The Drug War in West Africa

By Gernot Klantschnig, on , Feature

West Africa is rapidly becoming a major player in the global trade in illegal drugs and a central focus of the efforts to control it. Escalating arrests of West African drug traffickers at foreign airports, container shipments of cocaine seized off the West African coast and the collapse of entire African states under pressure from global drug cartels are some of the images used by international drug-control experts and the media to illustrate West Africa’s growing role in the trade in heroin and cocaine during the past decade. International experts claim that after having played an insignificant role in the global drug trade for decades, West Africa is now a transit route for most of the cocaine available on the European market today. South American and West African drug traffickers smuggle cocaine from producer regions to West African cities and from there onward to the major centers of consumption in Europe. Heroin, similarly, is produced in Asia and smuggled in smaller quantities via Africa to the U.S. and Europe.

The current concern about the West African drug trade has been driven by mounting drug seizures and arrests, yet little else is known about the West African drug nexus. In fact, the subregion has played an important role in the global trade in psychoactive substances for centuries -- even heroin and cocaine have been traded through West Africa for more than 30 years. The recent significant increase in trade in those substances is due to shifts in the global markets and the measures used to control the drug trade. International policy responses to West Africa’s drug problems have only recently gained momentum, to largely ambiguous effect. These international efforts have helped to direct attention to West African drug traffic, further international counternarcotics cooperation and increase drug seizures and arrests in the region. However, they have also tended to support repressive policy responses by West African governments. ...

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