Since her departure in 2005, West Africa has seen a dramatic increase in narcotics trafficking, with an estimated $2 billion worth of cocaine crossing the mid-Atlantic from South and Central America. A majority of the drugs passing through West Africa are headed for Europe.
In Ghana, as part of a larger US government program, US Africom is helping to fund drug screening equipment and upgrades at Ghana’s international airport to support Ghanaian counter-narcotics and customs programs.
Africom also is helping to fund a police evidence storage and training facility to provide more capacity in storing evidence in support of counter-drug operations. The goal is to assist in achieving a greater number of lawful convictions. The facility includes a training center and computer lab, with estimated completion this summer.
Before arriving in Ghana, Yates visited Cape Verde where she talked cooperation in counter-narcotics, illegal fishing, and illegal trafficking.
Yates is meeting with a range of officials to discuss how regional militaries can cooperate in partnership with police and other security organizations to address the growing trend of illegal narcotics, illegal fishing, and other criminal maritime activities.
Nations must work together regionally to combat narcotics flow and illegal trafficking, Cape Verde’s Minister of Defense Maria Christina Fontes Lima told reporters at a joint news conference with Yates.
International cooperation to counter illegal maritime activities benefits the entire region, Yates told Cape Verdean reporters. “This will be positive I think for building more economic prosperity and to assist these nations in developing their societies,” she said.
Cape Verde is a chain of Portuguese-speaking islands about 450 kilometers off the west coast of the African continent. About 500 000 people live in Cape Verde, and another 500 000 Cape Verdeans live in other nations. Fontes Lima, the defense minister, said Cape Verde lies on a major mid-Atlantic corridor connecting South and Central America with West Africa and Europe. For this reason, she said, her nation must work closely with other African and European and American nations on maritime security issues.
Yates said she was just returning a visit to Miami, Florida, where she and other senior Africom officials visited US Southern Command (Southcom), the headquarters that coordinates America`s military relationships with Latin America.
Yates said the United States has found that countering the flow of narcotics and other criminal activity requires close cooperation between different branches and agencies of the government, as well as partnerships and coordination with other governments.
Last year Africom coordinated visits by two US Coast Guard cutters that assisted the Cape Verdean Coast Guard in conducting patrols against illegal trafficking and illegal fishing.
The US is funding the refurbishment of two Cape Verde Coast Guard vessels, and all four Cape Verde Coast Guard vessels are receiving communications upgrades. The US has also funded Portuguese-language training for the Cape Verde Judicial Police.
In a project coordinated by the US Embassy, the United States and Cape Verdean governments are building a Counternarcotics Maritime Security and Interagency Fusion Center (CMIC) in the Cape Verde capital, Praia, to be run by local personnel to better coordinate maritime security and law enforcement.