Pubdate: Tue, 10 Mar 2009
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited
Pubdate: Tuesday 10 March 2009
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Author: Christopher Thompson


Part Two: How Porous Borders And Poverty Make Fertile Terrain For 
Drug Traffickers

The wooden canoes stacked on the putrid beach of Mbour's main port 
tell not one story, but two. Once these locally made, 
satellite-equipped pirogues did a busy trade in shipping out 
thousands of young men for whom Mbour is the port of choice for the 
perilous journey to Europe. Now they have begun to export a far more 
profitable clandestine commodity to Europe's shores: cocaine.

Negotiating a path between sand-caked piles of gutted fish and robed 
market women haggling over prices, Abdoulaye Boubacar, a local guide, 
tells a tale that is increasingly familiar along the palm-fronted 
coast of the west African tropics.

"The trade in humans has moved down south but now we have people 
moving drugs instead," he says. Gesturing at a group of boys busily 
scavenging for fishing nets that might be worth fixing on the 
tar-stained sand, he adds: "If you look at the problems we have here 
you can see why it can be attractive."

Some 3,210kg of cocaine have been seized off Senegal's seaboard this 
year, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The 
seizures are the country's largest so far. Last year over a tonne of 
cocaine was found by police in a single boat in Mbour, a town of 
70,000 people. Earlier more than two tonnes were discovered in a safe 
house outside the capital Dakar, 60 miles north, destined for the coast.

European donors and local politicians alike worry that Senegal, an 
oasis of political stability in one of the world's most politically 
turbulent regions, is gradually succumbing to cocaine's lure.

"Cartels active in South America have come to Dakar and set up here," 
said Abdoulaye Niang, one of Senegal's anti-narcotics policemen, to 
local reporters, pointing to the existence of structured networks of 
Senegalese, Colombians and Europeans running regional operations.

But Senegal is just one piece in the jigsaw of west African countries 
that have become a cocaine smugglers' paradise. Unmonitored coasts, 
poorly paid officials, porous borders and booming informal markets: 
to freewheeling drugs cartels it's an ideal market entry point.

Traffickers initially targeted Guinea-Bissau to the south, but 
Senegal's relatively solid roads and good telecommunications 
infrastructure has seen the traffickers move upwards. Ghana and 
Guinea-Conakry are other preferred entry points, according to UNODC. 
Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Guinea-Conakry are favoured conduits for couriers.

The UN estimates around 50 tonnes a year, worth almost $2bn (UKP 
1.5bn) at western European wholesale prices, passes through west 
Africa. In some cases the value of the trafficked drugs is greater 
than the country's national income.

Some cocaine leaves Colombia aboard planes small enough to fly at 
altitudes of around 2,000m, making them undetectable by radar. The 
planes land, often at night, in towns such as Boke in Guinea-Conakry, 
from where the convoy is transported under escort to the city for 
storage. Last month the son of former president Lansana Conte 
confessed to being involved in drug trafficking on television.

Some byproducts of the cocaine trail are far more obvious than the 
clandestine shipments themselves. In the nightclubs beloved by 
Dakar's nouveau riche, Spanish and Portuguese accents are 
increasingly heard amidst French and Wolof orders for imported French 
wine. On the city's arid outskirts meanwhile, metallic and glass 
office buildings rise, while apartment blocks punctuate the dramatic 
Atlantic-facing corniche boulevard.

One local businessman said that whole construction sites were being 
funded with drug money. "We're talking huge housing developments. 
Senegal is doing well economically but when you see the pace of 
construction it doesn't add up. Hundreds of millions of dollars are 
being smuggled and laundered here," he said.

The rise in local drug activity only tells part of the story. 
According to Antonio Mazzitelli, head of west Africa's regional UNODC 
office in Dakar, Senegal's role in the Africa-Europe drug trade can 
be seen in Europe's well-policed airports. "The seizure rate is weak; 
the real measure of cocaine trafficking is how much is being caught 
on people bringing it into Europe, that gives a much clearer 
indication of the scale of the problem we're facing."

Senegal has become the largest source country in west Africa, with 
434kg caught in 105 separate mule seizures over the past two years. 
South American drug cartels often pay their Senegalese allies in kind 
- - they get a cut of the cocaine being trafficked. Autonomous 
Senegalese smuggling units have now sprung up, sometimes taking 
advantage of the country's global diaspora of Muslim entrepreneurial 
networks embedded as street traders in Europe, car dealers in the US 
or import-export dealers in Hong Kong.

Even European figures represent a fraction of what gets through - 
mostly to the UK and Spain, often via France. Averaging over 4kg a 
mule, it's indicative of the risks some young Senegalese are taking.

Some locals are phlegmatic about the problem. One Dakar-based 
journalist questioned why Africans should care what Europeans - and 
increasingly, Arabs in the Gulf - choose to put up their noses.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart