Idea: New Governance & Counter-Narcotics in West Africa

Crosslinked from Future Challenges Organization’s blog

The rise of tricontinental drug trafficking between North America, Africa and Europe is directly tied to increased demand for drugs on the European continent. The insufficiency of INTERPOL, the UN‘s Office on Drugs and Crime and other organizations‘ responses to the influx of drug trafficking in West Africa suggests that the political will of the nations of West Africa is necessary. The fact is that drug trafficking is a matter of national security; the business of drug trafficking creates the pathways for illegal weapons dealing and even trafficking in persons. The “Economic Community of West African States” (ECOWAS) is currently well-positioned to be an acting body in the fight against drug trafficking in West Africa. Cooperation between ECOWAS‘ fifteen member states (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Côte D‘Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinee, Guinee Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo) can address the national security weaknesses exposed by drug traffickers‘ activities: police/military vulnerability to corruption (exacerbated by gross socioeconomic inequalities) and high unemployment.  For example, the “Inter Governmental Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa” (GIABA), under the umbrella of ECOWAS, can possibly expand its operations to cover drug trafficking, as it already combats weapons trafficking and the financing of terrorist organizations in West Africa.  Even if West African nations don‘t have the resources for effective counternarcotics operations on the individual level, it is possible that collectively, the resources can be better used.

According to the “European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction” (EMCDDA), cocaine is now the 2nd-most used illicit drug in Europe. In 2006, the demand for cocaine in Europe rose to match the demand in the United States, despite the fact that cocaine costs twice as much in Europe. Also, as the US market declined in 2008, an estimated 4 million Europeans (between ages 15 and 64) used cocaine in the last year. Two million were between the ages 15 and 24. Meanwhile, drug traffickers net about $11 billion (USD) yearly in profit in cocaine.

In a report entitled, „The Invisible Tide: Towards an International Strategy to Deal with Drug Trafficking Through West Africa“, published by the International Peace Institute, James Cockayne and Phil Williams asserted that the current value of cocaine trafficked through West Africa stands at $1 billion (USD).  High rates of poverty, coupled with high unemployment make participation in underground economies a very attractive option.  Consider that 2.9 grams of cocaine is the valued at $137 – the equivalent of Liberia‘s per capita gross domestic product. (Source: Global Insight, Wholesale value based on UNODC Annual Report 2008 (Vienna, 2008)) In Nigeria, that figure is 13 grams of cocaine – valued at $61. In Guinea Bissau, the per capita GDP in 2005 was $223, or 4.8 ounces of cocaine. Guinea Bissau‘s location, geography, poverty, vulnerability to corruption and historical ties to Brazil and Portugal make it a perfect transit point for drug traffickers in South and Central America. (James Cockayne and Phil Williams: „The Invisible Tide: Towards an International Strategy to Deal with Drug Trafficking Through West Africa,“ International Peace Institute)

In 1996, Benin was acknowledged as a „hard drugs hub“ (US Department of State, “International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 2002.). In 2001, there were 1,127 arrests for drug offences in Senegal; the majority of them were Nigerians and Ghanaians.  Ironically, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) contributed, or rather, enabled the success of drug trafficking networks in West Africa through the opening of West African borders for commerce. The conditions that are conducive to trade between the fifteen member states of ECOWAS are also conducive to the trafficking, storage and transportation of drugs within the states of West Africa.  West Africa‘s porous borders are both a benefit and a liability. It is also important to note that the hierarchies (based on ethnicity or kinship ties) associated with the Italian mafia or the Japanese yakuza are largely absent from west African criminal organizations – especially in regard to drug trafficking.  Interethnic and transnational commercial activity has many precedents on the continent of Africa.

The actions of the UN Security Council, the Peace-Building Commission (PBC), the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), the Department of Political Affairs (DPA), the Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) to combat drug traffickers in West Africa have largely been insufficient and only somewhat effective. These shortcomings are due to the fact that intervention undermines West African governments‘ efforts to combat drug trafficking.  Just as foreign aid undermines African nations‘ economic development, foreign intervention often undermines African nations‘ the political will.  This, coupled with the corrosive effect of drug-related corruption on law and order, poses a threat to the stability of the region.  This suggests that new forms of transnational governance are necessary, and these forms need to acknowledge and encourage the political will of individual governments to fight drug trafficking.  One solution is localized, coordinated action by ECOWAS.

See Also: The Africa Center for Strategic Studies

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