The Coke Coast: Cocaine and Failed States in Africa

Stepped up U.S. drug enforcement and interdiction in Latin America, coupled with a falling dollar and a surging demand for cocaine on the streets of Europe, is leading to political and economic chaos across West Africa, where international narco-traffickers have established their most recent, and lucrative, staging grounds. In fact, the drug trade is fast turning large parts of the region into areas that are all but ungovernable -- with major implications for international security. "The former Gold Coast is turning into the Coke Coast," said a 2008 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). "The problem is so severe that it is threatening to bring about the collapse of some West African states where weak and corrupt governments are vulnerable to the corrosive influence of drug money."

Though hardly alone in West Africa, Guinea-Bissau, the world's fifth poorest country, with a population of 1.5 million, has for all intents and purposes become the textbook example of the African "narco-state." Due to its relative proximity to South America, its hundreds of miles of unpatrolled coastline, islands and islets, along with the fact that Portuguese is its lingua franca, Guinea-Bissau has been increasingly targeted by South American drug lords as a preferred traffic hub for European-bound cocaine, according to the UNODC. What's more, as citizens of a former Portuguese colony, Guineans do not need visas to enter that EU country, further facilitating the movement of drugs.

Authorities there can do precious little about it. "Guinea-Bissau has lost control of its territory and cannot administer justice," declared Antonio Maria Costa, the UNODC executive director, in a statement before the U.N. Security Council in December. "There is a permeability of judicial systems and a corruptibility of institutions in West Africa," he added. "Guinea-Bissau is under siege. Literally under siege."

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