A continent "hooked" on narcotics

The flow of illegal substances fuels corruption, instability and gang wars

Photo: Katrina Manson/REUTERS
English 01/07/2017 16:41 Jerónimo Andreu / Corresponsal Madrid Actualizada 04:25
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One of the major international blows of the American Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) took place in 2013 in Guinea-Bissau.

An agent posing as a Colombian FARC guerrilla invited Jose Américo Bubo Na Tchuto, the former all-powerful leader of the Guinea-Bissau Navy, to his yacht. He then took him to international waters and arrested him off the coast of Cape Verde. In exchange for protection on the drug route, the Guinean was charging USD$1 million for every ton that entered his country from Latin America, especially from Venezuela and Colombia. He is now in a US prison.

The case of Bubo Na Tchuto illustrates how Guinea-Bissau has become the first narco-state of Africa: an underdeveloped country in which institutions are corrupted and poverty is so extreme that it is easy to bribe anyone.

Drugs not only fuel corruption, political instability, weapon sales or gang wars. Pierre Lapaque, the United Nations commissioner on drugs in West Africa, has warned for years that the region could become "the next big illegal drug market" in the world.

There are about 3 million drug users in the region and the UN estimates that the prevalence of cocaine use (0,4%) has reached in few years the global average. At the same time, the lack of resources and social programs makes it difficult to help addicts.

The West Africa Commission on Drugs (WACD) explained that "the annual value of cocaine passing through West Africa is estimated at USD$1.25 billion, which exceeds the budgets of many countries, including Liberia, Cape Verde, Sierra Leone, Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau."

The western part of the continent is no longer a transit zone in order to house the production of synthetic drugs, like methamphetamine and ephedrine which supply South Africa and, in huge quantities, the Asian market.

This new production joins the historic cannabis harvest on the continent. According to the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board, 14% of the world's cannabis is seized in Africa and the prevalence of consumption in the continent is 7.6%, twice the world average.

Meanwhile, in East Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania...), heroin use is increasing as a result of the trafficking of Afghan opiates across the Indian Ocean. Increased injecting drug use has been reported in Kenya, Mauritius, the United Republic of Tanzania and Seychelles. The ports of Mombasa (Kenya) and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) are important recipients and exporters of opiates. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 11% of global opioid users are already living in Africa.


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