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Africa Is the US Drug War's New Front

What will be the consequences of the US decision to pursue Latin American cartels into their African hubs?

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West Africa's new "cocaine coast." Photo via

By May Wilkerson

07/23/12

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The US war on drugs, which for years has focused on Latin America, is reportedly expanding into Africa. US forces are currently training counter-narcotic police in Ghana, and will soon be employing squads in Nigeria and Kenya too, as Latin American drug cartels are increasingly using African countries as hubs to smuggle drugs in to Europe. This is due partly to crackdowns on drug smuggling in direct staging points, like Mexico and Spain, and cartels are finding they can exploit relatively impoverished African countries—where they drive up corruption and instability further. "West Africa is now facing a situation analogous to the Caribbean in the 1980s, where small, developing, vulnerable countries along major drug-trafficking routes are vastly under-resourced to deal with the wave of dirty money coming their way," says top US counter narcotics official, William F. Wechsler. According to the UN, cocaine trafficking and consumption in West Africa have risen dramatically in recent years, contributing to instability in places like Guinea-Bissau.

In response, the US has contributed $50 million to counternarcotic programs in West Africa over the past year—a huge increase from the $7.5 million spent in 2009. The "vision" is reportedly to help African nations "catch up" to Latin American countries in terms of being equipped to handle the problem of drug trafficking. This aggressive expansion of anti-drug tactics into Africa is also a sign of the US shifting its attention towards the war on drugs, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down and demand fewer resources. But critics are dubious, believing the US is using a "Wack-a-Mole" approach that will simply cause traffickers to move to other more unstable countries, instead of eliminating the problem. Some fear that the anti-drug efforts will result in more violence, mirroring the situation in Latin America, where traffickers have often responded brutally to crackdowns. "There is always blowback to this," says University of Miami professor Bruce Bagley, a drug war expert. "You start killing people in foreign countries—whether criminals or not—and there is going to be fallout."

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