C I V I L - M I L I T A R Y




Drug Trafficking in Africa
Comprehensive Information on Complex Issues

December 2012 Eray Basar North Africa Desk Officer eray.basar@cimicweb.org

This document provides an overview of the illicit drug trafficking trends in Africa. It examines the production and smuggling of four major illicit drugs and the activities of organised crime networks within Africa, the impact of the African drug market on human security, the linkages between the drug trade and terrorism and the counternarcotics efforts in effect. Related information is available at www.cimicweb.org. Hyperlinks to source material are highlighted in blue and underlined in the text. Trans-Sahara trade has existed for centuries connecting African countries to markets in Europe and across Northern Africa; however, within the last few decades these trade routes have been increasingly used as means for trafficking drugs, people and illicit goods into Europe. For this reason, the existing literature on African involvement in drug trafficking does not comprehensively cover the issue. Moreover, coverage also lacks details in the most recent developments in drug trafficking as the international attention was shifted to Arab Spring events in 2011. High numbers of drug seizures reported by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) indicate that porous borders, weak control and its strategic location, have allowed Africa to become a regional hub for the drug trade. The African drug trafficking market, dominated by organised crime and terrorist organisations, has an estimated value of USD 3.2 billion. These groups, strategically active in other parts of the world, perpetuate a global network of illicit drug trafficking. The illicit drug trade threatens the livelihoods of the indigenous people, compromises security and provides a substantial source of funding for organised crime and terrorist organisations such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Furthermore, the increased use of Africa as a transit route for foreign-originated drugs has resulted in an upsurge in drug abuse and accelerated the spread of deadly diseases such as HIV/AIDS on the continent.

Amphetamine-Type Stimulants (ATS)
The use of ATS, a group of synthetic drugs which includes amphetamine, methamphetamine (meth), methaqualone (mandrax) and MDMA (ecstasy) has increased both on a global scale and within Africa in recent years. UNODC’s World Drug Report 2012 states that ATS are the second most used drugs worldwide and is the second most widely used drug in Africa, following cannabis. Use of ATS is reportedly spreading in Africa and has been reported in several countries including Cape Verde, Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya. West Africa has reportedly become a major source of methamphetamine in East Asian countries such as Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia and Thailand. An increase in the amount of methamphetamine smuggled from West Africa has been observed since 2009, with evidence indicating the establishment of labs in Liberia and Nigeria. Similarly, in North Africa, ATS production was reported in Egypt, mainly for use by the local population. South Africa has been reported as a production site and destination for synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine, methaqualone (mandrax) and ecstasy. A mandrax laboratory was seized in 2011 in Cape Town. Such labs are able to supply not only the local population, but significant amounts of methaqualone are trafficked from East and Southeast Asia into South Africa. Moreover, ecstasy is also smuggled to South Africa mainly from Europe.

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Cannabis grows widely throughout Africa and is illegally cultivated in several countries on the continent. While the cannabis herb is produced in most parts of the continent, cannabis resin is almost exclusively produced in Morocco then trafficked primarily to North Africa and Europe1. The seizure of cannabis resin has increased throughout North Africa with Moroccan seizures recently rising to 188 tonnes. Algeria, Egypt and Libya have also reported significant seizures in recent years. Moroccan customs officials seized seven tonnes of resin destined for Britain at the Port of Agadir in August 2012, only a week after the seizure of four tonnes in Casablanca. The UKbound cargo had a street value of USD 8.7 million. Another nine tonnes was seized in Casablanca in April of the same year, destined for France. Seizures of cannabis resin in Europe, however, have steadily declined since 2008. Spain, considered the “gateway” for cannabis resin originating from North Africa, has reported significant decreases in the seizures in recent years. According to the UNODC, the recent decrease in the resin seizures may indicate the relative importance of cannabis herb, seizures of which are more stable at about 170 tonnes per year, over cannabis resin in Europe.
Figure 1: Main Source Countries for Cannabis Resin (2002 – 2010)

Source: UNODC World Drug Report 2012


Map 1: Cocaine Seizures in West Africa (2005-2008) While there is no evidence to suggest that coca cultivation or cocaine production takes place in Africa, West African coastal states are frequently used as transit routes to Europe. The rise in West African illicit drug activity, particularly cocaine, is attributed to the “strategic shift of Latin American drug syndicates” according to New York University’s Center on International Cooperation. Firstly, cocaine is valued twice as high in Europe as in the United States, making it a lucrative market for the Latin American drug cartels. Additionally, improved counter-narcotics efforts by the United States have forced crime syndicates to identify alternative markets and distribution routes. UNODC Source: UNODC West Africa Report 2009 reports that the use of cocaine in the United States decreased by half in the recent years, while its use in Europe has doubled or tripled in some countries.

