SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA FACING THE CHALLENGE OF DRUGS
In its annual report, published in February 2001, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) writes of the situation of sub-Saharan Africa: "Western African syndicates, with their experience in smuggling cannabis and heroin, are actively looking for new connections in Latin America and are bringing cocaine trafficking to all parts of sub-Saharan Africa." Although the term "syndicate" seems a highly exaggerated way to characterize drug-related African criminal organizations, this paper shows that the African continent is no longer an exception in the field of international drug trafficking.
The start of the expansion phase of this international trade may be dated back to the early 1980s, in particular with the appearance of the Colombian cocaine cartels and the opening of the Balkan route for heroin destined for Europe, as a result of the explosion in Afghan opium production caused by the Afghan war. In the early 1990s, the synthetic drug craze further diversified and stepped up traffickers' activities in all regions of the planet.
For a long time, sub-Saharan Africa seemed to remain at the margins of these phenomena. It was not until the early 1990s that, with, for example, the seizure in Nigeria (in late 1993) of nearly 300 kg of heroin from Thailand, the perception arose that the region was being used as a transit hub for international criminal organizations. This in fact merely signalled a quantitative jump in trafficking as hundreds of African drug couriers, mainly Nigerians, swallowing heroin and cocaine filled condoms, had been arrested around the world since the early 1980s.
The situation is now serious enough that the African countries represented at the International Narcotics Convention held in Vienna in late March 2001 to asked the U.N. to make an exceptional effort on behalf of the region. While, unlike the other continents, sub-Saharan Africa is not a production centre for chemical drugs intended for the international market, the cultivation of cannabis for local markets is developing exponentially virtually everywhere, to the point where it constitutes a threat for regional production, in particular food production. Sub-Saharan Africa is thus a not negligible consumer market for virtually all drugs, supplied by a host of small rings. Traffickers also use its land, water and air routes to transport hashish and heroin from Southwest Asia in particular and cocaine from Latin America to Europe and the United States. Lastly, while Africa occupies only a marginal position in global money laundering operations, drugs play a not negligible role in conflicts being waged in all its regions.
Contrary to what may be observed in countries such as Colombia and Burma, drugs do not appear to be one of the major causes of the difficulties experienced by numerous sub-Saharan African countries, but rather one of the consequences. However, by reacting to situations of crisis, they become an aggravating factor: illegal cultivation could, in the near future, constitute a threat to food self-sufficiency, drug trafficking could become a significant lever in political corruption rings and drug money, together with oil and diamonds, would seem to be one of the factors prolonging conflicts.
Cannabis, an alternative to the crisis in legal agriculture
Although cannabis appears to have been present in certain African regions (East, Central and Southern Africa), it does not appear to have penetrated West Africa until the last half century. Ovens used to make pipes for smoking marijuana have been found in Northern Kenya and Southern Ethiopia dating back to the XIIth century. Asian cannabis was imported to Africa by Arab, Persian and Indian traders, who opened trading posts on the East Coast of the continent. From there it gradually moved southward and eastward, reaching Southern Africa around the XVth century. The populations of the modern Congo, Angola and western Zaire encountered it in the XIXth century.
However, cannabis was not introduced to most of the countries of West Africa until after the Second World War, by Nigerian and Ghanaian soldiers who had fought with British troops in Burma and had become accustomed to smoking marijuana in their camps in India. They started the dissemination of cannabis throughout the region, except perhaps in Senegal and Gambia, where it may have been introduced in the early XXth century by Arab traders.
This African history of cannabis influences its present uses and functions. In those countries where it was introduced long ago, it is still used for therapeutic and ritual purposes. In West Africa, however, it is only used recreationally or to excess. Cannabis consumption was nevertheless relatively limited and often socially controlled until the 1980s, when there was an observed increase in the areas of cannabis under cultivation for commercial purposes and the cannabis crop became an increasingly important factor in agricultural production systems.
