UN: West African Drug Trafficking Threatens Stability

31 July 2008

A senior U.N. official says heavy trafficking of narcotics through West Africa into Europe is threatening the lives, livelihoods and stability of the region. The official says the problem of drug trafficking is competing with humanitarian and developmental issues in west African countries suffering from heavy flooding. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

smuggled drugs
Smuggled drugs
The U.N. Organization Against Drugs and Crimes reports there has been a large increase in the trafficking of narcotics by Latin American drug cartels across the West African region.  

It says up to 27 percent of the cocaine used in Europe and the Gulf transits through West African countries. This illegal trade brings in about $1.8 billion a year.

Herve Ludovic de Lys is head of the Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance regional office for west Africa. He says drug trafficking in itself is not a threat to the humanitarian community, but it could develop into a major humanitarian concern.

"This is of concern to us because west Africa is just emerging from a period when we had very violent conflicts in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire. And, we as humanitarians are very concerned because drug trafficking could fuel conflicts, could bring back weapons and could generate new concerns," he said.  

De Lys notes protracted low-intensity conflicts are going on in northern Niger and to a lesser extent in northern Mali. He says fundamentalist Islamic groups allegedly are present in Mauritania and stirring up trouble. He says Ivory Coast is stable, but could easily relapse into conflict.

He says there is also the nagging issue of Guinea Conakry, which has been unstable since last year. He says anything could upset the fragile situations in these countries.

"You remember the Sierra Leone and Liberia?  The conflicts were fueled by diamond trafficking.  Our concern as humanitarians is that conflicts could now be fueled by other forms of illegal commodities and narcotics are obviously very profitable and very easy things to move around the region," he said.  

De Lys says there is some evidence that drug addiction in west Africa is growing. He says it often happens that people who ship narcotics become users themselves.  

He says criminal organizations have a lot of money to throw around. He warns many people in west African countries are likely to be tempted to engage in narcotics trafficking if the international community fails to support critical emergency needs and developmental programs.