The vicious cycle of drug trafficking in the Sahel

The vicious cycle of drug trafficking in the Sahel
Kieran Baker

A new report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), entitled Drug Trafficking in the Sahel reminds us of the ongoing struggle that we must tackle as a global community.  Drug trafficking across the Sahel continues to impact security, economic development and the rule of law while also jeopardizing public health.  

It is no wonder we see so much instability in this region as according to Amado Philip de Andres, who heads the agency’s West and Central Africa regional office: “increased drug flows to West Africa and the Sahel undermine peace and stability in the region,” he said. “This is not only a security issue as armed groups are deriving revenue to finance their operations, but also a public health issue as criminal groups tap into population growth to expand illicit drug markets.”

The vicious cycle of corruption and money laundering are “major enablers” of drug trafficking, according to the report.

Recent seizures, arrests, and detentions in the Sahel region reveal how drug trafficking is facilitated by a wide range of individuals, which can include members of the political elite, community leaders and heads of armed groups.

Traffickers have used their income to penetrate different layers of the State, allowing them to effectively avoid prosecution, according to UNODC.

The report also highlighted overwhelming evidence of the continued involvement of armed groups in drug trafficking in the region and found that terrorist organization affiliates are likely to benefit indirectly through exacting a form of wealth tax, from traffickers and taxing convoys that cross areas under their control.

Organized crime links to terrorism are equally problematic – with the Sahel region now accounting for almost half of all deaths from terrorism globally.

So, what is being done- well the UN has launched the UN Joint Appeal for Counter-Terrorism in Africa is bringing together 16 UN entities in support of 10 new multi-partner initiatives across the continent to tackle such critical areas as border management and countering terrorism travel on the continent and the link between terrorism and organized crime.

Combatting terrorist groups operating in the Sahel was in the spotlight at the recent High-Level African Counter-Terrorism Meeting, held in Abuja, Nigeria, in late April. Among concerns raised by Heads of State across the region were the increasing links between terrorism and organized crime. But these initiatives can only be addressed by working together – which requires multiple actors and to quote UN counter-terrorism chief Vladimir Voronkov, who warned that Da’esh, Al-Qaida and their affiliates have made some significant gains in the Sahel and are moving southward to the Gulf of Guinea: “we recognize that no single actor can resolve today’s threats to peace and security alone, instead, we need … solutions grounded in strong national ownership and supported by funding partners.” Where would we be without the UN? 

*Kieran Baker is an Emmy award winning journalist who has started up various networks including Al Jazeera English, Bloomberg TV Africa and TRT World. 

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