Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

The Twenty-First Century Expansion of the Transnational Drug Trade in Africa

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

The Twenty-First Century Expansion of the Transnational Drug Trade in Africa

Article excerpt

In the last decade, West Africa emerged as a major transit hub for Latin American Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) transporting cocaine to Western Europe. Since that time, there has been cause for hope and despair. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and an array of international donors have made great strides in acknowledging the growing problem of drug trafficking and have implemented practical measures to stem this flow. All the while, the fears of many observers have been confirmed as the insidious effects of the drug trade have begun to take effect in many West African states. Consumption is on the rise and narco-corruption now undermines the rule of law and legitimate economic growth necessary for development and stability. One of the most alarming trends that place Africa and Africans on the radar of policy makers, law enforcement, and researchers alike is the number ornery fronts on which the illicit drug trade is growing. Its geographic expansion beyond the relatively confined region of West Africa is now endangering East and Southern Africa. The arrival of new drugs to the region--heroin and Amphetamine-Type Stimulants (ATS, commonly referred to as synthetic drugs)--has been accompanied by the discovery of local manufacturing facilities to process them. Lastly, the growing level of involvement by Africans--who initially served as facilitators but now appear to be taking a more proactive role--raises concerns that a new generation of African DTOs is rising in the ranks. This paper examines how each of these trends are contributing to the twenty-first century expansion of the drug trade in Africa and summarizes some of the impacts they are having on the states and their populations.

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Globalization, which is the integration of regional economies, societies, and cultures, is considered one of the most significant developments of the twentieth century. In addition to multitude of cultural, political, economic, and technological benefits it brings to many fortunate populations, globalization has also brought with it opportunities for the weak, poor, and oppressed to participate in traditionally closed markets. (1) Yet, while globalization has been lauded for fostering free trade and economic prosperity, its so-called dark side has also created opportunities for criminals and nonstate actors to enrich and empower themselves by taking advantage of lucrative illicit markets, or by creating new ones. (2) The forces of globalization and its causes and effects have been well documented and are largely accepted as having facilitated the expansion of licit as well as illicit markets to regions that otherwise would not have enjoyed significant economic activity. (3)

Africa is the exemplar, whose geographic proximity between the source zone and final markets for many illicit goods has contributed to its exploitation by DTOs. (4) In the last decade, the emergence of West Africa as a major transit point for Latin American cocaine en route to Europe has taken the international community by surprise. Europe and the United States, in particular, are concerned for many reasons. (5) From Europe's perspective, it is now experiencing increasing levels of cocaine entering its borders from West Africa, at least partly as a result of highly effective counternarcotics strategies that have concentrated law-enforcement resources on interdicting drugs on commercial air flights from the Caribbean to Europe (primarily the Netherlands Antilles to Amsterdam and Jamaica to London). (6) This strategy has been so effective at disrupting major trafficking routes and deterring couriers that traffickers have been forced to identify new routes to enter Europe where law enforcement is less likely to detect their shipments. (7) From its experience as both a transit zone and a final market for heroin, Europe is all too familiar with the public health and safety issues associated with addiction, crime, prostitution, and violence that typically accompany drug trade. …

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