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West Africa’s Sahel is now a major drug trafficking corridor

A recent report from the United Nations reveals a significant increase in drug seizures in the West African Sahel region, indicating that it has become a prominent route for drug trafficking. The report, released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), states that in 2022, a total of 1,466kg (3,232 pounds) of cocaine were seized in Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, and Niger. This is a stark contrast to the average of 13kg (28.7 pounds) seized between 2013 and 2020. The report also highlights that cocaine is the most commonly seized drug in the Sahel, following cannabis resin.

The strategic location of the Sahel, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea and situated just south of the Sahara desert, makes it an ideal transit point for the increasing amount of cocaine being produced in South America and destined for Europe. However, this surge in drug trafficking has severe consequences for both peace and health, both locally and globally. Amado Philip de Andres, the UNODC regional representative in West and Central Africa, emphasizes that the involvement of various armed groups in drug trafficking continues to undermine peace and stability in the region.

The report further emphasizes that the drug trade provides financial resources to armed groups in the Sahel, particularly as the region grapples with a recent wave of coups and the flourishing of extremist networks. The UNODC states that drug trafficking is facilitated by a wide range of individuals, including members of the political elite, community leaders, and leaders of armed groups. This enables these armed groups to sustain their involvement in conflicts, primarily through the acquisition of weapons. The situation calls for urgent action to address the growing drug trafficking problem in the Sahel and its detrimental impact on the region and beyond.

“Traffickers have used their income to penetrate different layers of the state, allowing them to effectively avoid prosecution,” the UNODC added.

‘Urgent, coordinated action’

In recent years, the region has also become an area of drug consumption. A shipment of cannabis and Tramadol, an opioid painkiller pill, valued at $50,000, was intercepted by a patrol in southwest Niger on Monday, as announced on national TV. According to a UN report, corruption and money laundering play a significant role in facilitating drug trafficking, with political elite, community leaders, and armed group leaders involved in the trade in the Sahel region.

Leonardo Santos Simao, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for West Africa, emphasized the need for urgent and coordinated action by both the Sahel states and the international community to dismantle drug trafficking networks. Lucia Bird, the director of the Observatory of Illicit Economies in West Africa, highlighted the role of corruption in sustaining criminal markets and noted that the instability in the Sahel region provides opportunities for drug trafficking. Bird emphasized the importance of stabilizing the region as a priority and called for a comprehensive response from the entire supply chain, rather than solely relying on transit countries. SOURCE: Aljazeera

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