BY Vijitua Ndjiharine, 12:00am August 05, 2011,

West African Countries Increasingly Emerging as a Drug Trafficking Hub

West African Countries Increasingly Emerging as a Drug Trafficking HubDrug traffickers faced with limitations to transit routes through Asia and the Middle East are turning to Africa as a prime location for illicit activities, causing instability and an increase in substance abuse, a United Nations report said.

The UN's Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said Africa's emergence as an important heroin and cocaine transport route in 2009 was of serious concern in a region ill-equipped to fight trafficking or care for people addicted to drugs.

"Drug seizures and the arrest of traffickers indicated that African drug traffickers – particularly West African networks – are increasingly transporting Afghan heroin from Pakistan into East Africa for onward shipment to Europe and elsewhere," it said in a global report on the Afghan opium trade. 

Afghanistan is the world's biggest producer of opium, the base ingredient of heroin, and over 40% of this flowed into Pakistan in 2009 before being transported worldwide as part of the $68 billion global opiate market.

Africa serves as an easy route to Europe and the Middle East. Traffickers exploit poorly staffed seaports and airports. Also the lower cost of transporting drugs through Africa is another incentive for drug traffickers. However, irresponsible and corrupt governments also play a role.

"The emergence of Africa as a heroin trafficking hub is almost certainly due to ongoing corruption, widespread poverty and limited law enforcement capacity – as well as increased pressure on traditional drug trafficking routes," the report said.

Cocaine produced in South America is increasingly taking a detour on its way to growing markets in Europe. The most affected area is West Africa, a region recovering from many prolonged civil conflicts. At least 46 tons of cocaine has been seized on route to Europe via West Africa since 2005. Prior to that time, all the African countries combined barely seized a ton annually.

The single point of vulnerability lies in the region’s under-resourced criminal justice agencies, which are unfortunately susceptible to corruption. Most drug traffickers who are arrested are seldom convicted.

Organized crime tends to reinforce conditions under which it spreads and fosters. It usually emerges in communities that are under-served by the government and provides order by concentrating violence under a single authority. Organized crime materializes in an opportunistic manner and flourishes where resistance is low, and unfortunately in Africa resistance to organized crime is very low.

In addition to low resistance and weak criminal justice agencies, the potential destabilizing influence of cocaine is the revenue it generates. The profits generated by cocaine trade are larger than the entire security budgets of some of the smaller West African countries. This has led to the growth of local cocaine markets, which have their own insidious affects on local communities.

To deal with the drug trafficking problem, law enforcement agencies in Africa need to be strengthened. The blunt fact is that few economic activities in West Africa, aside from oil extraction, have the economic weight of cocaine trafficking. Given the limited likelihood of being detected and punished, participation in cocaine trafficking may seem to be a rational choice for many, particularly the demobilized forces and guerrilla armies of the many conflicts that have racked many regions.

Good practice in legislation, interdiction, anti-corruption and rehabilitation can combat the issue. Regional cooperation is also important, no single nation has the resources to confront the problem alone. Knowledge is power and information sharing is vital. A network of communication between the affected countries need to exist- as drug traffickers rely heavily on national boundaries to protect their transnational smuggling and money laundering activities. 

Most importantly however, is strengthening the rule of law by reinforcing and strengthening law enforcement. Bringing law and order to the region will make it investment prone and will ensure its safety and development.


Last Edited by: Updated: June 19, 2018


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