Int'l Streets

The West African Drug Trade

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The Drug Trade of West Africa

While the continent of Africa, and the region of West Africa, have enough problems and conflicts to deal with, from poverty, resources being exploited, terrorist organizations and other typical issues of lesser developed communities, one thing that most do not recognize is the drug epidemic in West Africa.

What has led to the drug epidemic of West Africa is the drug trafficking route from South America to Europe. Beginning in South America countries like Colombia the transportation of narcotics into Europe makes its detour through West Africa. Making a detour in West Africa means that many of the countries within the region have become drug hubs, or the in between Colombia’s cocaine production and Europe’s drug consumption.

A report from the Globe and Mail, claims that over half of all of Europe’s cocaine usage originally comes from the ports of Guinea-Bissau, as well other places like Mali where cargo is flown into makeshift runways in the desert. With Guinea Bissau being one of the key destination routes of the world’s drug trade into Europe, many have referred to the small West African country as a Narco-State.

In the background is a small port in the country of Guinea-Bissau. Editorial Credit: Peek Creative Collective / Shutterstock.com

To be more precise, the route includes transportation from the coca fields in Colombia through shipping channels across the Atlantic Ocean and arriving in some port of West Africa, preferably Guinea Bissau, but also other port cities. As mentioned, there have also been times when narcotics have been flown into isolated sections of the Sahara Desert, whether in Niger or Mauritania. From West Africa, the route continues into northern African countries like Libya where the large shipments will make their final destinations into Europe.

While not all, many communities in these countries are poor, which has led to an easy transaction of narcotics through corruption by local officials and through the numerous citizens who are willing to make the journey of transporting drugs across West Africa that eventually end in various locations throughout Europe. The poorer countries that have a weak foundation of leadership are easily intrigued by bribes and benefits of corruption from the cartels and drug traffickers, in which are the most sought after hubs for drug transportation routes.

Foreign troops helping patrol in the desert of Mali. Editorial Credit: ymphotos/Shutterstock.com

The European Union, as well the United States who combat heroin from Central Asia from entering the country through West Africa, has sent resources to help combat the cartels and European traffickers from transporting cocaine and other drugs through West African countries. Despite seizures of tons of cocaine or at least hundreds of kilograms of cocaine being seized there has been a rise during the 2000s and 2010s, especially along the ports of West Africa’s coast.

With West Africa expanding from the coast of Senegal to the Sahara Desert within Niger, the recent drug trade within West Africa is currently affecting millions of people. Since the 1990s, and more than likely before, West Africa has been a lucrative drug route for the Mexican and Colombian cartel’s drug routes. Ever since then, the 1990s, the drug epidemic has been increasing and increasing within the communities of West Africa.

Warehouse storage from a recent major drug seizure.

Despite efforts of rehabilitation clinics and a local crackdown of trafficking attempts, whether confiscation of large shipments or arrest of suspected traffickers, the drug epidemic is still growing. Another reality of West Africa’s drug epidemic is illegal drug traffickers are not the only problem, but pharmaceutical companies located in places like Asia or even local have also been contributing to the epidemic in the form of codeine laced cough syrup or opioids in the form of Tramadol.

As the average user is a young male, already in a region where many do not have employment or access to specific resources, many traffickers have been recently viewing a new market to distribute narcotics, the market of West Africa. Since the rise of drug trafficking in region, there has been a rise of drug usage from cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and opioids. Since many of the African countries were, and still are, key transportation routes within the world’s drug trade into Europe it is understandable that drugs would spread into the communities of West Africa, especially among the youth.




*Feature Image Credit: ymphotos/Shutterstock.com

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Resources and Further Readings:

Christensen, Sofia “West Africa’s Addiction to Hard Drugs Is on the Rise”. VOA News. 19 July 2018 https://www.voanews.com/africa/west-africas-addiction-hard-drugs-rise

Kazeem, Yomi “The major ingredient in Nigeria’s codeine abuse crisis is corruption at major drug makers” Quartz. 2 May 2018 https://qz.com/africa/1266823/bbc-investigates-nigeria-codeine-opioid-crisis-from-cough-syrups/

Loewenstein, Antony “How South American drug cartels created a narco-state in West Africa” British GQ. 28 December 2019 https://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/culture/article/guinea-bissau-drug-cartels-antony-loewenstein

Loewenstein, Antony “How Not to Fix an African Narco-State: Europe is trying to stop Guinea-Bissau’s drug trade by throwing money at the traffickers.” Foreign Policy. 6 January 2016 https://foreignpolicy.com/2016/01/06/how-not-to-deal-with-an-african-narco-state-guinea-bissau/

Lupick, Travis “Drug traffic fuels addiction in Sierra Leone”. Al Jazeera. 26 January 2013 https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/01/2013121105523716213.html

Roger, Benjamin “Dakar cocaine seizure shows West African ports are easy transit hubs” The African Report. 17 October 2019 https://www.theafricareport.com/18839/dakar-cocaine-seizure-shows-west-african-ports-are-easy-transit-hubs/

Vulliamy, Ed “How a tiny West African country became the world’s first narco state” The Guardian. 9 March 2008. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/mar/09/drugstrade

York, Geoffrey “Coup in Guinea-Bissau shines a light on powerful West African drug trade”. The Globe and Mail. 13 April 2012 https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/worldview/coup-in-guinea-bissau-shines-a-light-on-powerful-west-african-drug-trade/article4100045/