Europe’s ‘appetite’ for cocaine endangering Africa, warns UN anti-drugs chief
The head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warned today that security in West Africa is being threatened by criminals who are using the region as a hub for trafficking drugs, particularly cocaine, from South America to Europe.
“A sniff here and a sniff there in Europe are causing another disaster in Africa, to add to its poverty, unemployment and pandemics,” Antonio Maria Costa said at a conference on cocaine taking place in Madrid.
“The problem will persist until Europeans curb their appetite for cocaine,” UNODC’s Executive Director added, urging Europe’s cocaine users to take greater responsibility for the consequences of their addiction.
He said that since traditional cocaine trafficking routes from the Andean countries to North America are heavily patrolled, and trafficking into Europe has become more difficult, smugglers have found an alternative route through West Africa in order to keep up with the high demand for cocaine in Europe.
West Africa has become a desirable alternative route for two reasons, namely its location and its vulnerability, he noted. “Governments of the region are poor, weak and vulnerable – they cannot patrol their waters, cannot control their territory, cannot administer justice, and are plagued by corruption.
“Africa is under attack and cannot defend itself,” he stated, adding that the international community is reacting, but not as forcefully as needed.
Mr. Costa noted that more than 4 tons of cocaine were seized in West Africa this year, a 35 per cent increase over the entire haul for 2006. “But this is probably only the tip of a cocaine iceberg,” he said, noting that the drugs trade in Guinea-Bissau may be as high as the country’s national income. “Africa faces a crisis of epic proportions, by and large fuelled by Europe’s cocaine users.”
He said UNODC is helping West Africa, and especially Guinea-Bissau, improve its justice system and law enforcement capacity, just as it had done in Cape Verde in the past. The issue is also on the agenda of the Security Council since the implications for the stability of the whole region are serious, he added.
In order to help curb Europe’s cocaine use, Mr. Costa called on celebrities, in particular, to accept a greater sense of responsibility for their words and deeds, and speak out about the dangers of cocaine use “to make it a public enemy rather than socially acceptable.” He also urged the media to refrain from the “reckless” practice of glamorizing the lifestyles of “stars turned junkies.”
In addition, he called for greater investment into drug prevention and treatment, warning that “Europe stands almost naked in the face of the cocaine threat.”