PANAMA, Apr 22 – Africa is the market of the future for illegal drugs, a top UN narcotics official said Tuesday, predicting the continent would go from transport hub to major consumer.
Massive amounts of cocaine and other narcotics already pass through Africa on their way from Latin America to Europe, and it is only a matter of time before large numbers of Africans start using them, said Pierre Lapaque, the West and Central Africa representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
“The market of the future for cocaine and other drugs is Africa,” he said in Panama at an international meeting on fighting organized crime.
Ever since drug traffickers realized a decade ago that sending drugs through West Africa was easier than shipping them directly to Europe, the region has become a major hub in the drug trade, said Lapaque.
This “parallel highway” typically runs from Brazil through Suriname to Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, he said.
Every year, 35 to 40 tonnes of cocaine pass through West Africa, of which just 20 to 25 tonnes make their way to Europe. Traffickers keep the rest in Africa to avoid glutting the European market and to sell locally, Lapaque said.
Africa’s porous borders, underfunded and understaffed police forces, corruption and political instability all contribute to the problem, he said.
In West Africa, the large youth population and growing middle class make the region “a market with incredible potential for development” in the eyes of drug dealers, he said.
He also highlighted the growing problem of illegal labs in the Mali-Senegal border region producing drugs such as methamphetamine.