Crime and drugs in West and Central Africa: Security Council highlights ‘new alarming trends’

UNMIL Photo/Christopher Herwig Abandoned buildings at the Barclay training center in downtown Monrovia, a notorious meeting point for drug dealers and users. Here, a suspect is identified and searched for drugs and weapons. (2008)

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.

West and Central Africa faces “disruptive and destabilising” new trends regarding drug trafficking, drug use and other crimes, according to Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), who briefed the UN Security Council on Wednesday.

“UNODC is registering new alarming trends on drug trafficking in West and Central Africa with disruptive and destabilizing effects on governance, security, economic growth, and public health,” said Mr. Fedotov, who briefed via VTC.

This session, presided over by Côte d’Ivoire, was the Council’s first thematic meeting on drug trafficking and its threat to stability and peace and security, since December 2013.

The head of UNODC noted increasing transiting of opiates through West Africa, en route to European and North American markets.

According to the UN agency, West and Central Africa, along with North Africa, accounts for 87 per cent of all pharmaceutical opiates – derived from opium poppies – seized globally. Methamphetamine seizures have almost reached the same levels as cocaine seizures. As for heroin trafficking, it is also on the rise with seizures across the region, especially in the airports of Lagos in Nigeria, Accra in Ghana and Cotonou in Benin, closely followed by Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, Lome in Togo and Bamako in Mali.

Drug use is also rising across the region, “representing a serious threat to public health,” said the UN crime fighting chief. Mr. Fedotov noted that although there is a lack of reliable recent data, the agency estimates that, in 2016, there were more than 34 million cannabis users and 1.8 million cocaine users in West and Central Africa. Only one in 18 drug users with addiction issues, have access to medical treatment.

Other looming crime and security threats in the region include arms trafficking, money laundering, human trafficking, smuggling of migrants, cyber-crime, maritime piracy – especially in the Gulf of Guinea – and threats posed by terrorism, for example in the Lake Chad Basin.

Mr. Fedotov noted that there are strong linkages between illicit trafficking and the financing of armed groups, a fact that the Security Council has recognised before, including in previous presidential statements.

He insisted on “the need for urgent and determined international action to support and address the threat of drugs and help pave the way for a safer, healthier and more prosperous West and Central Africa.”

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