West Africa’s Misguided War on Drugs

ACCRA – A recent estimate by the United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics that the market for illegal drugs adds £4.4 billion ($7.6 billion) annually to the country’s economy gives a sense of the astonishing scale of the illicit narcotics trade. For regions such as West Africa, with economies that are neither as large nor as developed as the UK’s, the impact of such activity can be even more corrosive.

West Africa finds itself increasingly enmeshed in the global drug trade. Its location makes it vulnerable to being exploited as a transit point between the Latin American and Asian production centers and consumer markets in Europe and the United States.

But, as the experience of Central America shows, transit countries do not serve only as a corridor for drugs. Illegal drugs and the money that surround them invade and destabilize their societies. This disturbing development – a byproduct of the failed “global war on drugs” – threatens to reverse recent economic and social gains in our region.

So far, West Africa has avoided the worst of the endemic and routine violence that accompanies the passage of drugs through Central America. But, with the stakes so high, there is no room for complacency. The scale of the cocaine trade alone in West Africa dwarfs the combined government budgets of several countries in the region.