According to UNODC, almost all of the world’s cocaine originates from South America and is consumed primarily by developed countries, mostly in North America and Europe. Traffickers prefer to use West Africa as a transit route because the weak rule of law in that region allows them to operate at low risk. Estimates suggest that there was a sharp increase in the amount of cocaine trafficked through West Africa (from 3 tonnes in 2004 to 47 tonnes in 2007), followed by a decline to 21 tonnes in 2009. The decline was due to the disruptions to the trafficking by an international effort called the West Africa Coast Initiative beginning in summer 2009. Ghana and Nigeria are reportedly frequent destination points for most South American cocaine shipments. In October 2011, with the ef1

Herb and resin are two different forms of drugs produced from the cannabis plant. Herb is the dried version of the plant whereas, resin is the residue gathered from the flowers of the plant. Resin is commonly known as hashish.

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forts of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM)-sponsored Counter-Narcotics and Maritime Security Operations Center, a record seizure of 1.49 tonnes was made in Cape Verde. Additionally, over 1.4 tonnes of cocaine destined for Benin was confiscated in seven seizures in the Americas and Africa throughout 2011.
Map 2: Cocaine Transport Routes Through West Africa (2005-2008)

Although the Cape Verde operation was a success, the UNODC Regional Head Alexandre Schmidt highlighted in June 2011 that cocaine seizures are in decline, but the cocaine trade, which is now valued at about USD 800 million, may still be on the rise. The reason for the declining seizures, according to Schimidt, is that the cartels are now using more sophisticated shipment methods, such as commercial submarines, low-flying planes, speedboats, and cargo ships.

Opium poppy cultivation, which provides the raw material for heroin manufacturing, occurs on a very small scale and only in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. In 2010, Egypt eradicated 222 ha of illicit poppy fields. However, Egyptian authorities reported no evidence of heroin manufacturing in the country. Although production is uncommon in the region, traffickers frequently use East Africa as a transit route for Afghan heroin as it is smuggled into Europe and North America. In 2009, an estimated 40-45 tonnes of Afghan heroin was trafficked to Africa. Seizures in East Africa (see Annex A) have been made in Tanzania and Kenya, including 50 kg of heroin in December 2010 captured in Tanzania, which was bound for Sudan via Nairobi. Drugs are typically brought to the coastal region of the country in a mother ship Figure 2: Drug Trafficking Arrests in Pakistan by from which cargo is distributed to small speedNationality (2000 – 2008) boats.
Source: UNODC West Africa Report 2009

While a large portion of heroin trafficked to Africa is locally consumed, the continent also serves as a major global trafficking hub. Bole International Airport near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is frequently used as a distribution point for drugs, where shipments to West Africa, Southern Africa, Europe and North America regularly depart. Nigeria and South Africa are other major hubs for heroin trafficking on the continent. The Johannesburg airport in South Africa is used as the distribution point for countries in southern Africa, Europe (particularly the United Kingdom and Ireland) and Australia. Nigeria is also an international transit hub for heroin; in 2009, about half of the heroin in Nigeria was intended for the United States, forty per cent was intended for Europe and ten per cent was bound for China.

Source: UNODC Global Afghan Opium Trade

The Global Afghan Opium Trade: A Threat Assessment report by UNODC states that traffickers smuggling Afghan heroin through Pakistan to East Africa are mostly from Africa rather than Afghanistan. Africans comprise 48 per cent of all drug traffickers (see Figure 2) arrested in Pakistan, of which 32 per cent are Nigerians. Nigerian crime networks reportedly reach global scales and deal with multiple types of drugs. More than half of the traffickers arrested in West Africa since 2000 were Nigerians. Moreover, their operations stretch from South Africa, to The Netherlands and China.

