West Africa Rising: Heroin, cocaine traffickers find more buyers at home
European consumption of South America’s cocaine doubled in the decade. Much of that trade comes through Africa, leaving a trail of domestic users.
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Since Colombian cartels first docked here in the early 2000s, the tiny West African country of Guinea-Bissau was supposed to be the crossroads – just the crossroads – of Africa’s booming drug trade, a four-continent-crossing caravan of cocaine, heroin, and war weaponry.
More and more, however, this country’s cobblestone capital and the region around it constitute a thing more dreadful: a market. It has become a place to sling crack and hook users.
“We have seen a huge increase in crack addiction in West Africa,” says Regional Representative Alexandre Schmidt for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
The tonnage is staggering: The UN estimates that 13 metric tons of cocaine – an $800 million snow worth as much as the entire gross domestic product of Guinea-Bissau – were inhaled in West Africa in 2009, the UN’s last year on record.
Those tons were intended, originally, for Europe. They accounted for one-third of the 35 tons thought to have been unloaded that year from the unregistered speedboats, planes, cargo ships, Boeing jetliners – and maybe even submarines – that dock, land, or bubble up onto West Africa as they carry their coke toward Europe’s nightlife.
“They are other people’s problems that have been loaded onto our backs,” says Guinea-Bissau’s Attorney General Amine Michel Saad.
The continent’s cities are larger, younger, and flush with more disposable income than ever. Increasingly, drug traffickers – who are often paid in drugs themselves – are finding way to unload their product inside the region’s overcrowded cities, according to the UN.
“It’s a huge issue for public health,” Mr. Schmidt says. “We don’t have any treatment centers here.”
Or rather, Guinea-Bissau has one: a rural clinic run by an elderly priest.
From South Africa to Europe
Kind as the past decade has been to West Africa’s businesspeople – the region includes some of the world’s faster-growing economies – it’s been even kinder to its people whose business is drugs.
European consumption of South America’s cocaine doubled in the decade, and West Africa juts outward into a particularly profitable stretch between the two.