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

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

In the northwest corner of Guatemala, a little known criminal organization known as the "Huistas" dominates the underworld, in large part due its ties with businessmen, law enforcement officials and politicians.

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Like any arm of the justice system, the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG) had its battles with elites who used their charm and their muscle to try to influence what and who the celebrated commission...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala is Central America’s most populous country and its largest economy. But an intransigent elite, an ambitious military and a weak state has opened the way for organized crime to flourish, especially since the return of democracy.

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

On the morning of April 5, 1988, Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros left his palatial Tegucigalpa estate for a jog. Matta Ballesteros was wanted for murder, drug trafficking and other crimes in several countries, but in Honduras he felt safe. He regularly hosted parties for high-level officials at...

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Rodrigo Tovar Pupo never imagined it would come to this: dressed in an orange jumpsuit in a Washington DC courtroom and standing in front of a United States federal judge, the grandson of a wealthy Colombian cattle rancher and nephew to a governor was facing a possible...

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Organized crime is not an abstract concept for me. I grew up in Oak Park, a leafy suburb of Chicago with a population of about 60,000. In general, it was a very low crime city, which is perhaps why many mobsters made their homes there, among them...

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

By the end of 1993, Pablo Escobar was cornered. The cocaine king -- known as "El Patrón" -- was running out of money and options. His top assassins were either dead or had turned themselves in. Almost all of the senior members of the Medellín Cartel were...

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

This project defines organized crime as: a structured group of people that associate on a regular and prolonged basis to benefit from illicit activities and illegal markets. This group can be local, national or transnational in nature, and its existence is maintained using violence and threats; corruption...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

As it tends to happen in Honduras, the news began as a well-heeled rumor: Javier Rivera Maradiaga, the oldest of the three Rivera Maradiaga brothers still alive and leader of the feared and powerful Honduran drug trafficking group known as the Cachiros, had handed himself in to...

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...