Organized crime plundering West Africa, says UNODC report

Photo:UNODC

7 July 2009 - Trafficking in persons, drugs, oil, cigarettes, counterfeit medicines, toxic waste and electronic waste ("e-waste") is posing a serious threat to security and development in West Africa.

A UNODC report issued today in New York shows that in the past few years, West Africa has become a hub not only for cocaine trafficking from Latin America to Europe but also for other trafficking flows. West Africa suffers from a combination of factors that make it vulnerable to organized crime, such as weak governance, and criminals are exploiting those conditions to traffic products through the region.

In 2006, roughly a quarter of the total quantity of cocaine that entered Europe (some 40 tons) transited Africa. The threat of cocaine trafficking appears to be subsiding; in the past 18 months, a lower volume of cocaine seizures and a drop in the number of air couriers trafficking the drug from West Africa to Europe has been detected. "Fewer drugs are flowing through West Africa. We must ensure that this downward trend continues", said UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa.

However, the report "Transnational Trafficking and the Rule of Law in West Africa: a Threat Assessment" shows that the threat of trafficking flows remains real. In some cases, the value of those flows through the region surpasses the combined gross domestic product (GDP) of the West African States, which are among the world's poorest countries. The value of 45 million counterfeit antimalarial tablets ($438 million) is greater than the GDP of Guinea-Bissau. Revenue from cigarette smuggling (around $775 million) is greater than the gross national product (GNP) of the Gambia. Illicit income generated from illegal oil bunkering or cocaine trafficking (approximately $1 billion each) rivals the GNP of Cape Verde or Sierra Leone.

According to Mr. Costa, "West Africa has everything that criminals need: resources, a strategic location, weak governance and an endless source of foot soldiers who see few viable alternatives to a life of crime."

The Report examines the various trafficking flows, the nature, size and value of the markets concerned, trafficking methods and routes and profiles of the traffickers.

Its key findings include the following:

  • Cocaine trafficking through the region is decreasing, although flows of 20 tons (valued at $1 billion at destination) still have a destabilizing impact on regional security;
  • In Nigeria, 55 million barrels of oil a year (a tenth of production) are lost through theft and smuggling ("bunkering"). Illegal oil bunkering, particularly in the Niger Delta, is a source of pollution, corruption and revenue for insurgents and criminal groups;
  • As much as 80 per cent of the cigarette market in some West and North African countries is illicit, meaning that cigarette sales in those countries chiefly profit criminals;
  • 50-60 per cent of all medications used in West Africa may be substandard or counterfeit. This increases health risks in a region where there is high demand for anti-infective and antimalarial drugs, and promotes the development of drug-resistant strains which are a hazard to the entire world;
  • West Africa is a major destination for electronic waste (including old computers and mobile phones), also known as "e-waste", which contains heavy metals and other toxins. The European Union alone produces 8.7 million tons of e-waste each year.

"Organized crime is plundering West Africa - destroying governments, the environment, human rights and health", warned the UNODC Executive Director. "This makes West Africa more prone to political instability and less able to achieve the Millennium Development Goals."

"A powerful minority, all the way to the top, is profiting from crime in West Africa, at the expense of the many", he added, warning that, left unchecked, "democracy and development will falter, while crime and corruption will flourish."

Addressing a Security Council meeting on the situation in West Africa, Mr. Costa stressed that "most illicit trafficking is transiting West Africa, not originating there. Most contraband is heading north." He called on rich countries to "take their share of responsibility by curbing their appetite for the drugs, cheap labour and exotic goods that are being smuggled via the region, and by stopping the use of West Africa as a dumping ground for weapons, waste and fake medicines."

Citing the success of the Kimberly Process against the trade in conflict diamonds, the Bamako Convention on the Ban of the Import into Africa and the Control of Transboundary Movement and Management of Hazardous Wastes within Africa and also the Praia Process against drug trafficking, he called for international action against illegal oil bunkering, counterfeit medicines, e-waste and the smuggling of migrants and cigarettes. "We must act before more lives are lost, more countries looted and more States infiltrated by gangsters", he warned.

Related information:

Transnational Trafficking and the Rule of Law in West Africa: a Threat Assessment

Transnational Trafficking and the Rule of Law in West Africa: a Threat Assessment (PDF)

Archived webcast of the Security Council meeting

Report of the Secretary-General

Comprehensive regional response launched to combat trafficking in West Africa

[close]
All Multimedia