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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The region, the size of the US, hides impenetrable wetlands and vast Saharan tracts, whose police often earn, in the case of Guinea-Bissau, around $100 a month. The country’s border agents don’t have uniforms, many police stations don’t have bicycles, cars, or gas, and the coast guard doesn’t have a ship.Skip to next paragraph
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“It’s very easy to corrupt them,” says Manuel de Almeida Pereira, a legal officer for the UNODC. “Some of these payments are being done in drugs, and these drugs are falling into the streets.”
In the past year, the UN says they’ve seen the region’s drug trade shift.
• Afghanistan’s heroin has found a route through Africa’s Sahara, where it exits the continent through Guinea-Bissau before heading to the US.
“This is a very recent trend we are still studying,” Pereira said. “It’s going directly [from Bissau to the US].”
Much of that heroin is being bought locally, too. In the first six months of 2011, Schmidt says, West Africans consumed 400 kilograms of heroin, a drug that was nearly nonexistent prior.
• Instead of crossing north toward the Sahara, West Africa’s drug cartels increasingly transverse Africa, transit the product toward Somalia, and from there, Persian Gulf states, Russia, and finally Europe.
• West African barons are achieving decision-making ranks in Latin American drug cartels that use them as traffickers.
“What we are seeing in West Africa is like what we saw in Mexico,” Schmidt said. “We have a rise in the number of [drug traffickers] who are becoming more powerful.”
In Bissau, where new Mercedes-Benzes with no license plates navigate the colonial streets, it’s easy to guess who might find themselves inside the region’s flourishing drug elite. Last year, a nightclub threw a “Weekend for the Dug Traffickers.” Few in the country of 1.7 million people could have paid the cover.
“Sixty percent of our youth don’t have a job,” Saad says. “If you put that against the necessity of having money, we are in the process of constructing an atomic bomb.”