With drug traffickers in West Africa increasingly adjusting their tactics to avoid counter-narcotics efforts, the United Nations and partner organizations today launched a comprehensive, integrated programme to combat drug trafficking and organized crime in the region.
The programme – the UN Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Programme for West Africa 2010-2014 – covers 16 countries and will respond to the needs of West African countries on the principle of shared responsibility, addressing the transcontinental nature of the challenge, in particular, the transatlantic route. It will focus on peace building, security sector reform, and national and regional institution- and capacity-building; as well as strengthening action in the areas of organized crime, trafficking and terrorism, justice and integrity, drug prevention and health, and awareness raising and research.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has often raised the alarm over narcotics trafficking in West Africa, noting that the problem has been compounded by widespread corruption and money-laundering.
In its 2009 report on transnational drug-smuggling, UNODC estimated that up to 100 tons of cocaine might have transited through West Africa that year. In some cases, the value of trafficking flows through the region surpasses the gross domestic products of the countries in West Africa, which are among the world's poorest countries.
The launch of the West Africa programme took place at a high-level meeting at UN Headquarters in New York, co-chaired by UNODC, the UN Office for West Africa and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and in cooperation with the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the UN Department of Political Affairs and the International Criminal Police Organization, better known as INTERPOL.
“The added value of UNODC facilitating the entire process will certainly lie in its particular mandate and experience, as well as in its role within the UN system as the main international forum to address crime and drug trafficking as a threat to international security at the global level,” the Executive Director of UNODC, Yury Fedotov, said at the launch. Established in 1997, UNODC is the UN agency charged with assisting countries in their struggle against illicit drugs, crime and terrorism.
Mr. Fedotov said that West Africa has become a hub for cocaine trafficking from Latin America to Europe, with its widespread poverty and geographic location halfway between the two continents making it particularly attractive to narcotics smugglers and other organized criminal networks.
He also noted that West Africa is a major transit route for counterfeit medicines, the smuggling of commodities and people for sexual exploitation, and risked becoming a major safe haven for terrorists if the narcotics trafficking problem remained unaddressed. Drug use has also been on the rise in the region, Mr. Fedotov added.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, Said Djinnit, described the programme as a “strong and effective alliance” of countries and organizations against organized crime in a region that “has been under severe attack by drug trafficking networks.”
“The fight against drug trafficking and organized crime was an essential pillar for any conflict prevention and peace building strategy in West Africa,” said Mr. Djinnit said at the launch. “The UNODC Regional Programme will be key to streamlining support for the ECOWAS regional plan of action and efforts at combating this global threat to peace and security.”
The regional programme is a culmination of an ECOWAS ministerial conference in Cape Verde in 2008, which resulted in a political declaration and regional action plan to combat drug trafficking and organized crime in West Africa. That meeting, followed by a multi-agency West Africa Coast Initiative, gave the impetus to the creation of the regional programme launched today.