"That decade witnessed the continued decline in world agricultural commodities prices. The bankruptcy of states and the introduction of Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP) merely exacerbated matters. The ensuing institutional void forced populations to find alternative economic activities. As a result, traffickers gradually took over these recently abandoned spaces and took charge of activities hitherto overseen by the state, in both urban and rural areas." Cannabis, a robust plant which yields several harvests a year, is such an economically effective crop, comparing its price to that of legal crops, that, even in spite of law enforcement problems, it is a miracle solution for peasants.
This is proven by a very thorough study conducted in 1995 in five West African countries for the OGD by agricultural development experts in Africa. In Guinée forestière, for example, a 20 to 25 kg bag of marijuana, which corresponds to the production of 17 feet of cannabis, brought the equivalent of 2,500 French francs in 1995, the average annual income of a peasant family of eight engaged solely in legal activities in the same region. Similarly, in the southwest Ivory Coast, Eric Léonard, an international expert in cocoa production, who was working at the time for the Abidjan office of ORSTOM, established that the product of 0.1 hectare of cannabis sold by the bag over two growth cycles earned an annual income of $3 to $4 million CFA francs, which represents the value of 10 to 13 tonnes of cocoa, the annual yield of a 30-hectare plantation owner operated by approximately 10 workers. While a peasant earns 2.5 French francs per kilo of cocoa, 1 kg of marijuana earns the producer 250 French francs. The price of that same kilo may be multiplied by 60 when resold at retail in Abidjan and by 100, for example, in the streets of Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso). Cannabis crops are thus "a solution to the property and economic barriers that mainly penalize the young generations". It also offers an employment alternative to urban youths who obtain their marijuana supplies in their native villages and resell in the cities.
The survey in the five countries concerned of course reveals disparities in the price of marijuana. In Ghana, for example, perhaps because marijuana cultivation and use are more "traditional" than elsewhere and law enforcement less harsh, a kilo of cannabis is worth approximately 15 French francs to the peasant producer, which is still seven times more than a kilo of cocoa. The price of that kilo of marijuana is still 10 times greater when resold in the streets of Accra. In the other countries, however, prices vary from 100 FF to 400 FF per kilo. As other OGD studies have shown, prices vary in this range in the other regions of sub-Saharan Africa.
Basic food crops threatened
As a result of the comparative advantage of cannabis, areas under cultivation have expanded considerably in most countries. However, there are no reliable data to quantify this expansion, as African governments merely provide sporadic data on seizures which are not representative of the areas under cultivation. In addition, international organizations pay little attention to the production of a "soft" drug such as cannabis, which moreover is mainly intended for domestic markets. According to Interpol, however, in 1999, 22% of cannabis seized in the world originated in Africa. Seizures of marijuana from East and Central Africa increased approximately 15% in the 1990s. Based on seizures both in countries and in the international market, the leading West African countries appear to be Nigeria (17 t seized in 1999) and Ghana (4.3 t), followed by Senegal (7 t) and Ivory Coast (1.6 t). In East Africa, the biggest producer is Kenya (2 t) where police have, on a number of occasions, destroyed several hundreds of hectares, particularly in the Rift Valley and in Mount Kenya natural park. Kenya is one of the only African countries where opium poppy crops have also been proven.
In Central Africa, Cameroon and the Congo-Brazzaville, there are major producers, in the last case as a result of the civil war. For the same reason, its neighbour, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has the largest areas under cultivation. In the Kinshasa market, a 25 kg bag of marijuana sells for approximately US $1,000, while an 80 kg of manioc brings barely $10. This of course discourages peasants engaged in food crops. The Kinshasan Association for the Prevention of Substance Abuse (LIPILDRO), which has informers in all government-controlled regions, states that, in 1999, the average land area under cannabis cultivation increased from one to three hectares. In certain areas, 60% of farmers have introduced cannabis into their production system. According to LIPILDRO, if no effective measures are taken, the country's cities could experience a major food crisis in 2010, particularly since the Association's sources in Équateur province have reported "experimental" poppy crops and cocaine crops in Shaba. In the areas under rebel control, informers have reported illegal crops, in some instances involving three plants, in North Kivu, South Kivu, Western Province (former Haut Zaïre), a portion of Équateur and Shaba.
The biggest production area in sub-Saharan Africa, however, is still, and by far, in Southern Africa, as confirmed, for example, by the fact that 290 t of marijuana (dagga) were seized in South Africa or elsewhere in the world from that country in 1999. Official estimates of land areas under cannabis cultivation in that country increased from 80,000 hectares in August 1996 (for a theoretical production of 52,500 tonnes of dagga), which figures were disseminated by Interpol on the strength of a South African police report, to 2,000 ha, according to the chief of the anti-drug police, questioned by OGD in June 1997, who explained the difference as the result of a "transcription error" in the first evaluation and by the ups and downs of the climate, which radically changed the growing conditions from one year to the next. In fact, the most competent observers, (particularly the British intelligence service) estimate the actual area at 35,000 ha, that is a production potential of 22,140 t of dagga with a market value (street retail) in the order of 23 billion French francs. In other countries, such as Malawi (27 t) and Lesotho (7 t), cannabis is the backbone of agricultural activity.
The most obvious consequence of this situation is a trend toward abandoning food crops in favour of cannabis. This phenomenon is most evident in countries affected by civil war, where lack of security pushes peasants to maximize risks: faced with the possibility of losing everything in war, they turn to the most profitable crops. Thus cannabis cultivation has attained a scope unknown prior to 1993 in the agricultural areas around Brazzaville and in the Pool region, which supplies the Congo capital, as seen above, in the DRC. In Northern Cameroon, where the ODG expert conducted his investigation, peasants told him that most of their cash incomes came from cannabis and that manioc and banana crops were only cultivated for show. If this situation spreads in future, it will worsen the economic problems of many countries by forcing them to increase food imports and may create shortages, particularly in the major cities.
Drug use and informal trafficking rings
Marijuana is the illegal drug in most widespread use across the African continent. According to the UNIDCP, there are more than 25 million annual consumers (5.8% of the adult population, whereas the world average is 3.4% of the adult population). A phenomenon specific to Africa is that 61% of people treated for drug abuse, who often display serious psychological disorders, are cannabis users. Synthetic drugs are in second place (disregarding traditional or industrial alcoholic beverages which, in Africa, as in most developed countries, represent the biggest problems from a public health standpoint). These drugs, which are often taken in association with alcohol or marijuana, include Mandrax in Southern Africa, a drug manufactured from methaqualone and imported from India, or, in recent years, produced in local laboratories, or misappropriated psychotropic drugs such as amphetamine or barbiturate derivatives. It is all the easier to misappropriate these drugs since they are sold on the streets and in the markets of the cities, without any state control. The use of these drugs is particularly widespread in the major cities of Senegal because what are locally known as "pions", pulls or khokh are commercialized on a large scale by the Muslim Brotherhood of the Mourides.
However, whereas these psychotropic substances are used in Senegal on a recreational basis or are simply abused. In the urban centres of the Sahel countries, they are used in a more "utilitarian" way in an effort to increase productivity, particularly by workers in the informal sector: apprentice drivers, parking lot attendants, entertainment ticket resellers, prostitutes and so on. These kinds of uses in the cities have contaminated the rural areas of the Sahel region. The use of psychotropic substances by rural inhabitants began following the great drought of 1973-1974. At that time, in every bad year, there was a migratory movement toward the cities in the off-season, with a return occurring at the time of the first rains. In this way, the rural inhabitants discovered drugs in the urban markets. Upon their return, they used the drugs in the village to "cure" diseases and realized that amphetamines which, in Bambara, for example, is called den kélé démé ba (the only son's support) prevented them from feeling fatigue, as they had been told. Demographic pressure and the relative decline in agricultural prices forced farmers to produce more, precisely at the time when drug sellers appeared in the markets of the most isolated villages. In this way, many men aged 18 to 50 have become dependent on amphetamines, and a premature aging process has been observed in 20% of them after only two or three farming seasons.