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Counter Narcotics Efforts
Most countries in Africa lack the capacity and resources to tackle the trafficking problem. According to International Peace Institute (IPI), external assistance is essential in such contexts. However, a response plan cannot only focus on prevention efforts; building a sustainable local capacity to obstruct the re-emergence of the problem in the future is necessary. Some network-based law enforcement projects, such as the West Africa Police Chiefs Committee (WAPCCO) and the West African Joint Operations Initiative (WAJO), have had some success. However, weak state law enforcement institutions, corruption and limited capacity for treatment and rehabilitation programmes, hamper a full scale local response, as well as the efforts of regional bodies such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). In a conference co-sponsored by AFRICOM and U.S. European Command (EUCOM) in 2010, which brought together government officials, senior diplomats, ambassadors and ministers, then acting AFRICOM commander General William E. Ward emphasised that the effects of illicit drug trafficking reach beyond borders and affect many countries. Officials from the AFRICOM Counter Narcotics division stated that the effects of the drug trade vary country by country, and thus, the counter-narcotics efforts used in other locations such as Afghanistan, Central America or Europe may not be applicable to Africa. In fact, trafficking trends vary even within Africa in different regions and require special attention. In July 2012, UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov stated during a briefing to the UN Security Council that West Africa has become a “final destination” for illicit drugs in addition to its role as a transit point. Over two million people in Central and West Africa are drug users and the trade generates USD 900 million in profit every year for criminal networks. In such a context, UNODC is “building political commitment through regional platforms, especially ECOWAS, developing inter-agency approaches and delivering solutions through its integrated regional programmes”. In addition, UNODC, in partnership with other agencies including the Interpol, participates in the West Africa Coast Initiative (WACI) to support the “ECOWAS Regional Action Plan to Address the Growing Problem of Illicit Drug Trafficking, Organized Crime, and Drug Abuse in West Africa”. WACI aims to build individual and institutional law enforcement and criminal justice capacity in West African states to combat organised crime and drug trafficking. The World Customs Organisation (WCO) led “Operation Cocair 3” during November and December 2011 with the support of Interpol and the UNODC, which allowed them to capture 500 kg of drugs and EUR 2.5 million cash in airports in West and Central Africa as well as Brazil. Interpol’s global databases helped the identification and interception of suspected traffickers. The United States recently began training special counter-narcotics police units in Ghana to tackle the activity of Latin American drug cartels in West Africa. In an attempt to combat drug smuggling into Europe, the United States is also planning to train similar units in Kenya and Nigeria.

Funding for Terror

The involvement of terrorist elements in the illicit drug trade in Africa is evident. AQIM2, a terrorist organisation operating in North Africa, West Africa and the Sahel region, has been reportedly involved in illicit drug related events. AQIM was linked to the 2004 bombings in Madrid, and it was subsequently discovered that funding for that operation came from drug trafficking. Moreover, the linkage between terrorism and the illicit drug trade was brought to attention in November 2009, when a burned Boeing 727 aircraft, which was used to transport cocaine from Venezuela, was discovered in north-eastern Mali. That same year, members of AQIM were arrested for cooperating with the Colombian Narco-terrorist group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)3 to traffic cocaine. In October 2010, Morocco dismantled a drug trafficking network related to Latin American drug cartels and AQIM. The government said that the terrorists provided logistical support for the movement of drugs through Mali and Algeria to Morocco, where it was then distributed to local and European markets.

For more information on AQIM, see CFC thematic report “Security Threats in the Sahel and Beyond: AQIM, Boko Haram and al Shabaab”. FARC is a Colombian terrorist organisation considered “Latin America’s oldest, largest, most capable, and best-equipped insurgency of Marxist origin”. Today, the group is only symbolically in support of Marxist ideology, but still operates in the country as an anti-government element. It also actively operates in the global drug market.
2 3

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On 24 February 2012, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in an address to the UN Security Council, stated that AQIM had “begun to form alliances with drug traffickers and other criminal syndicates” adding that “such alliances have the potential to further destabilise the region and reverse hard-won democratic and peace-building achievements”. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), AQIM’s criminal activities, particularly drug trafficking, has made the organisation highly profitable and self-sustaining, with some analysts believing that through its partnership with Latin American cartels, AQIM is able to facilitate cocaine smuggling, capitalising on well-established smuggling routes to traffic the drugs from West Africa into Europe. This could bring substantial and stable revenue to AQIM, more than any other of their illegal activities, with ample financial resources to carry out terrorist attacks, making the region vulnerable to increased car and suicide bombings, exacting a heavy toll on innocent civilians and posing a direct threat to state and regional authorities. Unlike AQIM, other major terrorist groups in Africa, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and al Shabaab in Somalia, are not reported to be linked to drug trafficking. US Ambassador and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson said during Sub-committee on Foreign Affairs congressional hearing on 26 August 2012 that he is not aware of any linkage between Boko Haram and drug trafficking. There is also no solid evidence of al Shabaab involvement in drug trafficking. Although some analysts and officials suspect that al Shabaab might be gaining revenue from the trade of Khat, a mild drug mostly consumed by people of the Horn of Africa and Middle East, the money generated from the Khat trade is hard to trace. Moreover, it is also believed that al Shabaab is targeting the Somali communities in Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom where Khat is legal, to recruit for the terrorist organisation. On the other hand, the burning of trucks carrying Khat in Kismayo, Somalia, in July 2012 by the al Shabaab militants contradicts the suspicions regarding the link between the group and the drug. The militants captured and detained the drug dealers to put on trial in al Shabaab-operated courts.

