UNODC: Africa Vulnerable to Drug Trafficking

Africa is emerging as a transit continent for trafficking and the production of drugs, according to the 2013 World Drug Report released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). 

Though data from Africa is limited, the appearance of new routes and shifts in the production of illicit substances indicate that it is becoming more vulnerable to drug trade and organized crime. Seizures of heroin have risen since 2009, increasing 10-fold in East Africa. 

Maritime trafficking is particularly challenging for authorities. Though maritime seizures make up no more than 11 percent of all cases, they are on average 30 times larger than those involving planes.

East Africa is emerging as a transit route for Afghan opiates destined for the European market. Most heroin seizures in Africa were made at sea borders, ports, or on the open sea, pointing to the increase of maritime trafficking. A new route to reach consumer markets in East and West Africa begins in Afghanistan and passes through ports in Iran or Pakistan.

Traffickers constantly seek new routes to supplement old ones. Though still the most popular, the Balkan and northern routes have seen a decrease in the amount of heroin being trafficked as a land route originating in Afghanistan and heading through the Middle East has emerged.

New routes may have been sparked by the disruption of the flow of heroin on the Balkan route. The shift could also have something to do with changes in demand and the need to reach new consumer markets. These alternative routes use Africa as well as certain Gulf States as “staging posts” for trafficking to Europe.

East Africa has been a major point for heroin entering the African continent, a role that might be becoming more important. In 2011, both Nigeria and Thailand identified Ethiopia as a transit country for heroin. In the past Thailand has had its heroin market supplied by Southeast and Southwest Asia.

In addition to heroin, the cocaine market in Africa is becoming more complicated. The routes from West Africa to Europe are thought to have shifted from air and sea to land trafficking routes, which may have caused an increase in cocaine use in West and North Africa between 2009 and 2011. Algeria, Burkina Faso, Côte d‘Ivoire and Morocco each reported increases in cocaine use and recent reports from Ghana and Togo also indicate an increase.

The report calls for better collection and analysis of data about drugs in Africa in light of the changes noted to date.