The situation is out of control. Taking advantage of the collapse of the Sahel, the circulation of drugs has never been so dynamic on the continent, even if it is impossible to precisely quantify the real level of trafficking and the amounts of profits generated. ” Africa is consolidating itself as the first cocaine trafficking route to Europe,” warns Amado Philip de Andrés, the regional director for West and Central Africa of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
200 kg of cocaine
Witness the multiplication of record seizures. Like that of January 6: more than 200 kg of cocaine were found in the car of the mayor of Fachi, in northern Niger. According to UNODC, 42 tons of cocaine were seized between 2019 and 2021. “Figures impossible to verify but largely underestimated”nuance a source within the United Nations, in the eyes of which the revelation of this affair serves above all “to justify the commitment of the international community in the fight against drugs in Africa”.
→ READ. Drugs attacking Africa
This is also affirmed by a Western agent on mission in the Sahel, for whom the last seizure of cocaine in Niger and especially its over-media coverage by the country’s Central Office for the Suppression of Illicit Drug Trafficking (OCRTIS) is a trompe-l’oeil aimed at hiding the dynamism and reality of trafficking. “This take is clearly staged to please donors, first and foremost the European Union,” he analyzes.
” We are not fools “adds Maikoul Zodin, the national coordinator of the movement Turn the page of Niger, “The fight against drug trafficking in our country is a joke. What will become of the mayor of Fachi? What do those for whom he worked fear? The Agadez region has always been a hub for all traffic. This can only be done with the complicity of local and national authorities. » And to note, too, an intensification of trafficking, in particular of cocaine and hashish.
Among the causes of this increase, the collapse of Libya in 2011, which facilitated the sanctuary of the drug routes towards Europe. “Italy is not only the gateway for migrants leaving from the Libyan coast, but also for all other trafficking”, notes an observer from the European Union, somewhat distraught. All under the control of the Italian mafias, primarily Calabrian. “One of them managed Isola Capo Rizzuto (the largest reception center in Europe located in Calabria, editor’s note) and received 36 million euros in public funds before being unmasked, he said. We observe a proliferation of Italian NGOs in the Sahel, from Libya to northern Mali. How many of them serve as a cover for illicit activities? »
→ EXPLANATION. Coup attempt, drug trafficking… Guinea-Bissau, a country plagued by instability
Produced and exported from Latin America by sea but also by air, cocaine enters the continent mainly through Guinea-Bissau, which has just narrowly escaped a coup. “Nothing is more difficult than controlling the 88 islands that make up the Bijagos archipelago, just opposite Bissau”, notes the United Nations agent. This traffic benefits from a whole network of accomplices, from customs to political and military officials. It goes up via Mali, passes through the north of Niger before joining Libya.
The Malian colander
Along with cocaine, there is also hashish. Produced mainly in the south of Morocco, it would be sent to Europe by transiting through Mauritania, before joining the same routes taken by other traffic.
“Regularly, convoys of trucks full of drugs leave northern Mali for the European market, the country is a real sieveassures the UN agent. Jihadist groups don’t touch drugs, it’s impure (haram) for themhe says. Apart from them, everyone is wet: armed groups signatories of the Algiers peace agreement (in 2015, Editor’s note) to customs officers and Malian politicians. This is often a reason for conflict between them. With coups, heads change but not the system. »
Cocaine, cannabis and tramadol on the rise
Cocaine trafficking. Between 2019 and 2021, 47.5 tons of cocaine were seized in West Africa or en route to West Africa, according to the UN.
Cannabis trafficking. In 2021, 57 tons of cannabis resin were seized by investigators, including 17 tons worth around 31 million euros in warehouses in Niamey, the capital of Niger, in transit to Libya. This is a record seizure on the African continent.
Tramadol trafficking. Seizures of the opioid drug, produced mainly in India, have also soared, and the UN is now calling it a “pandemic” about its ravages in West Africa. From 8 tonnes in 2013, seizures increased to 125 tonnes in 2017 (latest figure available).