Getting Real About an Illicit ‘External Stressor’: Transnational Cocaine Trafficking through West Africa
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Concerns over West Africa’s increasingly prominent role as transhipment point of South American cocaine en route to Europe are mounting. Gathering pace in the mid-2000s, large-scale drug trafficking has been associated with recent episodes of political instability and violence in Guinea-Bissau, Guinea and Mali. It is also perceived as a serious threat to democratic institutions, governance and development in other, more stable countries of the region, such as Ghana; and as potentially contributing to reversing the hard-won end to the armed conflicts that ravaged Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau and Côte d’Ivoire in the 1990s and 2000s. Yet it is crucial to recognise that cocaine trafficking through West Africa has thus far not resulted in levels of violence comparable to those witnessed in several Latin American drug source and transit countries. The big policy challenge for West Africa is therefore not to curb the flow of cocaine through the region in order to reduce trafficking-related violence, but to effectively tackle the negative impacts – both existing and potential – of the illegal trade on governance and development in the region’s weak, unstable and impoverished states. Conventional drug control strategies, oriented towards law enforcement, are not well suited to help with this. Bold new policy responses are called for.