A New Cocaine Capital
As if West Africa needs more trouble
US drug enforcement agents report that the old cocaine channels through the Caribbean, markedly Jamaica and Panama, have become more intensively policed, forcing the Colombians to develop new routes to traffic cocaine. The increasing might of Mexico's powerful drug cartels has forced the South Americans to search for trafficking routes to Europe across the Atlantic rather than through Central America.
Moreover, the West African coast can be reached across the shortest transatlantic crossing from South America: either by plane from Colombia, with a re-fuelling stop in Brazil; or by ship from Brazil or Venezuela. The boats leaving South America travel only by night, remaining motionless by day, covered in blue tarpaulins to avoid detection from the air. The journey can be completed in four to five nights travelling this way.
Once ravaged by the transatlantic slave trade, the West African coast is again 'under attack', says the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, who calls the impact on Africa of Europe's cocaine habit an echo of that of slavery. 'In the 19th century, Europe's hunger for slaves devastated West Africa. Two hundred years later, its growing appetite for cocaine could do the same.'
The seizure of West Africa by Colombian and other drug cartels has happened with lightning speed. Since 2003, 99 per cent of all drugs seized in Africa have been found in West Africa. Between 1998 and 2003, the total quantity of cocaine seized each year in Africa was around 600kg. But by 2006, the figure had risen five-fold and during the first nine months of last year had already reached 5.6 tonnes. The latest seizure, from a Liberian ship - Blue Atlantic - intercepted by the French navy last month, was 2.4 tonnes of pure cocaine.