Drugs syndicates target Africa: crime syndicates are targeting the region as a major transit route, using its airports, harbours and postal systems for shipping all manner of dangerous drugs. Tom Nevin reports.

Author:Nevin, Tom

For the past two decades or more, Africa has been regarded by the international law enforcement community as "a revolving door and a major centre for consumption" for the global drug trade.

The narcotics business has become one of the most serious threats to the stability and economic development of the African continent: a scourge that has ramifications well beyond the misery it inflicts on millions of malnourished Africans. And it's not getting any better.

According to Simon Bayham, head of research, Africa Institute of South Africa, dramatic domestic and international changes in both the developed and the developing worlds are progressively altering the world security agenda, and the one subject that continues to head the agenda is drug trafficking.

"The world's drug cartels rival corporations in their use of sophisticated business techniques and have eluded most efforts to wipe them out," says a report by the US State Department's International Narcotics Control Strategy.

Africa is also singled out for particular attention by the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board because of its weak detection controls that allow crime syndicates to target the region as a major transit route, utilising its airports and harbours for shipping heroin from Asia to the US and cocaine from Latin America to Europe and many other destinations besides.

The board also notes that drug production and drug abuse are increasing across the globe, with organised criminal gangs from Latin America, Asia, Africa and the former Soviet Union collaborating more closely in trafficking illicit substances. Of particular concern is the continued rise in domestic drug abuse in Africa.

More widely, the abuse of narcotics--often in combination with each other or with alcohol--greatly affects the developing world, home to 20% of the globe's 40m illicit drug users. World expenditure on illicit drugs and psychotropic substances now runs second only to armaments, with an estimated 2.7m people globally (excluding consumers) believed to be directly implicated in drug-related activities. The term 'drug abuse' refers both to the non-medical ingestion of drugs that are intended for legitimate medical treatment and also to the misuse of drugs (for instance, hallucinogens) that have no accepted medical purpose.


Geography helps drug trade

The drug invasion of Africa is facilitated by the geography of the African landmass.

"On the West African coast, the...

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