Simultaneously with these types of uses, which are specific to Africa, others similar to those encountered in the developed countries are beginning to appear in the major urban centres. Heroin (brown sugar) and cocaine (most often in the form of crack), which appeared in the West African market in the early 1980s, are now in very widespread use, although that use is difficult to quantify, in the capitals of the sub-region (mainly in the major cities of the Gulf of Guinea (Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria). Although this could have been explained as the impact of international transit trafficking, this explanation now seems outmoded. It appears that the African bosses now consider the Gulf of Guinea a unique and profitable drug market. In some instances, the drugs marketed there have transited through Europe.
At the other end of the continent, South Africa's opening up to the world has increased the supply of drugs since 1994. Under apartheid, for lack of heroin, the hard drug that caused the vast majority of overdose deaths in the white population was Wellconal®, a synthetic opiate (dipipanone chlorhydrate) obtained from criminally-involved pharmacists through false prescriptions. The decline in Mandrax use coincided with the appearance of crack. The other most widespread drug, more particularly in the mixed race townships of Cape Town and Johannesburg, was Mandrax. Since that time, the availability of this new drug has increased constantly, in Johannesburg first, then in Cape Town and now in Durban. Initially limited to the elites (mainly white), crack is now in all the communities and at all social levels. In spring 1997, Dr. Sylvain De Miranda estimated that there were 150,000 crack users in Gauteng province (Johannesburg) and predicted that that figure would reach 500,000 for the country as a whole before the end of the century.
The sharp rise in crack use went in lockstep with the development of a market for smokable heroin. Cape Town prostitutes, for example, had previously used methaqualone to offset the effects of crack. The decline of Mandrax resulted in a search for a new downer. In Johannesburg, crack dealers were already offering their customers high-quality Pakistani brown heroin (no. 3) at a relatively low price (260 francs per gram, 65 francs a dose), even for free. There are other indicators: heroin use is developing in Swaziland, a transit country on the route from Maputo, Mozambique, where the Johannesburg dealers obtained their brown sugar supplies.
The domestic drug markets are supplied by fragmented, unprofessional rings which most often thrive on the smuggling of legal products. One former Abidjan conveyor, now unemployed because he is serving a prison term, informed the OGD correspondent that, from 1990 until 1995, when he was imprisoned, he was engaged in "drug tourism for profit" trading on the difference in cocaine prices between Lagos and Abidjan. Working for a company with a weekly Abidjan-Lagos route, the conveyor took advantage of the situation to purchase five grams of cocaine in Lagos for 10,000 CFA francs (100 French francs) a gram (his first purchase was financed by means of a loan from a relative which he had said was for an informal business). He then smuggled the drug back into Abidjan concealed in his pocket. In a country such as South Africa, which, in some respects, resembles developed countries, trafficking takes on similar characteristics. Immigrants, Nigerian and Ghanaian traffickers, have, since 1993, dominated the cocaine market in Johannesburg, where the numbers have reached 50,000 illegal aliens. They have set their hearts on the hotels in the former residential neighbourhoods outside the downtown area, distribution centres where chlorhydrate is also transformed into crack. It is also there that certain gangs from the townships of Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town kept their drug supplies. In the countries of the Gulf of Guinea, as in Southern Africa, the trafficking rings developed by buying protection from police and customs authorities, and indeed from members of the administration at much higher levels.
Local and international traffic
As noted above, most of the cannabis production is intended for the local or regional traffic, However, many countries, particularly Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, the DRC and most of the countries of Southern Africa, export increasing percentages of their production to Europe. The major ports of sub-Saharan Africa are also a transit route for hashish from Southwest Asia. Although traffickers have long preferred to transship in East African ports (particularly in Kenya and Mozambique, where tens of tonnes of that drug have been seized in recent years), increasing use has been observed in those of West Africa, where customs and port authority officers have been bought off. It has also been noted that Moroccan hashish traffickers have been using ports in nearby countries, in Spain and North Africa, particularly those of Cape Verde and Senegal.
In some instances, large quantities of heroin from Southeast Asia and cocaine from Latin America transit through those same ports. This is the case in particular of Southern Africa, where it is often difficult to determine what is destined for a large domestic market and what is to be re-exported. As a result, 636 kg were seized in South Africa in 1998 and 343 kg in 1999. However, aircraft are generally used for both imports and transit traffic.
