Mapping illicit hubs

This illicit hub mapping initiative is a flagship product of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime’s latest regional observatory, the Observatory of Illicit Economies in West Africa. The exercise was designed with two distinct phases.

The first maps illicit flows through a particular country and identifies key hotspots, transit points and zones of criminality, particularly in conflict areas/areas where illicit flows feed into conflict dynamics, in the West Africa region.

The second phase of the project entails further analysis of each illicit hub, and its relationship with regional stability. In order to identify the illicit hubs that are most important in terms of their knock-on effect on conflict and stability across West Africa, a quantitative metric has been developed: the Illicit Economies & Instability Monitor (IEIM), which provides a score out of 30 for each illicit hub. The monitor comprises three components: violence and instability, crime-conflict links, and accelerators. The IEIM enables the identification of areas where illicit markets play the most important role as vectors of instability and conflict in the region, empowering policymakers to prioritize specific areas for targeted action.

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Illicit hubs


Hotspots are defined as places where there is a strong presence of criminal actors, which may be involved in various kinds of illicit markets and criminal activities, and which may have the support of people with political power. These should be understood as hubs of illicit activity that feed into national and regional instability/security dynamics.

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Illicit hubs

Transit points

Transit points are defined as any location, including but not limited to border crossings (both formal and informal), seaports, airports and trafficking corridors, leveraged for the trafficking of illicit commodities. Underpinning the connectivity integral to illicit hubs is the infrastructure of mobility, namely roads, seaports and airports, which connects the local to the regional space, and beyond it to the international, connecting criminal networks to international supply chains and marketplaces, and facilitating connections between criminal actors.

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Illicit hubs

Crime zones

Crime zones are defined as areas with a high concentration of various types of criminal activities and actors as a result of weak and fragmented security and other institutions. Ethnic divisions or tensions may contribute to the situation. Crime zones are broader geographic areas than hotspots, and may encompass a number of hotspots.

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Organized crime and instability dynamics: mapping illicit hubs in West Africa

In addition to the interactive map, the GI-TOC has published an accompanying report providing further analysis and depth to the findings.

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The illicit hub mapping project was developed by a core GI-TOC team led by Lucia Bird Ruiz-Benitez de Lugo and Lyes Tagziria, including A. Gomes, Alexandre Bish, Alice Fereday, Babajide Ogunleye, Deo Gumba, Ghislain Fopa, Iris Oustinoff, Kelechukwu Iruoma, Kingsley Madueke, Lawan Danjuma Adamu, Marcena Hunter, Mouhamadou Kane, Peter Tinti and Sébastien Hervieu. Furthermore, the research would not have been possible without the invaluable input of researchers from across the region and beyond. The GI-TOC also thanks members of the Technical Reference Group for their contributions to the development of the Illicit Economies and Instability Monitor (IEIM), to the participants in the verification workshops of the mapping and IEIM results and to colleagues who generously agreed to review the report. Credit to José Luengo-Cabrera, the GI-TOC Publications team and Café.art.br for editorial, design, visualization and website.


The information gathered as part of the illicit hub mapping initiative comes from a multitude of sources, including an extensive review of the relevant literature, GI-TOC’s institutional expertise, key informant interviews, roundtables and fieldwork. Overall, across all stages of the research, the GI-TOC research team engaged with 655 different stakeholders, including 103 individuals from international organizations, 170 national government stakeholders and 382 civil society and community members. Furthermore, data presented on the online illicit hub mapping tool derives from several sources, including the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), the Missing Migrants Project (IOM), the U.S. Geological Survey, NaturalEarth, OurAirports and other open sources.