Bandits Control Madagascar Cannabis Economy – Cannabiz Africa

The cannabis market in Madagascar is unique among Indian Ocean drugs markets in several ways. Research for this study done by the Global Initiative Against Transcontinental Crime (GI-TOC) focused on Betroka, a region in southern Madagascar which is one of the main domestic sources of cannabis.

In Betroka, cannabis trafficking is controlled by large, hierarchically governed networks that exercise a significant degree of control over the territory in which cannabis is produced. These groups are also involved in other criminal economies: many have been involved in cattle rustling and banditry, and more recently informal artisanal mining, which is a significant and growing economy in the region. Some of these groups have used military-grade weapons and play an important role in the circulation of illicit firearms in Madagascar.

Speaking to the GI-TOC in an interview, one cannabis trafficker in the region reported that his gang – reportedly numbering in the hundreds and primarily made up of young men – reached a pact with regional law enforcement: the gang surrendered arms from former cattle-rustling operations in return for impunity in its cannabis venture. ‘Hery’ (not his real name) presented himself and his group as ‘Robin Hood’ figures, using cannabis as an opportunity for a livelihood which would otherwise be unavailable to those in his region. ‘We bring together hundreds of young guys … who have never set foot in school. We think of ourselves as highwaymen. The leaders of this country forget about us. … We are not criminals like you think, we are trying to provide for our families.’

The degree of local political power wielded by traffickers, together with their ability to impose a ‘tax’ on other traffickers wishing to operate in the region and their involvement in arms flows, suggest that they are not simply entrepreneurial groups but have some characteristics of criminal governance. 

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