The ease of communication provided by WhatsApp is a blessing to all of us. The messaging app has made it much simpler and cheaper to stay connected even with relatives across the globe. This has also brought its share of problems.
WhatsApp is allowing criminals to be isolated from each other but at the same time be coordinated. Not only can criminals form a network right across the world without even knowing each other, their messages are also secured by end to end encryption which makes it difficult for authorities to track them. WhatsApp end-to-end encryption ensures only you and the person you’re communicating with can read what’s sent, and nobody in between, not even WhatsApp.
Heroin Trafficking is big business next door
So, Mozambique has a new export, heroin. It is being estimated that this nasty substance is now the second biggest export for our neighbor to the East. Heroin is made in Afghanistan and transported to Europe via Africa (Mozambique). Smuggling involves many handovers at borders and to drivers, boat captains, and people with safe houses.
The drug traders are choosing Mozambique as a route for their commodity to avoid places where there are more strict rules and checks. However, Mozambique is a country where there are numerous police checkpoints almost like or maybe exceeding what we used to have in Zimbabwe.
In the old days using Mozambique as route thus involved bribing the police and getting some of them to escort the trafficker from their pick up to their drop off points. WhatsApp is making this much simpler. The whole chain can be coordinated via the app anonymously and the criminals are doing just that.
The route for heroin from Afghanistan to Europe involves more than 15 handovers. Photos are used to make handovers easier. Facilitators use the photographs to immediately identify their clients when they exit an aircraft, vehicle, or boat. In turn, the facilitators show the photographs to the client to prove they are the correct “contact” and will assist them in the next part of the journey.
Here’s a quote from a BBC article that talks about the heroin trafficking through Mozambique:
In the case of Mozambique’s heroin trade, a driver or boat owner will receive a WhatsApp message telling them where to pick up and deliver a package of heroin, and how to be paid.
No-one knows the identity of the person who sent the message or their location. For those people coordinating the trade, ordering the movement of 20kg (44lb) of heroin is as easy as ordering an Uber taxi, and totally secret
Smuggling of people is a big problem worldwide and now WhatsApp and its associated social media platforms are being abused by people who want to slip through borders and those that help them do it. Smugglers advertise on Facebook and other social media with a telephone number that must be contacted by WhatsApp.
Such facilitation is a billions of dollars strong economy itself. Europol says
90% of migrants arriving in the EU use facilitation services at some point during their journey, and the criminal turnover associated with migrant smuggling to and within the EU can amount to billions in a year.
Members of smuggling organizations use WhatsApp to notify arrival and coordinate fee payments and to communicate changes in smuggling routes.
Maybe we can take a page out of the criminal handbook.
If criminals can use Whatsapp to achieve evil ends perhaps we can use this similar network for good. There must be more opportunities to WhatsApp than meet the eye. Can we not organize ourselves as well in a similar manner that we can achieve a common goal in different places without knowing each other. A good and legal goal of course.
Freelancing is now a big business around the world. WhatsApp (the criminals have proven) can be an important platform to reach out and create networks of people who want gigs and those that have gigs. This is particularly important in Africa where WhatsApp is the the internet that the majority ever experience.