6 July 2009

Organized Crime Plundering West Africa, Says UNODC Report

VIENNA 7 July (UN Information Service) - A Report issued today in New York by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows that illicit activity is posing a serious threat to security and development in West Africa.

In the past few years, West Africa has become a hub for cocaine trafficking from Latin America to Europe. In 2006, around a quarter of all cocaine that entered Europe (roughly 40 tons) transited Africa. This threat seems to be subsiding. In the past 18 months, a lower volume of seizures and a drop in the number of air couriers coming from West Africa to Europe has been detected. "Less drugs are flowing through West Africa. We must ensure that this downward trend continues", said UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa.

However, the UNODC Threat Assessment shows that West Africa is being targeted by other illicit flows like cigarettes, arms, women, counterfeit medicines, toxic waste (including e-waste), oil and other natural resources (like hardwood and diamonds).

In some cases, the value of trafficking flows through the region surpasses the Gross Domestic Products (GDPs) of the West African States, some of the world's poorest countries. Revenue from 45 million counterfeit anti-malarial tablets (438 million dollars) is greater than the GDP of Guinea-Bissau. Revenue from cigarette smuggling (around 775 million dollars) is greater than Gambia's entire national output. Illicit income generated from bunkering oil or trafficking cocaine (approximately 1 billion dollars each) rivals the GDPs of Cape Verde or Sierra Leone.

According to Mr. Costa, "West Africa has everything that criminals need: resources, a strategic location, weak governance, and an endless source of foot soldiers who see few viable alternatives to a life of crime."

The Report examines the various illicit flows; the nature, size and values of the markets; trafficking methods and routes; and profiles the traffickers.

Among its main findings are that:

•     Cocaine trafficking through the region is decreasing, although flows of 20 tons (valued at 1 billion dollars at destination) still have a destabilizing impact on regional security.

•     In Nigeria, 55 million barrels of oil a year (a tenth of production) are lost through theft and smuggling ("bunkering"). Oil bunkering, particularly in the Niger Delta, is a source of pollution, corruption, and revenue for insurgents and criminal groups.

•     As much as 80 per cent of the cigarette market in some West and North African countries is illicit, meaning that most of the smoking going on in these countries is profiting criminals.

•     50-60 per cent of all medications used in West Africa may be sub-standard or counterfeit. This increases health risks in a region where there is high demand for anti-infective and anti-malarial drugs, and promotes the development of drug resistant strains which are a hazard to the entire world.

•     West Africa is a major destination for electronic waste (including old computers and mobile phones), also know as e-waste, that contains heavy metals and other toxins. The European Union (EU) alone produces 8.7 million tons of e-waste a year.

"Organized crime is plundering West Africa - destroying governments, the environment, human rights and health", warned the head of UNODC. "This makes West Africa more prone to political instability and less able to achieve the Millennium Development Goals."

Mr. Costa said that "a powerful minority, all the way to the top, is profiting from crime in West Africa, at the expense of the many". He warned that, left unchecked, "democracy and development will falter, while crime and corruption flourish."

Addressing a Security Council meeting on the situation in West Africa, Mr. Costa stressed that "most illicit trafficking is transiting West Africa, not originating there. Most contraband is heading north." He called on rich countries to "take their share of responsibility by curbing their appetite for the drugs, cheap labour and exotic goods that are being smuggled via the region, and by stopping the use of West Africa as a dumping ground for weapons, waste and fake medicines."

Citing the success of the Kimberly Process against blood diamonds, the Bamako Convention against hazardous waste, and the Praia process against drug trafficking, he called for international action against oil bunkering, counterfeit medicines, e-waste, and the smuggling of migrants and cigarettes. "We must act before more lives are lost, more countries looted, and more states infiltrated by gangsters", warned Mr. Costa.

Copies of the Report available upon request, or check  www.unodc.org

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For further information, please contact:

Walter Kemp
Spokesman and Speechwriter, UNODC
Telephone: (+43-1) 26060-5629
Mobile: (+43-699) 1459-5629
Email: walter.kemp@unodc.org