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close this bookThe Courier N 152 - July - August 1995 - Dossier: NGO's - Country Reports: Belize, Malawi (EC Courier, 1995, 104 p.)
close this folderDeveloping world
View the documentAid under fire: what policy ?
View the documentEstablishing links between relief and development
View the documentDrugs in West Africa
View the documentThe chicken and the egg

Drugs in West Africa

by Alain Labrousse

At the beginning of the 1990s, the International Narcotics Control Board (lNCB) issued a report in which it said: 'The situation regarding the abuse of and traffic in narcotics has continued to deteriorate in Africa over the past few years. If effective action is not taken (these phenomena) will be added to the poverty, violence, corruption and instability of the communities concerned.' Several years later, this pessimistic forecast has been largely confirmed.

Cannabis production

Though cannabis has been known in East and Central Africa since the 14th century, it was not introduced to West Africa until after the Second World War, by Ghanaian and Nigerian soldiers who had fought in Burma with the British.

At first, the marijuana trade in rural areas was relatively limited and controlled, but in the last decade, following the drop in the prices of raw materials such as cotton, ground nuts, coffee and cocoa beans, farmers have started to cultivate the cannabis plant more extensively. Their activity ranges from just a few patches, hidden among subsistence and market garden crops, to relatively large areas covering several acres and belonging to a single owner. There are also indications that, here and there, experiments in the cultivation of poppies and coca trees are being carried out.

It would appear, however, that far from being a survival strategy, the cultivation of such crops in Ghana and Nigeria has been seen from the outset as an attractive way of making money. Ghanaian and Nigerian traffickers have started to 'export' their form of production to other regions of West Africa, in particular Senegal and Southern Gambia. The islands of the Saloum Delta and the Gambia and Casamance rivers (the main areas of production in the region owing to a favourable climate and relative isolation) are home to peasant farmers with relatively large areas under cultivation. Across the region, Nigerian and Ghanaian traffickers offer seeds to farmers, paying them in advance for the harvest which they come to collect when it has been taken in. The system involves paying CFAF 300 000 for the cannabis harvested from 10 m², which must be delivered within three months. The farmer who does not meet this commitment must then supply double the quantity stipulated.

The Nigerians have also started to extend their activities to Benin, where cannabis is known locally as gue. It is found in each of the six provinces of that country. And the Ghanaians are extending their activities to Burkina Faso. There are significant areas of cultivation in the central and western region along the Sissili and Nahouris rivers to the north of the frontier with Ghana. These are effectively under the control of Ghanaians, as the same ethnic groups live on both sides of the frontier. A significant proportion of the crop produced is reputed to be for export.

In Cot'lvoire, cultivation seems to have developed hand in hand with implementation of the first structural adjustment programme between 1984 and 1988. It developed more rapidly when world cocoa (and coffee) prices collapsed in 1988/89. This period also saw a restructuring of the cocoa marketing and distribution system, and the dissolution of credit networks in an area where farmers had been forced into producing nothing but cocoa. The price paid to the producer for a kilo of cocoa beans fell from CFAF 400 to CFAF 200. In some cocoa growing regions of the south west, 'ganja' has been established for a number of years now among young cocoa plantations (two or three years old). It is also found in plots of land used for subsistence farming, among rice below the normal ground level and in cassava fields. It is even possible to see areas of up to three hectares devoted solely to the cultivation of cannabis.

Sub-Saharan Africa: a market crossroads for traffickers

Alongside this development, Africa has, since the 1980s, become a significant air and sea transit route for heroin from Asia, destined for the USA and Europe, and for cocaine heading for Europe from America. At the start of this decade, heroin intended for Europe and the USA began passing through Nigeria. Initially, it was so-called 'brown sugar' (heroin no. 3) imported directly from the Indian subcontinent. In South East Asia, traffickers also dealt in 'Chinese' heroin (heroin no. 4) and the routes were later diversified to pass through East and Central Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya and Zaire). The African networks, meanwhile, extended to cover more countries. By 1994, it was estimated that 30% of heroin consumed in the USA had been introduced there by Nigerian networks.

The through traffic of cocaine from South America also affects most of the large countries of West Africa, in particular Senegal and Cot'lvoire. It has recently begun to have an impact on South Africa as well. As for heroin, large-scale trafficking is accompanied by the activities of the 'small fry', made up of thousands of small-scale couriers of all nationalities who take chugs to the various European nations with which their countries have historical and linguistic links.

The increase in the number of production areas and trafficking networks has had an overspill effect on local populations. But there are other crucial influences-the economic crisis, the flight from the countryside, the effects of structural adjustment on unemployment, and the destruction of family life as parents seek a livelihood leaving the children to their own devices. Psychotropic drugs such as amphetamines, barbiturates, and tranquilisers can be found on sale everywhere and are in widespread use, especially among the street children of the urban areas. In the Sahel countries, (Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger), farmers are poisoning themselves without realising it by using amphetamines provided by pedlars, in order to cope with hard manual labour during the short rainy season.

The most worrying factor is the advance of cocaine and heroin. These were the preserve of the privileged classes a few years ago but usage is now growing among the common people in all the big cities. The fact that heroin and cocaine are the only two imported products not to have increased in price (CFAF 15 000 per gram) in the poor areas of Lomnd Abidjan, following the devaluation of the CFA franc, indicates that traffickers have targeted their activities on these local markets.