Cocaine and west Africa

Below is a useful map from the Economist on cocain trafficking in West Africa for the years 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008.

The Economist writes:

WEST AFRICA has become an attractive trade route for Latin America’s cocaine smugglers in recent years. On June 8th two tonnes (2000kg) of the stuff (with an estimated street value of over $1 billion) were seized in the Gambia. While cocaine use in America has fallen by 50% over the last two decades, some European countries have seen consumption rates double or triple. Aided by its corruptible police and flimsy money-laundering laws, up to 150 tonnes of cocaine are estimated to pass through the region a year. In 2006 36% of the cocaine carriers caught in one network of European airports had come from west Africa. In 2008 this had dropped to 17%. Whether this reflects a drop in trade or the traffickers’ increasing skill in avoiding capture is unclear.

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7 comments

  1. That is a very helpful map, seems largely based on UNODC’s 2009 Transnational Trafficking and the Rule of Law in West Africa: A Threat Assessment” (maps on pp.12-13) in turn based on the statistical annex of the “World Drug Report 2009″ (both available at http://www.unodc.org/unodc/publications-by-date.html ) These are good as they are based on three sources (of descending reliability): Drug seizures reported in the press or to INTERPOL, Belgian reports of traffickers arrested at their airports, African state annual questionnaire data returned to the UNODC. Much of the press releases for UNODC, and consequently most of the press, is based on estimates of total traffic by UNODC officials.

    This is important because the two UNODC leaders most involved in this, Director Antonio Maria Costa and Dakar UNODC regional head Antonio Mazzitelli have a worrying tendency to exaggerate, make allegations off the cuff, and provide estimates of drug trafficking without providing much justification. Many of these estimates appear in the press (and even academic work) as fact, with the UNODC imprimatur. Both men are long time advocates of the policies practiced in the US “War on Drugs”, and their statements often border on the hysterical. Maria Costa is especially famed for his disdainful comments towards drug rehab, limited legalization, and social supports to combat drug use.

    They both are especially fond of the Terrorism/Drugs connection, which is of course red meat for the press. And these connections are usually founded on unknown information.

    The US is a major funder of the UNODC, and AFRICOM is among those trumpeting such analysis, in part as justification of US military support for West African states to rival terrorism.

    I would exercise caution with these reports, and always take a good look at the statistics they provide. There is a real problem here, but much of what is repeated in the press is based on rather shaky ground.

    1. Great points and context on the figures.

      On another note: I’m sort of curious as to why European coke use is increasing at such a high rate. Where is use doubling and tripling and why?

  2. Thanks Tommy Miles. I have been having some questionning regarding the FARCAIDA stuff and the air cocaine landing in Northern Mali while the US military is there and could not see anything. Hope you read the excellent study by the Concern African Scholars on the militarization of Africa, kindly put by Alex Thurston on his sahelblog. A great read.

    Thanks Kal for the map. There was a TV investigation (France 2?) pinpointing to some accomplices in the drug trade in the area, but nothing done. Bizarre that the US have not said anything. This also leading people not to believe anything coming from governments’story, whether here or there. Any new about the three malians set-up by the DEA?

    1. The three Malians were awaiting Grand Jury appearances (which are secret, thanks to English Common Law) last I heard several months ago. Let me know if you come across anything else on them!

      Thanks to TMND and Mr. “TweetsintheME”, I overcame any initial skepticism and read through all that Concerned African Scholars issue. Alex’s work was as valuable as it always is, and I was well convinced by most of the others writers. I’m very happy to see that an academic essay collection is coming out on AFRICOM et al soon, though the choice of having Gen. “Kip” Ward write a piece seems silly. (as mentioned in the Daniel Volman / Jeremy Keenan discussion).

      Can I suggest the Crossed Crocodiles blog?
      http://crossedcrocodiles.wordpress.com/ Great political (not so academic) blog, focusing on AFRICOM/Ghana.

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