Socio-economic Impact
Drug trafficking undermines economic development and democratic institutions which consequentially affects the security of citizens living within those countries. In 2010, during a meeting in Cairo jointly organised by UNODC and the League of Arab States to address drug and crime control and criminal justice reform in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, it was recognised that the “region’s geographical location, income inequality, rapid urbanisation and instability have increased the vulnerability of the Middle East and North Africa to organized crime and drug abuse”. The African Center for Strategic Studies’ (ACSS) report on ‘Cocaine and Instability in Africa: Lessons from Latin American and the Caribbean’ stated that the African continent as a whole is an ideal transhipment centre because of its limited oversight and weak policing which create a low-cost and low-risk environment for business. Additionally, corruption in many countries makes it efficient to simply bribe politicians, judges and police officers to ignore drug trafficking, rather than paying for security. For this reason, drug trafficking thrives in countries and regions with widespread instability and high levels of corruption and, according to the director of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) Wolfgang Götz, trafficking across poor regions “feeds corruption and undermines social development”. Security and political stability are also directly affected by the drug activity. There have recently been drug-related killings in Ghana, and the president of the country, John Atta Mills, said that “[t]he magnitude of wealth derived from the trade allows drug barons to buy almost anything they desire, including “contract killers”. Trafficking requires a form of collaboration with the local community. In Mali, evidence suggests that local leaders and mayors were present during the unloading of drugs from planes, and there is also evidence to suggest linkages between Malian officials and AQIM. Similarly in March 2009, Army Chief General Batista Tagme Na Waie and President Joao Bernardo Vieira were killed in Guinea-Bissau in drug-related attacks. During the previous year’s elections, President Vieira was publicly called the country’s “biggest drug dealer”. Politics in the country have been highly affected by the drug trade since that time. Furthermore, there has been a significant increase since an April 2012 military coup that ousted the president and the prime minister of that country. “The military brass here has long been associated with drug trafficking, but the coup this spring means soldiers now control the drug racket and the country itself, turning Guinea-Bissau in the eyes of some international counter-narcotics experts into a nation where illegal drugs are sanctioned at the top” said Adam Nossiter of New York Times. In another example of official corruption, in 2010, the chief of the South African Police Service, Jackie Selebi, was sentenced to imprisonment on charges of corruption in 2010 after being found guilty of “receiving bribes to turn a blind eye to drug trafficking”.
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Drug trafficking within Africa exacerbates the already-challenging economic situation of people suffering from chronic poverty and low human development. According to a report by IPI, the cheap labour costs and the “low value placed on life” enabled drug trafficking easily became rampant on the continent, particularly in West Africa. High levels of unemployment and underemployment may lead people to participate in drug trafficking. This situation is highly exploited by organised crime groups. According to an issue paper written by United Nations Office For West Africa (UNOWA), “youth who are able-bodied but unskilled, jobless and alienated, have been ready to take up arms in exchange for small amounts of money…and are more likely to be drawn into the influence of warring factions or criminal gangs to gain this ‘empowerment’”. Furthermore, drug trafficking tends to overlap with other forms of trafficking since these same drug routes can be used to smuggle humans and weapons. UNODC reports that “due to its strategic location and comparatively weak control measures in some of the countries in the region, illicit activities related to the trafficking of drugs and crimes associated with it, firearms and human beings and migrant smuggling are expanding in the region, and bringing increasing profits to international and local criminal organizations”.

HIV/AIDS and Illicit Drug Use
With the higher availability of illicit drugs due to globalisation and weak border control in most parts of Africa, the local consumption of drugs has increased significantly. A major effect of the illicit drug market in Africa is the correlation between drug abuse and HIV/AIDS. The most recent report by the Stop Aids Now organisation informs that injecting drug use is reported in 31 Sub-Saharan nations. This study illustrates that injection drug use increases the HIV risk related behaviour and causes the spread of the illness. Sharing of syringes or “unsafe sex triggered by heroin dependency” contributes the rise of AIDS epidemic. Moreover, a new trend in East Africa called “flashback” increases the chance of transmitting HIV/AIDS. Flashback or shared intoxication occurs when a person injects the blood of another person who just used heroin.

Conclusion: African Involvement in Illicit Drug Market
The rise of illicit drugs destined to or transiting through and within Africa has led to political instability, increased organised crime and threats to security and health across the continent. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “[d]rug trafficking does not respect borders”, referring to the transnational nature of the crime, and added that cooperation among governments is not at the required level to tackle the problem. The two main drug routes – cocaine from Latin America to West Africa, and heroin from central Asia to East Africa– now merge in the Sahel, creating new routes through countries such as Chad, Niger and Mali, and provide funding opportunities for terrorist and insurgent groups. Moreover, seizures, drug abuse, HIV infection, and crime rates have increased significantly. Such evolution of the drug trafficking in the continent will continue to impede development and threaten the health and security of the people if the necessary national and international measures are not implemented.

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Annex A: Global Heroin Seizures by Region/Subregion (kg) 1999-2009

Source: UNODC Global Afghan Opium Trade

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