The United Nations says Africa's high-crime level is impeding the continent's
development, and is calling for African leaders and the international community to take measures to curb crime and corruption.
The Eastern Africa regional representative for the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, Carsten Hyttel, says, it appears Africa has a serious crime problem. Crimes include; murder, rape, assault, robbery, fraud, corruption, and human, drug and resource trafficking.
Mr. Hyttel was speaking at the launch of a U.N. report describing crime in Africa, how it hinders development, and what should be done to break the cycle of crime and poverty.
He says a major cause of crime in Africa is the continent's wide income disparity.
"The 10 richest percent of the population in Africa has an income which is 31 times higher than the poorest 10 percent. Marginalized people may see crime as a way of redistributing wealth, or may vent their frustration at social injustice through violence, often against the most vulnerable targets," explained Mr. Hyttel.
It is not only low-income people who may use crime as a way of redistributing wealth. The report says that as a result of the rich bribing tax officials, the tax base is eroded, which leaves less money for the poor.
The report says corruption, which ranges from high-level embezzlement to the sale of documents, distorts the rule of law and blocks social reform and economic development.
According to the report, crime hinders Africa's development by driving business away from Africa, destroying the quantity and quality of the workforce, and in the case of corruption by eroding the tax base and misallocating funds meant for education and health services.
He said exact statistics on crime in Africa are hard to come by, in part because most crimes go unreported. For instance, he said in Uganda only about 17 percent of crimes are reported.
Mr. Hyttel said other contributing factors to Africa's high crime rate include: a large percentage of unemployed youth, a shortage of police and judges, low conviction rates, and upheaval caused by war.
Mr. Hyttel described how crime hits low income Africans particularly hard. "Injuries produced by violent crime can be devastating for people with little access to medical care and who rely on their physical labor to earn a living," he said. "Property crime can undermine livelihoods when productive assets are targeted. The movement of people can be constrained by fear of crime especially in countries where many people travel by foot. This in turn limits their ability to access education and business activities."
The report urges African leaders, institutions, donors, and others to implement a range of measures to fight crime.
These include: setting up and implementing anti-crime legislation; investing in victim support and other social programs; and assisting countries to abide by international conventions such as the U.N. Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the U.N. Convention Against Corruption.