Overview of cocaine trafficking in Western Africa
For about ten years, cocaine trafficking has become a major illegal activity in Western Africa, and a particularly high factor of instability. Increasingly, as recently confirmed in Guinea-Bissau and in Mali, it contributes greatly to destabilize entire countries. This growing impact on political life in Western Africa is linked to the involvement of senior members of the security forces, representatives of the ruling elites, and armed groups, whether referred as political or purely criminal. All these actors are connected, directly or indirectly, with an armada of 'professional' traffickers disguised as economic operators.
After arriving by air or by sea from South America, the bulk of cocaine quickly leaves Western Africa to Europe, where the number of users of this substance is still on the rise (about 28% of the world market). According to the UN, between 13 and 25%, depending on the year, of cocaine available in Europe comes via Western Africa. To evade controls, traffickers vary continuously their routes and transportation methods, including by land. Having long been the "privilege" of coastal states, the transit of cocaine has developed, since 2009, in the landlocked countries of the Sahel, especially Mali, characterized by huge desertic landscapes uneasy to monitor, weak and corrupt central powers, and a proliferation of armed groups in search of income to arm and control larger territories. In this context, the disintegration of the Libyan state appears to be a godsend for traffickers of cocaine and all sorts of other illicit substances. They are now benefitting not only from huge stocks of weapons at reduced prices, but also from the disappearance of the strict controls that the previous regime exercised over his Saharan flank.
This study considers the main events related to cocaine trafficking in each of the fifteen ECOWAS member states, as well as in Mauritania: seizures, arrests, trials and convictions, suspected complicities in ruling circles, actions against trafficking, etc. Another chapter gives a glimpse of key regional initiatives to combat cross-border trafficking of drugs. Finally, we try to analyze the effects of cocaine on the development of Western African societies and mention some challenges facing a successful fight against this flourishing criminality.