Transnational organized crime, and in particular illicit drug trafficking, relies on highly organized international logistical structures. It trespasses national and regional borders, using well established international criminal networks. Taking advantage of its porous borders and weak State and security institutions, West Africa is increasingly being used by drug traffickers as a transit point for drug bound for Europe from Latin America. It is estimated that at least 50 tons of cocaine transit West Africa annually, heading north to European cities, where they are worth almost $2 billion on the streets.

Additionally, several seizures suggest that heroin is being trafficked through the region. Originating from Asia, primarily channeled through East Africa, its final destination is Europe and also North America. Moreover, with an estimated 7 to 10 million of Small Arms and Light Weapons being traded in the region, post-conflict States such as Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Sierra-Leone are increasingly prone to destabilization.

Similarly, these countries have been seriously affected by the illicit trafficking of other goods, as e.g. diamonds or counterfeited medicine. The number and scale of these criminal activities seriously threaten any efforts to stabilize and develop political and social institutions in the region. Such forms of transnational organized crime can only be fought by proactive and well-coordinated law enforcement agencies, utilizing all the information and resources available within a country, as well as international forms of operational cooperation.

Proactive intelligence-led policing allows the preparation of well-defined strategies and pooling of knowledge and resources. However, policing and investigation in West Africa tend to be reactive rather than proactive, resulting in a waste of resources in a region where national budgets for law enforcement agencies are far from sufficient. Further, many countries have very fragmented law enforcement structures with large numbers of agencies working uncoordinatedly alongside each other.

Therefore, rivalries between agencies are well known. Similarly, information exchange between the different parts of the law enforcement system is limited, if not inexistent. In addition, vague or overlapping mandates and ill- defined responsibilities cause conflicts in agency activities, leading, at times, to uncoordinated and inefficient law enforcement in many countries.

Moreover, international, regional and cross-border communication and coordination in the fight against organized crime suffer from lack of national coordination. Different factors worsen this situation, including language difficulties, rivalries between countries, the absence of contact points, lack of clear communication guidelines and instructions, and lack of technical communication means. At the same time, most law enforcement agencies face serious constraints regarding the investigation of transnational crime, including insufficient knowledge and resources to properly collect information on these criminal activities. Automated databases (e.g. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Report on "Drug Trafficking as a security threat in West Africa" October 2008.; criminal registers, fingerprint register, immigration databases) are often lacking, seriously impeding the possibility to identify persons and hampering the information gathering and sharing process. Moreover, the adequate processing and analysis of such information require modern equipment, modern investigation techniques and the related training of officials, all of which are seldom existent. Under these circumstances it is very difficult to build and prosecute cases on processed intelligence and collected evidence. Consequently, this is also detrimental for the successful completion of evidence-based court proceedings.

Transnational Crime Units (TCU)

In order to significantly improve this situation the UNODC, DPA/UNOWA, DPKO and INTERPOL West African Coast Initiative (WACI), within the context of the ECOWAS Political Declaration and Regional Action Plan and the Freetown Commitment, strives to create Transnational Crime Units (TCU) to enhance national and international coordination, as well as to enable intelligence-based investigations. TCU will be elite inter-agency units, trained and equipped to fight transnational organized crime and to coordinate their activities in an international framework. This innovative concept could be expanded beyond the initial four target States to serve as a model for all ECOWAS members. In order to enhance national coordination, TCU staff will need to be seconded from existing priority law enforcement agencies. Officials from relevant agencies will be physically integrated into one unit, working closely together on a daily basis. Hence, the expertise from different law enforcement sectors will be pooled in one unit, creating positive synergies that will lead to more efficient law enforcement activities. Moreover, the TCU will form close ties with prosecutorial services or include prosecutors in order to enhance the effectiveness of their investigations. Finally, TCU will act as the national coordinating focal point for international cooperation in the fight against transnational organized crime. Close cooperation or integration with/of the INTERPOL National Central Bureau (NCB) is therefore a core feature of the TCU concept.

Hence, through the creation of a TCU, national and international cooperation is centralized in one inter-agency unit, making use of a wide array of law enforcement expertise and benefiting from the synergies of this cooperation. As experiences in the Pacific Region, the Caribbean and Central and Southeast Asia have shown, this can significantly enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of Law enforcement operations aimed at fighting transnational organized crime. The integrity and protection of information is a key component in the fight against transnational organized crime and drug trafficking. Therefore, staff of the TCU will be vetted before recruitment and with regular intervals thereafter. The payment of performance-based stipends is part of the initiative. The aim is to create an elite unit with a team spirit responsible for the investigation of the most complex transnational crime cases in a nation.

The following diagram depicts an example of a TCU structure:

At the same time, the staff of the TCU will be trained and equipped to efficiently carry out its tasks. To this end, staff will receive extensive training and mentoring on the processes of :

- intelligence cycle: collecting, collating and processing of information (from the existing intelligence structure, national databases and records, open and covert sources, surveillance, informants, international contacts etc.)

- intelligence analyses.

-  target development.

-  tactical operations.

-  investigations with modern investigation techniques.

-  communication and coordination with the INTERPOL/NCB.

The objective of this extensive training is for the TCU to be able to use its equipment, its pooled expertise and its knowledge to:

- Provide decision makers the latest and most accurate intelligence for

strategy and policy development.

- Independently investigate cases of transnational organized crime and effectively build cases for prosecution based on solid evidence.

- Apply cost-effective principles of intelligence led-investigation in the fight against transnational organized crime.

-  Act as national focal point for international investigations.


The TCU will have the following responsibilities:

- Collect, collate and analyze information and disseminate criminal intelligence

in relation to transnational organized crime and drug trafficking.

- Pro-actively develop targets for investigation, based on analyzed intelligence.

- Carry out preliminary and/or final investigation of complex transnational

organized crime cases.

- Act as primary contact point in the country for transnational organized crime,

drug trafficking and cross-border matters.

- Coordinate cross-border investigations through INTERPOL channels and

through liaison officers.

- Strengthen the capacity of existing national police and law enforcement


- Advise other law enforcement agencies on complex or international investigations, money laundering investigations and asset tracking.