Unlike most other developed countries, Italy hosts a few, large-scale, century-old criminal organizations that not only engage in profit-making criminal activities but also exercise quasi-political functions in their areas of settlement, heavily influencing the local economic and political life. These criminal organizations—in short “mafias”—are frequently seen as the ultimate epitome of organized crime. The first section of the essay briefly reconstructs the history of the concept “mafia,” singling out the main meanings that have over the decades been attached to it. The second presents the main criminal organizations currently regarded as mafias in Italy. The bulk of the essay argues that four characteristics distinguish mafia organizations in Italy and mafia-type organizations elsewhere: (1) the organizations’ longevity, (2) their organizational and cultural complexity, (3) their claim to exercise a political dominion over their areas of settlement—a claim that has over the decades been at least partially recognized by the local population and parts of the official government, and (4) their resulting ability to control legitimate markets. The essay argues that the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and the Calabrian ’Ndrangheta meet all four characteristics, whereas several groups of the camorra, which are based in Naples and its surroundings, meet the latter two. The essay concludes by briefly summarizing government and societal anti-mafia action from the early 1990s onward and considering how mafia groups have reacted to it.
Nigerian criminal organizations and networks are unique in both their ubiquity and the diverse nature of their activities. Criminals from Nigeria and, to a lesser degree, elsewhere in West Africa are active in every country with criminal opportunities to be exploited. The author looks at the political, social, and economic contexts from which Nigerian criminal organizations emerged (and which continues to sustain them today), seeks to explain how they established a global presence, and explores the range of organizational structures they adopt and their various activities. The author argues that the success of Nigerian organized crime can be understood in terms of a mix of the incentives and pressures for criminal activity, the availability of opportunities, and the resources or capacity to exploit these opportunities, at both the national level and the global level. He concludes that the impediments to the continued growth of organized crime are weak, as the trends facilitating expansion remain powerful.