ERITREA: Talks with Mr. Johan Kruger The UN Offices on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

  by Billion Temesghen

The United Nations Offices on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in partnership with the Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, IGAD and Interpol successfully held a three day regional workshop in Asmara, Eritrea. UNODSC’s Head of Transitional Organized Crime, Illicit Trafficking and Terrorism Programmes, Mr. Johan Kruger talks to Q&A.

“This workshop is a very strong message to the region and the world that Eritrea, and the Horn of Africa, are serious about encountering organized crime.”

Migration has been there for always. How does UNODC consider the concept of migration? And, of course, the crimes related to migration?

UNODC is a specialized entity within the UN Secretariat that doesn’t specifically focus on migration per se. We work on crimes related to migration and other crimes for that matter. As custodian of United Nations convention against organized crime and its protocols on trafficking and smuggling, we look at those criminal syndicates who profit from people’s misery, despair and aspiration to move and find better life in new places. The focus of UNODC is not so much on people moving or not; rather on those criminal syndicate who benefit from it.

What can you tell us about UNODC current engagements with a focus on activities of East Africa?

We have a number of offices in East Africa; our regional office in Nairobi. We cover 13 member states including the whole of the Horn of Arica and we implement our global mandate under the regional program for east Africa. Currently, the programming cycle is from 2016 to 2021. In other words, UNODC mandate has crystallized, by the Member States of East Africa, into a program of action that fits into the needs and priorities of East Africa. We have been active across the region for the past two and half years.

Which is presumably why you have been coming to Eritrea from time to time. Tell us about your working ties with the Government of Eritrea?

We have been working exceptionally well with the Government of Eritrea; with various Ministries as well as with the Eritrean Police Force. It has been mutually productive. Local authorities and Ministries have been forthcoming in terms of compliance with the Convention and related Protocols. We have been working extensively both on the policy side and the capacity building side. WE have seen great progress. Not only within Eritrea but also within the context of the Horn of Africa. And in that framework, we are delighted that the workshop we have hosted today in Asmara for the region has, in one sense, put a stamp of approval on the progress we have made both by the Government of Eritrea and the region as a whole.

Because we are talking about transnational organized crime, how would you explain the importance of having east African countries working together and sharing information? What are UNODC’s expectations from this particular workshop attended by several East African countries?

By it is very name, we are talking about crime that crosses boarders. You cannot counter this kind of crimes if you don’t work together. This workshop is in essence about mechanisms of regional law enforcement; of police coordination in east Africa. It is the first of its kind in Eritrea; and that by itself, is a very strong message to the region and the world that Eritrea, and the Horn of Africa, are serious about encountering organized crime. UNODC is delighted to host this workshop in Asmara, together with the Government of Eritrea. I am glad to be back in this beautiful city. But more importantly, it sends a very strong message that Member States in the region are ready to work together to counter organized crime. We hope and envisage that this workshop with be impacting in terms of outcome; to pave the way for enforcement of practical ways of improving cooperation in the context of Interpol. It will enhance mechanisms and practices of sharing information and pooling of resources within the region. Whether in terms of academic research, law enforcement, information or intelligence sharing, it is absolutely critical that there is a strong bondage among Member States.

Your office obviously possesses data and records of crimes that are relevant to the region. What is the broad picture?

The range of organized crimes that occur are not really unique to East Africa. Obviously, human trafficking and related smuggling of migrants feed on the innocent aspiration of individuals in quest of a better future elsewhere. For us, movement of peoples out of the Horn of Africa by criminal syndicates remains a key focus. We don’t focus on the migrants; but on the syndicates who take money from the migrants. Another key concern is drug trafficking into the Horn. The many dimensions of drug abuse in the region affect the youth and the people as a whole. It is a critical concern to us. We address the criminal side. Who is supplying the narcotics? Who is transporting them and who is selling them? But at the same time, we also work on the awareness of the problem. We try to help people get engaged and involved in many forms. We help in terms of reintegration, health care, alternative livelihoods… So, it is not solely about law enforcement it is also about the humanitarian side of it. On top of this, there are activities that include the movement of money. Money laundering always goes hand in hand with organized crimes. Where there is illegal trade there is illegal money. And similarly, on the rise in East Africa is cybercrime; meaning, the use of digital platforms to commit and direct crime. I hope that this workshop will engage the member states in a conversation  that will be fruitful in terms of sharing experience and learning about the crimes that we should combat together.

If there is anything you want to shed light on before we conclude our interview Mr. Johan Kouger.

As a South African working in East Africa, it is always wonderful to come to Eritrea. To be part of its people and what they stand for is amazing. Being from Africa myself, it is home. It is wonderful not only as an international civil servant but to commit the values and principles of the UN that I believe will benefit the people of Africa in a very practical way. That is at the heart of everything I do in the region; to address the problems to make a difference in the lives of many and not to address it from an academic point of view only but from a systematic point of view.

Thank you!