Starting in the early 1980s, Nigerian traffickers who had swallowed condoms full of heroin were arrested at Lagos airport or at airports in European countries and the United States. Having departed Karachi or Bombay, they transited through East Africa (Ethiopia and Kenya) and Central Africa (Zaire). Since the late 1980s, Southeast Asian heroin (no. 4) has appeared in addition to brown sugar (no 3), as may be seen from the large number of nationals from Nigeria and various countries of sub-Saharan Africa being detained in Bangkok. At the same time, Nigerians travelled to South America to pick up cocaine destined for European markets and, starting in 1994, for South African markets. According to the World Customs Organization (WCO), Nigerian drug traffickers were involved in 1,200 cases in the world between 1991 and 1995. Tens of African couriers are currently being held in Colombian, Ecuadorian and Brazilian prisons.
Staring in the mid-1990s, Nigerian traffickers, knowing they were being watched by law enforcement departments in airports around the world, recruited couriers from among the nationals of other African countries, particularly Senegal, and even among white populations in disadvantaged European milieux (West and East). They then directed their rings without taking risks. It was first thought that the Nigerian organizations were mainly family- or clan-based. According to various sources, however, particularly American, there is what could be called a genuine Mafia in Nigeria: "drug barons", supported by "under-barons", who in turn have their own groups of couriers. In this organization, three leaders head up 85 cells of approximately 40 members. In those cells, a "lieutenant" apparently commands six to 20 "soldiers". The structure is found in the organization of the Nigerian rings in the United States. Operation Tonga, carried out by European police in 1995 and 1996, also showed that there were links between the Colombian Mafia, the Neapolitan Camorra and the Nigerian rings. Similarly, Nigerians are well established in most Eastern countries. Their "bridgeheads" are most often scholarship students from communist regimes who have remained penniless since the political upheavals resulting from the fall of the Berlin Wall. Nigerian traffickers are thus the only native African groups on the most wanted lists of the law enforcement agencies of the rich countries, together with international criminal organizations and the Colombian, Chinese, Turkish, Pakistani and, more recently, Kosovar drug rings.
Also operating in Africa, however, are organizations linked to foreign nationals who have acquired African citizenship such as the Lebanese in West Africa and Indo-Pakistanis in East Africa or to "expatriated" crime. For example, branches of the Italian, Russian and Israeli Mafia are now found in South Africa. The OGD report for 1997/1998 refers to "expatriate" criminals: "In the Cape Town area, the 'main man' seems to be Vito Palazzolo, the former banker of the 'Pizza Connection' who fled from Switzerland and took refuge in South Africa, where he used his know-how for the benefit of the former apartheid regime. From his exclusive ranch in Franschhoek, Palazzolo, now a South African citizen, is supervising activities as varied as ostrich farming, mineral water bottling, arms sales and transportation and destruction of toxic waste. He never forgets to send donations to the ANC or to the police charity organization. Palazzolo is listed under the heading maffia on the '100 most wanted' list of the Italian Ministry of Justice, which suspects that he is hiding two other Mafiosi on the run, Giovanni Bonomo and Giuseppe Gelardi." South African police authorities, denying Italian government requests for extradition, have merely confined Vito Palazzolo to house arrest and are prosecuting him for personation of a South African citizen.
However, regardless of the protection which traffickers enjoy from politicians and state officials, police forces, poorly equipped and trained, are powerless to combat drug trafficking. Poorly paid police officers and customs officials can easily be bought. Lastly, despite the efforts of international institutions, there is virtually no coordination between the law enforcement agencies of the countries of a single region.
