Africa and drugs a concern – senior US State Department official


A senior US Department of State official maintains illicit drug production, trafficking and consumption are linked to organised crime, illegal financial flows, corruption and increasingly, terrorist financing in Africa.

Heather Merritt, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, was speaking during a telephonic press briefing on US efforts to combat drug trafficking in Africa.

“Porous borders, poorly patrolled coastlines, weak institutions and enforcement regimes make Africa an attractive location for traffickers and it’s something we need to work together to fight this transnational crime because it endangers us all,” she said in her introductory remarks.

As far as heroin was concerned Merritt said: “Africa’s coastline on the east, from southern Somalia to South Africa has become a primary transhipment location for Afghan-produced heroin – sometimes also Pakistani or Iranian heroin – en route to markets in Africa, Europe and the US.  Heroin is trafficked along what’s referred to as the ‘southern’ or ‘maritime’ route from the southern coasts of Pakistan and Iran through the Indian Ocean.  The product can be offloaded, primarily along the coast of Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique, sometimes in the island states and repackaged for onward shipment to markets, often via South Africa or countries in West Africa.

“West Africa,” according to her briefing, “has been a historical hub for cocaine trafficking and reports suggest that route is experiencing a resurgence.  Increased cocaine production in South America destined for markets in Africa, Europe and the US has increased trafficking – and seizures – in the region.

“More cocaine was seized in the first three months of 2019 in just two countries – Guinea-Bissau and Cabo Verde – than the whole amount seized on the African continent between 2013 and 2016.

“In the Sahel there is increasing concern that porous borders and the movement of groups, including illegal armed groups and transnational criminals, enables narcotics trafficking that may be indirectly funding some terrorist networks and activities, as traffickers pay for safe passage via under-governed spaces and through routes exploited by terrorist entities.”

Merritt told the telephonic briefing Africa – “sadly” – is becoming a source of illicit drugs.

“Some Nigerian criminal organisations learned simplified but effective production methods to convert uncontrolled precursor chemicals I call pre-precursor chemicals into methamphetamine. So Nigeria and a few other locations are growing methamphetamine producers and suppliers. Other countries in the region are at risk of following this trend. “

She is of the opinion the “relatively free flow of drugs” threatens African countries, the US and strengthens transnational criminal organisations (TCOs).

“There are several well-established TCOs operating in Africa and they facilitate not only illicit drugs and I note that we believe strongly TCOs in Africa are largely commodity-agnostic.  The same people who move drugs can also move weapons, people and wildlife goods and we need to be concerned.”

Referring specifically to the Gulf of Guinea she said the INL (abbreviated acronym for the State Department Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs) maritime security programme is now more capable and sophisticated at interdicting vessels laden with drugs and other illicit goods which may be headed for the US or Europe and conducting maritime investigations that can lead to effective prosecutions. This is as a result of closer co-operation with UN and US partners in Africa as well as Interpol.

“Co-operation between Africa and the US in drug prevention, treatment and recovery is ongoing and it’s a way we help address the serious problem of global drug use.  A key effort has been to increase the number of trained practitioners in evidence-based drug treatment, prevention and recovery programmes,” she said.