Investigations in the Middle East & Africa: Key Challenges and 5 Strategies to Overcome Them

Investigations and evidence gathering in the Middle East & Africa can be challenging with limited public records. Discover 5 strategies to support successful investigations in the region.

A low angle shot of a person standing near Burj Khalifa hotel during sunset in Dubai, UAE

The Middle East and Africa are both regions with highly varied cultures, working practices and languages. While each of the 72 countries is unique there are some common themes and challenges that we, and our wider network partner community, have observed when it comes to conducting investigations and gathering evidence in the region.

In a recent webinar we conducted in conjunction with the Association of Corporate Investigators, 66% of attendees found a lack of cooperation (such as with local authorities) as a significant barrier to gathering evidence in these regions. In addition 61% of attendees cited a lack of reliable information as a key challenge. What other challenges are there for investigators in the region and how can these be overcome to meet the requirements for gathering intelligence and information?

Key Challenges for gathering evidence in the Middle East & Africa

Inconsistent public record availability

Many parts of Africa and the Middle East do not have digitised public records. For those that do offer digital databases there are often limitations or inconsistencies to that data. Records can be patchy, non-existent or even withheld. In addition, retrieval times can be unpredictable when compared with many other global registries and can often require  local help to access.

Barriers to desktop research

Desktop data sources are limited in many countries in the region. Those that do exist can often be subject to other biases and influences - both hidden and open - that require interpretation. For example if you are looking at media research in Morocco, those with royal family connections often won’t appear. Here, understanding those limitations and potential political biases is crucial to an accurate analysis of the public domain information.

Finding the right people

Well qualified, independent investigators in these regions can either be hard to locate or in high demand. Businesses may consider using investigators from outside of these regions but there will inevitably be cultural barriers that would reduce the quality of information gathered. For example, investigative approaches that may be fruitful in Western Europe or North America might be considered too aggressive and therefore unsuccessful in the local context.

Identifying relevant human sources and interviewees

A more specific challenge can be finding relevant witnesses and sources, communicating with them about sensitive issues and finally recording that information accurately, particularly in sensitive environments or contexts. Even when good sources have been identified, getting them to speak can be a challenge, either for logistical/transport or technological reasons.

Asking questions which might be relatively innocent in a home context might be misinterpreted in these regions, particularly anything that might imply criticism of the local government.

The context of information is also critical and requires an awareness of potential allegiances (i.e political, tribal, religious) of your interviewees to assess their credibility and any potential biases. Such allegiances are often very strong and will determine someone’s point of view on issues.

5 Strategies for Successful Investigations in the Middle East & Africa

For those conducting or overseeing investigations in the region there are a number of potential solutions that should support successful investigations and evidence gathering.

1. Be prepared

Probably the number one rule for every investigator - forewarned is forearmed! Conducting preparatory work and becoming acclimatised to the local environment is hugely beneficial, especially if you are tasked with an internal investigation in-country. Preparation doesn’t have to be overly time-consuming, it could be a case of extending your own reading, conversations with a knowledgeable colleague or with a local partner on the ground.

2. Build a multicultural team

Prioritise working with professionals who understand both the evidence gathering standards of your local jurisdiction, and the local cultural, political, and business context. Building a multicultural and multifunctional team will provide much needed context to interpret the evidence gathered, whether that be the biases of a media article or the allegiances and idiosyncrasies of an interviewee.

3. Understand the legal frameworks

It’s also vital to understand the different legal jurisdictions, even if they are similar to your home country (e.g. South Africa’s POPI law is very similar to GDPR). If you’re working to UK common law evidence gathering standards for example, there are certain countries with trained investigators (e.g. Kenya, Botswana, South Africa, and Tanzania) who will likely understand the legal context through common law experience. This would not be the case in Francophone Africa which is grounded more in the Napoleonic code.

4. Cast the net wide

If you are planning on outsourcing any aspect of  your investigations, cast a wide net when choosing local investigators. Don’t rely on a single partner and expect them to know or do everything. With more local investigators in your team, divide out the challenging parts to ensure you have specialists equipped with the necessary skills to cover every aspect of the brief.

5. Be realistic and persistent

Managing expectations is important and investigators must be realistic, both about what information and potential evidence  is available in the region, and how long it may take to get it. For example, when it comes to public records research, one of our Africa-based Network Partners recommended: ‘Manage lead times. You need to be on the registries, following up regularly. Otherwise they can slip

With over 1500 intelligence sources in over 200 jurisdictions, Ground Truth Intelligence supports all your investigation and evidence gathering requirements in the Middle East and Africa. Get in touch today.