Money laundering and political corruption
Like the Italian Mafiosi, it is essentially criminals of foreign origin (with the exception of Nigerian traffickers as a result of the size of their organizations) who engage in money laundering operations of any importance in sub-Saharan Africa. Other Italians use recreational centres on the Kenyan coast and in Zanzibar to launder the proceeds of criminal activities outside the continent. Similarly, the Lebanese launder their proceeds through the construction of private clinics in Senegal and fishing companies in Togo and Corsicans through horse racing activities, slot machines and casinos in Gabon. This extremely volatile capital most often merely passes through African banks. The productive sectors in which these types of investments are made are often abandoned overnight by their owners when their objectives have been met. They do not benefit the African countries in any way. This is not true of the money from the sale of cannabis by rural inhabitants and local rings for the distribution of various drugs. These profits, which are shared among a very large number of players, are almost exclusively invested in improvements to agricultural production, the operation of small businesses and, in particular, purchases of consumer goods.
While small-scale trafficking benefits from the protection afforded by state officers (police officers, customs officers and so on) and, in certain instances, local politicians, as soon as trafficking operations increase in scope, they involve the complicity and direct participation of politicians at the national level. The international community has long considered Nigeria a narco-state: the United States put it on the list of "decertified" countries between 1994 and 1999, and the Dublin Group, consisting mainly of the European countries, unfearingly called it a "narco-regime". Its president, General Babangida, and his wife have been suspected of engaging in cocaine trafficking, along with numerous other military officers. The death of General Abacha in early June 1998 and the timid overtures made by his successor, General Abubakar, partly raised the veil on the sins of the regime, particularly the Abacha family's pillage of the state. The United States in particular raised questions about the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tim Ikimi, who made use of the services of the director of a Lagos newspaper who frequently travelled abroad to distribute cocaine and heroin imported from Latin America and Asia among the members of his network of resellers around the world. Another soldier long involved in drug trafficking was Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, head of the feared Abacha Security Service (SSS), who carried on his dealings by diplomatic pouch. His wife, of Arab origin, coordinated a ring in the Gulf countries. A former head of Nigeria's permanent delegation to the United Nations was also apparently involved. The high dignitaries of the Mobutu regime in Zaire also took part in drug trafficking on a broad scale. In the case of Equatorial Guinea, diplomats belonging to the president's family or clan used the diplomatic pouch and their immunity to engage in cocaine and heroin traffic around the world. Tens of them have been arrested over the past two decades, particularly in Spain. In the past two years, the family of Mozambican President Chissano has also been involved a number of times in cocaine cases. But the use of drug money to finance conflicts has an even more pernicious effect.
Drugs, wartime nerve
In the history of humanity, there have been two types of relations between drugs and conflict. First there are the psychophysiological effects of drugs on warriors, which can either stimulate their desire to fight or make them unaware of danger, or, after a battle, ease the pain of injury or extreme tension caused by confrontation, particularly in the case of hand-to-hand combat. Second, there is the economic role of drugs, which can help finance a conflict or even become one of the issues at stake. Since ancient times, drugs have probably been part of the "conditioning" of African warriors in very strict ritual settings. Even today, although the social control exercised through the activity by the shamans, witches and other initiates over the use of psychoactive substances has, in many instances, disappeared, these substances are still in widespread use, as was observed, for example, during the conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Like the grigri, the power to make warriors invisible, leave them unaffected by bullets and so on is attributed to certain substances. Drugs marijuana, datura, amphetamines - are systematically given to child soldiers in particular, to enable them to face the horrors of war, so much so that the reintegration programs of UNICEF and specialized NGOs always start with a detoxification phase.
Over the past 20 years, however, drugs have also been part of the financing of a number of conflicts that have occurred on the continent. In Southern Africa, the conflict caused by apartheid was the cause of an explosion in the traffic and use of synthetic drugs, particularly Mandrax, which was smuggled by both the South African Secret Service and by the armed movements of the black and mixed race communities, particularly the ultra-radical Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). In Mozambique and Angola, war coincided with a significant development in the cultivation of cannabis, in which trafficking rings were used in the post-Cold War period for the trade in hard drugs (cocaine) and synthetics (Mandrax, amphetamines).
