Hidden narratives of transnational organised crime in West Africa

Project Team

Gernot Klantschnig (University of York)

Elodie Apard (University of Ibadan)

Philippe Frowd (University of Ottawa)

Project Summary

Over the last fifteen years, West Africa’s role in illicit flows, i.e. the illicit trade in goods and people, and their control has become a central concern for international and domestic policy makers, with attention coalescing around threats such as drug trafficking and irregular migration. Despite this growing policy interest, illicit flows and related transnational organised crime (TNOC) in the region have not yet been systematically studied.

Our project asks whether crime of a transnational and organised form exists in West Africa, and investigates the understandings of it held by people acting on different sides of the law. The project assumes that the ways criminal and state actors speak about and understand their roles, i.e. their ‘narratives’, provides a helpful entry point into a better understanding of the everyday reality of participating in and seeking to counter criminal activities. The project is built on the observation that much of our understanding of TNOC in West Africa is based on official reports, statistics and other largely detached assessments about this phenomenon. Using the cases of drug trafficking and people smuggling in two of West Africa’s major trade and control hubs (Lagos, Nigeria and Agadez, Niger), the project seeks to uncover the ‘hidden narratives’ of TNOC in order to better understand the practices around TNOC in West Africa. The project asks three overarching research questions: (1) Is there such as thing as TNOC in West Africa? (2) What are the local narratives on TNOC and related visions of ‘il/licitness’ and legitimacy? And finally, (3) how useful are our conceptual tools for understanding TNOC in this regional context?


Our research has a wide range of beneficiaries and a broad audience, especially as organised crime in West Africa and related policy is much debated at present. Given there is a lack of empirical research on organised crime and the illicit flows that this is part of in West Africa, our study will offer a foundation for a better understanding of organised crime in the region, as well as for devising better policy towards it in West Africa and beyond. The project will be of interest to policy makers in national, regional and international agencies dealing with TNOC in West Africa, as well as activists and workers in the charity and NGO sectors involved in criminal justice, drug policy and migration. Our project has a three-pronged strategy designed to ensure engagement with the widest possible number of beneficiaries. First, the project will be guided by an advisory board constituted by academics, policy makers and activists. Second, two workshops will be held over the course of the project, which will recruit from among our key audiences and beneficiaries, such as a methods and policy workshop in Lagos in the first project phase and a second larger workshop at York on new directions in organised crime research in the global South. Third, we will disseminate the research findings through two policy papers, which will be designed with the direct input from key beneficiaries.

Contact Information

For further information, please email Dr Klantschnig at gernot.klantschnig@york.ac.uk.