New York - Although the flow of cocaine through West Africa
has declined, its wholesale value in Europe is a staggering $1.25bn, the United
Nations said in a report circulated on Monday.
The UN Office of Drugs and Crime said in the report on
organized crime in West Africa that it remains unclear whether drug trafficking
played a role in last year's takeover of Mali's vast northern region.
But the report said there's little doubt that the recent
flood of perhaps 10 000 to 20 000 weapons from Libya enabled Islamist rebels to
gain control of northern Mali.
The UN agency, known as UNODC, expressed growing concern at
the increasing production of methamphetamines in West Africa, said at least 10
percent of imported medicines in the region are fraudulent, and called Togo the
new hotspot for pirate attacks on petroleum tankers in the Gulf of Guinea.
Based on an assessment of cocaine seizures in Europe, UNODC
said the flow of the drug through the region appears to have declined from an
estimated peak of 47 tons in 2007 to an estimated 18 tons in 2010.
"While this is good news, it does not take a lot of
cocaine to cause trouble in a region with poverty and governance
problems," the report said. "The entire military budget of many West
African countries is less than the wholesale price of a ton of cocaine in
UNODC said that in the last decade the world cocaine market
has undergone a dramatic shift with cocaine demand in the United States
decreasing but demand in Europe doubling which has led to an upsurge in
trafficking from South America through West Africa.
In 2011, the report said 30 percent of foreigners arrested
for cocaine trafficking in four European countries — Germany, Italy,
Switzerland and Portugal — were from West Africa, a poverty-stricken region
comprising 16 countries and some 325 million people.
Cocaine-related corruption "has clearly undermined
governance in places like Guinea-Bissau," it said.
UNODC expressed concern that trafficking could fund rebel
forces in the Sahel and the terrorist group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
"Much of the cocaine headed to West Africa today comes
from Brazil, where Nigerian crime groups are exporting the drug," it said.
Another worrying development, UNODC said, is the emergence
of methamphetamine drug production in West Africa.
Two methamphetamine labs were discovered in Nigeria in
2011-2012 and an estimated 3 000 methamphetamine couriers travelled from West
African countries — including Benin, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria and
Senegal — to Asian countries, primarily Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and
Thailand, in 2010, the report said.
"The drugs carried by these couriers sold for about
$360m," UNODC said. "Unlike the cocaine flow, the bulk of the profits
accrued to West African traffickers."
As for prescription drugs, the agency said in the last year
at least 37 tons of illicitly imported painkillers have been seized in West
Africa, mostly in Benin and Togo, most likely destined for markets in the
"Unless the flows of contraband are addressed,"
UNODC said, "instability and lawlessness will persist, and it will remain
difficult to build state capacity and the rule of law in the region."