The transcontinental spread of this type of situation was fostered by the end of antagonisms between the superpowers in the early 1990s. During the Cold War, the two superpowers, which nuclear weapons deterred from direct confrontation, confronted each other through their Third World allies, from Central America to Afghanistan to Angola. The fall of the Berlin Wall did not cause local conflicts to disappear. It was discovered that their ideological pretexts (fighting for socialism, national liberation, anticommunism) most often concealed confrontations over nationality, ethnicity or religion. As the belligerents could no longer rely on funding from their powerful protectors, they were forced to find alternative resources in all types of trafficking, including drug trafficking.
Of the 30 or so local conflicts in the 1990s in which the presence of drugs was proven, 13 occurred in countries in sub-Saharan Africa: Angola, Comoros, Congo, Guinee-Bissau, Liberia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Uganda, DRC, Rwanda, Somalia and Chad. The first level of funding of a conflict is the tax levied by armed groups on rural inhabitants on the value of agricultural production. In exchange, the guerillas theoretically guarantee drug plant producers protection from abuse by merchants, criminals and, especially, police incursions. In Africa, where drugs are part of the conflict, the drug involved is usually cannabis, the only substance produced locally. The example on which information is most reliable is that of the Mouvement des forces démocratiques de Casamance (MFDC), the Jula rebellion in Senegal. Some observers feel that the tax collected on cannabis dates back to the early 1980s with the creation of the armed branch of the mouvement, Attika. At first, it was mainly the fighters' families who cultivated yamba, income from which helped support the rebellion.
However, reports soon flowed of the forced levies on rural inhabitants belonging to other ethnic groups. MDFC also commercialized the marijuana transported offshore in dug-out canoes and exchanged for weapons brought in by cargo ships from Liberia. The revenue thus obtained by the guerrilla forces can be evaluated at several millions of francs each year. The marijuana trade is also one of the reasons for the extended conflict in Guinée Bissau in 1998. The MFDC paid for the weapons provided by the army of the neighbouring country with marijuana. Lastly, the profits made by the Casamance rebels are one of the explanations for the continued conflict, as certain groups which got into the habit of living off this illegal resource refused to sign the agreements reached on a number of occasions between the government and the movement's leaders.
A similar scenario occurred in Liberia, where, when Charles Taylor lost control of the gold and diamond mines in Lofa county in 1991, he turned to the export of marijuana, which was carried on through the Port of San Pedro, to which the government of the Ivory Coast gave him access. Most of the armed movements in Chad have also relied on cannabis money.
A more complex case of the geopolitics of cannabis in sub-Saharan Africa is the government use of the struggle against cannabis to strengthen its control over regions which tend to escape it. For example, Sudanese authorities carry out eradication campaigns with the support of the United Nations' International Drug Control Program (UNIDCP) in Darfour province to the west and Bedja province to the east, which are inhabited by tribes involved in a struggle against the Islamic power at Karthoum.
The transit traffic in hard drugs by air and sea generally escapes the control of the belligerents. However, as soon as a large consumer market develops, supply lines can become a source of profit for the armed parties. This has been the case of the South African cocaine market, which, since the resumption of conflict in 1992-1993, Unita has helped supply. On January 20, 1998, the Angolan air force intercepted a DC-4 belonging to Congo Air Express, a private South African corporation transporting equipment to Jonas Savimbi's men. The pilot, who had taken off from the South African International Airport, Lanseria, in suburban Johannesburg, confirmed that he had regularly supplied Unita bases (in particular Andulo and Bailundo, in the central portion of the country) for two years. It appears that cocaine imported from Brazil entered Unita's extensive support networks as early as 1994.
Lanseria Airport is one of the least controlled ports of entry in South Africa for weapons and drug traffickers. It receives 10 to 20 flights daily and is officially closed at 7:00 p.m. (the customs office, staffed by a single public servant, closes at 5:00 p.m.), after which aircraft land at their own risk. Many are prepared to run that risk, which is actually quite relative: on May 25, 1997, an aircraft belonging to the late Zairian President Mobutu, then on the run, landed full of gold, currency and diamonds. The Million Air company, owned by Veejay Goswami, an Indian national accused of being the main Mandrax importer in South Africa and who was arrested in Dubai in July 1997, was also set up at Lanseria.
