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Africa Economic Institute

West Africa and Drug Trafficking

About a quarter to two-thirds of the cocaine that is on its way from South America to Europe passes through West African countries, specifically Cape Verde, Mali, Benin, Togo and Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau, and Ghana. As reported by the World Drug Report, "The cocaine found in Africa originated mainly in Colombia…

Drug trafficking is a world-wide problem that has gotten more dangerous the past decade. About a quarter to two-thirds of the cocaine that is on its way from South America to Europe passes through West African countries, specifically Cape Verde, Mali, Benin, Togo and Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau, and Ghana. As reported by the World Drug Report, “The cocaine found in Africa originated mainly in Colombia and Peru and frequently transited through Brazil.” In fact, many of the dealers who control the trade now reside in West Africa. Last year, 1.2 tons of pure cocaine was found in a fishing boat near the town of M’Bour.


As Francisco Thoumi, a Colombian economist stated, “Profitable illegal economic activity requires not only profitability, but also weak social and state controls on individual behavior… a society where government laws are easily evaded and social norms tolerate such evasion.” West Africa’s high level of corruption makes effective law enforcement difficult to occur, since the continent suffers from hunger and unemployment. It is reported that drug traffickers are able to pay for their safety by recruiting policemen, army officers and cabinet ministers to cooperate in the business.


According to the BBC News, “West Africa has become a major hub for smuggling South American Cocaine as British and American anti-drug efforts have curtailed the use of traditional smuggling routes.” Instead of the old Caribbean route, drugs are transported through the Atlantic Ocean, into the coasts of Africa.


Leopold Senghor Airport in Dakar is known to be the most crucial departure point in West Africa en route to Europe. “West Africa is changing more and more from being just a stockpiling place into a hub where cocaine is traded,” said Antonio Mazzitelli, the regional representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.


The drugs are smuggled to Europe mostly by land, airfreight, or commercial passenger flights using “mules”. Since Guinea-Bissau was formerly a Portuguese colony, Guineans do not need visas to enter Portugal, which makes the movement of drugs even easier.


With the drug business thriving, violence has increased considerably in the area as well. According to Mendes, “killings have risen in Guinea-Bissau” and he blames it on the presence of “shadowy ‘businessmen’ who drive luxury cars and occupy expensive apartments.”


There are very important economic implications that come along with drug trafficking. For countries as poor as Guinea-Bissau, the drug trade makes enormous contributions to national income while simultaneously hindering diverse investments that would otherwise benefit the continent due to increases in violence. The trade in cocaine is about $2 billion a year, which is almost twice the Guinea-Bissau GDP. In European cities, however, the value could be as high as $20 billion. Because this type of international trade deals with billions of dollars, criminal activity increases and tends to get more violent.


Furthermore, the colossal profits that are gained from the drug trade can be used to fund criminal and violent enterprises in the area that can worsen the already instable region, similar to the 1990s in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Another problem is that the more drug suppliers there are, the lower the price of cocaine is, and the more affordable and popular it may become. UK officials confirmed that the price of cocaine had dropped by half over the past decade.


In attempt to combat the weak law enforcement of the continent, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, along with the European Commission, started up a program to offer training in operations. In February 2009, the U.S Drug enforcement Administration, the Brazilian federal police and the Colombian national Police announced that they sent “additional personnel to West Africa to help… cope with the tidal wave of drugs, which would increase the number of policemen patrolling.” (There were only about 70 policemen responsible for more than 2 million people before then).