The wars of Africa are fueled by narcotics. That is an exaggerated over-simplification, but what is less well known than it should be is that many of the internal conflicts of today’s Africa are driven in part, sometimes a substantial part, by profits being made from the trafficking of hard drugs and precursor chemicals. The battles in Mali, in the Central African Republic, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Somalia are influenced by criminal drug syndicates allied to al-Qaeda-linked insurgents. The Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria also has its narcotics component. “Follow the money” is an aphorism relevant for Africa as well as the Middle East.
In the last decade, there has been increasingly big money made from moving cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, marijuana (hashish), and similar drugs first from Colombia and Venezuela into Africa and north to Europe and, more recently, from Pakistan and India through East Africa to Europe. Once largely confined to West Africa, both the narcotics trade and personal use of such hard drugs has spread to eastern, central, and southern Africa. Almost none of Africa’s 54 nations is without a drug problem, the crime and criminal gangs that shepherd and promote it, the vast proceeds and corruption that accompany and facilitate both trade and abuse, and the social ills that follow.
According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), about 30 tons or $2 billion worth of cocaine passes through West Africa from Latin America to Europe every year, up from about half that amount in 2010. Those totals represent 35 percent of all cocaine smuggled into Europe. About 2000 West Africans are arrested in Europe for cocaine trafficking, about 30 percent of the total number of foreigners caught in Europe for this offence. Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia grow coca and transform coca leaves into cocaine. Where it was once flown directly to West Africa from Colombia, now most of the Europe-bound cocaine that passes through Africa is spirited across the Atlantic Ocean from Venezuela, where crime and corruption are rampant and controls lax. A decade or so ago, ship transport was in vogue. Propeller aircraft followed. Now most of the cocaine from Venezuela to West Africa arrives by jet aircraft, sometimes even combined with otherwise legal cargo.
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