This study assesses community perceptions about illicit trafficking and organised crime in West Africa and the Sahel. Focus groups were conducted in Mali, Niger and Guinea-Bissau. For many of these communities, trafficking and migration are resilience strategies employed in the face of weak governance, corruption, food insecurity and conflict. Communities broadly did not recognise economically motivated trafficking to be criminal acts, although they acknowledged the negative impact of their growing reliance on criminal economies. The discussion groups portrayed a self-reinforcing cycle of poverty, crime and disenfranchisement. Regardless of their frustration with the state, participants highlighted a desire to see their states strengthened to play a positive role in their lives. The study offers new perspectives on the challenges of conflict, governance and state fragility across these regions, and a range of suggestions are proposed.