Surge in cocaine seizures fuels trafficking fears in Africa

A more than three-fold jump in the amount of cocaine seized in Africa has sparked fears the continent is rapidly becoming a trafficking hub, African law enforcement officers were told this week.

Seizures of the drug across Africa surged from 1,1 tonnes in 2003 to 3,6 tonnes in 2004, according to the most recent United Nations statistics available, far outpacing the worldwide increase of 18% in the same period.

“The rate of increase of cocaine seizure is accelerating,” said a UN report presented to a Nairobi law-enforcement conference that gathered anti-narcotics officers from 34 African nations.

Africa “is becoming a transit region to the worldwide cocaine market”, it said.

Countries in Western and Central Africa recorded the largest amount of cocaine seized.

In Ghana, the report said, the quantity increased from 15kg in 2003 to 617kg in 2004, with most of the cocaine destined for the United Kingdom.

Flemming Quist, a law-enforcement adviser for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, told Agence France-Presse the surge in seizures indicated that more cocaine traffickers are using the continent to disguise the origin of their shipments.

He said packages from Africa are less likely to be inspected by United States and European customs officers than those from source countries in Latin America.

“Since Ghana is not a production country, it probably won’t be selected for inspection,” Quist said.

Customs officers are often unaware the shipment originated elsewhere, he said.

Quist said drug enforcement officers in Africa need more training, and many departments lack the resources they need to inspect heavier traffic from Latin America.

“You can’t patrol a coastline without patrol boats,” Quist said.

In East Africa, Kenya has emerged as a growing transit region for international cocaine traffic, Quist said.

Gideon Kibunja, a Kenya police spokesperson, said authorities have boosted airport inspections since 2004, when 1,1 tonnes of cocaine was seized in Nairobi and the seaside town of Malindi.

It marked the largest seizure ever in the country.

Following the discovery, several Kenyan Airways staff members were arrested in London with quantities of cocaine, sparking concerns that the drug may have leaked into the international market.

But Kibunja disagreed with the assertion that more of the drug was being trafficked through the country.

“We’re just doing a better job of profiling passengers and sharing intelligence with drug-enforcement officials in other countries,” he said. “We’re detecting almost everything now.”—AFP

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