West African Drug Cartels Gain Power

By McCarton Ackerman 02/27/13

Long-reigning Latin American cartels could have new competition in the global drug trade.

The flow of drugs to Europe relies heavily on
West Africa.

West African drug cartels are gaining a more powerful role in the worldwide drug trade, according to a new UN report. Approximately $1.25 billion worth of cocaine passes through West Africa each year, on its way to Europe, and local traffickers have long worked as "couriers" for Latin American drug cartels, helping them move drugs through the region. But power is reportedly shifting in to the hands of local trafficking groups. Most of the region’s cocaine still arrives by way of Latin American cartels, but these groups’ direct involvement in the region has declined. In their place, many West African trafficking groups are now creating their own independent narcotics transport and distribution systems, pushing out Latin Americans, and producing their own methamphetamine on a massive scale. “In the end, the gross volume of drugs transiting the region is less relevant than the way West Africa interacts with it,” says a report released this week by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. "It appears a growing share is not merely the property of Latin Americans making use of West African logistic services, but that West Africans are playing an increasingly independent role in bringing the drugs into their region.” The role of the growing drug trade in the region is likely to contribute to even deeper political and economic instability in West Africa, which is already in ongoing crisis. The UN report notes: “unless the flows of contraband are addressed, instability and lawlessness will persist, and it will remain difficult to build state capacity and the rule of law in the region.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.