In Cameroon, officials with the International Criminal Police Organization,Interpol, blame a surge in the drug trade on an an ongoing crackdown on traffickers in neighboring West Africa.
Lawrence Tang Enow, an Interpol Regional Training Officer and a Senior Cameroonian Police Superintendent, said, "A few decades or years ago, it was zero. After some time, we started seizing a few grams. Now we got to a situation where, last year, we seized 140 kilograms."
Those figures are for Cameroon alone. He said intelligence reports based on border police and customs data across the sub-region show increasing quantities of Europe-bound cocaine, as well as more frequent arrests of peddlers and suspects.
According to the sub-regional branch of Interpol, the South American cartels and local allies are exploiting institutional and structural weaknesses to turn Central Africa into a transit hub on their “cocaine route” to Europe. They are able to take advantage of poor policing at ports and outdated traveler and cargo inspection equipment, porous land and sea borders, as well as corruption within security and customs institutions.
In February, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, estimated that cocaine smuggling in West and Central Africa generates some 900 million USD annually, up from 800 million in 2009.
Elsewhere, the US Drug Enforcement Administration, DEA, said in a report published last year that new players, including the Maghreb branch of al-Qaida [AQMI] and Nigeria’s Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, were getting increasingly involved in cocaine trafficking to raise money for their activities, or were being bankrolled by the traffickers for support.
According to Interpol officials, such connections set an even more dangerous precedent for the sub-region. Conrad Atefor Ntsefor, a police commissioner with the Interpol Central Africa Sub-regional Bureau in Yaounde, said "When they come in, they influence the politics of countries, they influence criminal activities, [and promote] corruption, and it’s a serious problem."
The US Drug Enforcement Agency states that the money generated by underworld organizations sometimes outstrips the state budgets of some African countries, and is easily used to buy off government officials.
"If you know what it means in terms of money; it is a lot," said Ntsefor. "So the fear is that if we don’t act and act in time, this phenomenon will become a very serious cankerworm."
Interpol additionally warns that the region risks surges in piracy off its coasts, illegal arms circulation, human trafficking and general instability as a result of the traffickers’ invasion.
It is currently forming partnerships with the police and customs departments of various countries. Together they will work to coordinate intervention strategies and update databases on the movements and activities of suspects. Interpol is also encouraging prompt information-sharing to facilitate the hunt for traffickers.
Commissioner Ntsefor says that, gradually, the efforts are paying off.
"When we [learn] how the operations in various countries work," he said, "we share that intelligence and better coordinate through our secure communications systems. I must admit that is what has been the driving force for the arrest of drug traffickers."
The effort adds to sporadic crackdowns being organized simultaneously across West and Central Africa and Latin America by the World Customs Organization, UNODC and Interpol.
Between November and December 2011, one of the joint operations conducted in 25 airports in West-Central Africa and Brazil led to the arrest of over 50 suspects, the seizure of over 500 kg of cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, guns, counterfeit medicines, ivory and over 3.2 million dollars in cash.
Experts say replicating such clampdowns will ultimately discourage the traffickers.