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UN Warns of Rising Drug Trafficking in West Africa’s Sahel Region

The Sahel region in West Africa is fast becoming a central hub for drug trafficking, according to a new report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Released on Friday, the report indicates a dramatic rise in the amount of drugs seized.

The report noted that in 2022, authorities in Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, and Niger seized 1,466 kilograms (3,232 pounds) of cocaine, a stark increase from the annual average of 13 kilograms (28.7 pounds) recorded from 2013 to 2020.

According to the UNODC Regional Representative for West and Central Africa, Amado Philip de Andrés,

The involvement of various armed groups in drug trafficking continues to undermine peace and stability in the region. The report identified the Sahel as a critical transit route for cocaine produced in South America and intended for European markets.

Coincidentally, the report was released amid recent news from Senegal of a record-breaking cocaine seizure worth $146 million.

Furthermore, the increase of drug trafficking into the local markets in the Sahel is causing increased consumption, said Lucia Bird, the Director of the West Africa Observatory of Illicit Economies at the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime.

She said,

We’ve had reports of rising crack cocaine consumption in Agadez, Niger, driven by payment in kind.

Smaller traffickers get paid in drugs and offload it onto local markets because they don’t have the contacts in more lucrative consumption destinations.

UNODC’s report also points out a concerning trend of exchanging Moroccan hashish — a form of cannabis — for South American cocaine. Bird averred that this trend facilitates drug trafficking without cash and increases the volume of drugs moving through the region’s conflict zones.

Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for West Africa, Leonardo Santos Simão, urged states in the Sahel region, in collaboration with the international community, to “take urgent, coordinated, and comprehensive action to dismantle drug trafficking networks.”

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