While cocaine forwarding appears to be a significant source of supply for Unita, the ports and airports in the hands of government forces also take part in trafficking. For 1995-1996, Interpol reported seizures in Angola of only 9 kg of cocaine. More than 100 kg of that drug destined for, or having transited through, Luanda, was seized downstream (Namibia, South Africa) or upstream (Brazil, Europe, United States) from that country. Thus the involvement of the ports and rings of the "useful country" of Angola in transnational trafficking seems obvious, even if, at the local level, seizures and, in general, the results of the anti-drug wars are minimal. It could even be said that the lack of results in this specific case is an indication of the "protection" that drug trafficking enjoys.
Other armed groups active around South Africa could also benefit from the development of his drug market. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo in particular, if the information on coca crops and cocaine production labs were confirmed, the networks of drugs intended for the South African market could also finance the players in the eternal conflict in that country.
The absence of large populations with high incomes, outside the black and mixed race communities in South Africa, means that the traffic in drugs such as cocaine and heroin in sub-Saharan Africa will likely remain at a relatively limited level that cannot be used to finance armed organizations. However, this observation does not help remove all the threats that drugs represent for this region of the world.
What is the future of drugs in sub-Saharan Africa?
Most of the countries of sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing economic, social and institutional problems which, more than anywhere else in the world, exacerbate the drug situation. The most effective way to combat this spreading phenomenon would thus be for the rich countries, in Europe in particular, to restore the major economic balances, promote youth employment, reinforce democracy and the rule of law and improve the situation regarding education and health. Although these are the objectives claimed by France and the international institutions, inadequate financial efforts made by the rich countries to assist Africa raise doubts as to whether they will be achieved. Furthermore, measures such as the European directive of 2000 permitting 5% vegetable fat in chocolate promote the illegal agricultural production. According to some experts, this measure will cause the Ivory Coast to lose $200,000 annually and will only provoke the development of cannabis plantations in the western region where cannabis is already being used to rejuvenate cocoa plantations (see infra).
And yet there is a particularly urgent need for recovery in the situation of the farmers of sub-Saharan Africa. The collapse of agrarian production systems has had many induced effects which promote the "drugification" of society. First, it drives away a number of young people to the cities, where, for lack of employment, they find a derivative in the use of prohibited substances. Those who stay in the villages attempt to improve their economic situation by cultivating cannabis. The commercialization of marijuana entails the establishment of trafficking loops which are a factor in the development of corruption. In many cases, this production also contributes to the financing of conflicts which complete the ruin of the regions in which they occur.
Some observations suggest that it is socio-economic factors, not the supply of drugs, that promote the development of substance abuse. A significant portion of drug users, in particular street children, who cannot afford conventional drugs, use glues and solvents, traditional plant-based mixtures such as datura or, particularly in Central Africa, products such as wax, grated snakeskin and urine-soaked mattress fibres.
Drug addicts are most often admitted to the mental health departments of hospitals and, in many countries, the psychiatrists trained to treat them can be counted on the fingers of one hand. In some instances, the NGOs attempt to correct the state's shortcomings, as in Benin, where one psychiatrist has taken the initiative of creating, in all high-risk neighbourhoods, "Carrefour-Jeunesse-Solidarité" youth associations, community banking groups managed by women, community health centres and craftsmen's cooperatives, asserting, without mentioning drugs, that this is the best way to prevent drug use because: "Since the deeper significance of substance abuse reveals a sick society, the choice and development of the new society that must be built must be the result of all segments of the population involved in the outbreak and development of this scourge." While waiting for a hypothetical "lift-off" of the economies of African countries, community action appears to be the only way to put a stop to the development of the complex drug problem.
Alain Labrousse, former Director of the Observatoire géopolitique des drogues (OGD), chargé de mission to the Observatoire français des drogues et des toxicomanies (OFDT) and author of a number of works on the topic, including La drogue, largent et les armes, Arthème Fayard, 1991, and La drogue, un marché de dupes, Éditions Alternatives, 2000.