeking to harness partnerships to pursue security and development together, in a plan of action with the African Union (AU), among other efforts, since high crime rates, poor legal systems and poverty interact in harmful ways.
In most East African countries both national crime-prevention policies and youth programs are lacking, UNDOC said, along with reliable data on the drug and crime problem.
In addition, criminal justice systems are under-resourced and most prisons in the region are overcrowded.
To address such problems, a project is being launched to assist the AU Commission, regional economic commissions and member States to mainstream justice and security issues into their development agenda.
“The key challenge for the “Program to Promote the Rule of Law’ is to translate the regional program into an integrated, effective, and sustainable set of activities on the ground,” Mr. Maertens said.