UN map of cocaine flows through West Africa

A report by the United Nations states that the influence of South American criminal groups in West Africa may be declining as local groups take on more responsibility for moving cocaine shipments.

The report, released February 25, highlights some indications that the overall amount of pure cocaine moving through West Africa has declined. An estimated 18 tons of the drug moved through the region in 2010, compared to 47 tons in 2007, according to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) figures, which are based in part on cocaine seizures in Europe. Meanwhile, large seizures of cocaine in West Africa are dropping, and fewer couriers originating from the region are being apprehended (see the UNODC's map of cocaine flows, below).

But as the report points out, rather than indicating that cocaine flow overall is dropping, the decline in seizures could merely be a sign that traffickers are developing new routes and new ways of moving the drug. And while South American criminal organizations were once primarily responsible for moving cocaine through the region, packing it in multi-ton shipments, there is evidence that West African groups are playing an increased role in moving smaller shipments on to Europe, the report adds.

The report notes that the average size of cocaine shipments seized from maritime vessels in West Africa is now no more than 175 kilos, a significant drop from the multi-ton cocaine seizures reported in the past. According to the UNODC, the declining role of the South American traffickers could help explain why the average seizure size of cocaine is going down, if West African groups are stepping up and trafficking the drug in smaller, harder to detect quantities.west africa map

The UNODC goes on to observe that much of the larger cocaine shipments that move through West Africa originated in Venezuela. The east Venezuelan states of Bolivar and Anzoategui were once considered the primary departure points for cocaine flights going across the Atlantic, along with the western city of Maracaibo and Margarita Island, less than 50 kilometers off the Caribbean coast. According to the UNODC, Venezuela has stated that these regions currently see little cocaine trafficking, and that the majority of cocaine flights currently leave Venezuela for Honduras and Haiti rather than West Africa.

The UNODC theorizes that if trafficking between Venezuela and West Africa has indeed dropped, it is possible that smaller cocaine shipments from Brazil now make up the majority of the illicit drug shipments arriving in West Africa. Much of this trade is now allegedly controlled by elements of the large Nigerian community in São Paulo. Brazilian officials told the UNODC that Nigerians are believed to be responsible for moving some 30 percent of the cocaine shipments that leave Brazil's largest port, while some 90 percent of the drug mules arrested at São Paulo's international airport said that they were supplied by Nigerian groups.

InSight Crime Analysis 

As the UNODC points out, drug trafficking organizations based in South America are still responsible for transporting the majority of cocaine shipments that reach Europe. Only one fifth of drug flights to Europe originate in West Africa; the remainder depart from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Nevertheless, if West African groups have indeed moved from primarily performing logistical duties for South American traffickers to actually controlling cocaine shipments themselves, this would have important implications for South America's drug cartels, and for West Africa. In such a scenario, the South American criminal organizations would likely see reduced profits, while West African traffickers could pose a greater threat to the stability of their region. 

Much of the UNDOC report details trends that have been observed for some time. In 2011, the UNODC head said that local traffickers in West Africa were playing an increasingly significant role in the business, pushing out the South American groups. The past few years has also seen multiple cases of mules arrested in Brazil for attempting to smuggle cocaine to Africa.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

MS-13's 'El Barney': A Trend or an Isolated Case?

MS-13's 'El Barney': A Trend or an Isolated Case?

In October 2012, the US Treasury Department designated the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) as a transnational criminal organization (TCO). While this assertion seems unfounded, there is one case that illustrates just why the US government is worried about the future.

Ivan Rios Bloc: the FARC's Most Vulnerable Fighting Division

Ivan Rios Bloc: the FARC's Most Vulnerable Fighting Division

When considering the possibilities that the FARC may break apart, the Ivan Rios Bloc is a helpful case study because it is perhaps the weakest of the FARC's divisions in terms of command and control, and therefore runs the highest risk of fragmentation and criminalization.

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

In August 2002, the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) greeted Colombia's new president with a mortar attack that killed 14 people during his inauguration. The attack was intended as a warning to the fiercely anti-FARC newcomer. But it became the opening salvo of...

Barrio 18 Leader 'Viejo Lin' on El Salvador Gang Truce

Barrio 18 Leader 'Viejo Lin' on El Salvador Gang Truce

Barrio 18 leader Carlos Lechuga Mojica, alias "El Viejo Lin," is one of the most prominent spokesmen for El Salvador's gang truce. InSight Crime co-director Steven Dudley spoke with Mojica in Cojutepeque prison in October 2012 about how the maras view the controversial peace process, which has...

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives and Negatives

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives and Negatives

The truce between El Salvador's two largest gangs -- the MS-13 and Barrio 18 -- opens up new possibilities in how to deal with the seemingly intractable issue of street gangs. But it also creates new dangers.

The FARC 1964-2002: From Ragged Rebellion to Military Machine

The FARC 1964-2002: From Ragged Rebellion to Military Machine

On May 27, 1964 up to one thousand Colombian soldiers, backed by fighter planes and helicopters, launched an assault against less than fifty guerrillas in the tiny community of Marquetalia. The aim of the operation was to stamp out once and for all the communist threat in...

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC have always had a love-hate relationship with drugs. They love the money it brings, funds which have allowed them to survive and even threaten to topple the state at the end of the 1990s. They hate the corruption and stigma narcotics have also brought to...

Criminalization of FARC Elements Inevitable

Criminalization of FARC Elements Inevitable

While there is no doubt that the FARC have only a tenuous control over some of their more remote fronts, there is no evidence of any overt dissident faction within the movement at the moment.

The Reality of the FARC Peace Talks in Havana

The Reality of the FARC Peace Talks in Havana

If we are to believe the Colombian government, the question is not if, but rather when, an end to 50 years of civil conflict will be reached. Yet the promise of President Juan Manuel Santos that peace can be achieved before the end of 2014 is simply...

A Look Inside El Salvador's Prison Nightmare (Video)

A Look Inside El Salvador's Prison Nightmare (Video)

El Salvador's Cojutepeque jail is a perfect illustration of how prisons in this country have become the main breeding and training grounds for street gangs.