Security experts from 12 West African countries, as well as the United States and United Nations, met in Dakar this week to discuss how guarding borders against drug and human trafficking could also help prevent terrorism. For VOA, Kari Barber has a report from Dakar on the meeting.
A Chad police official, Colonel Mahatma Habib Djamaladine, told the conference that his country is hindered in its efforts to stop drug trafficking, because of its long borders and problems in communicating with its neighbors.
"We have got a lot of difficulties in doing this, because we do not have information exchange with the countries bordering us, so it is really not easy for us to catch those criminals," he said.
Djamaladine says he has to rely on local populations to turn those entering the country illegally or smuggling drugs into police.
He says terrorist groups have also used the sparsely patroled borders to enter Chad.
United States Navy Captain David Iglesias helped organize the Dakar conference. He says drug and human trafficking in Africa provides a quick and easy way for terrorist groups and other criminal organizations to make money to conduct their operations.
"What happens after the drugs are sold, it is the money. What do these organizations do with the money? That is what we have dealt with," he noted. "They cannot keep millions of pounds or francs or dollars in their homes, they have to somehow legitimize it and that is how they use the banking system to wash the money to try to hide profits."
Iglesias says he was surprised to learn the extent of the problem of illegal migration from lesser developed African nations to more developed ones or to Spain.
A Spanish investigator at the conference who asked not to be named says in addition to dealing with the thousands of West African illegal migrants who travel by boat each year to Spain's Canary Islands, he also deals with drugs coming from the region. He says getting cooperation from those governments is often a struggle.
Even in the small nation of The Gambia, which is surrounded by Senegal, police Captain Kuluteh Manneh says smuggling is a problem.
"Whether they will use vehicles or use donkey carts or horse carts, they will find a way they can evade security patrols," he explained.
Manneh says the government does not know where money made from smuggling is going.
He says it is up to each West African nation to secure its own borders from smuggling and to communicate with border patrols in the neighboring nations.
"It should be the responsibility of all security personnel to come together to try to surpress things like terrorism, money laundering, human trafficking and drug trafficking, otherwise the development that we are anticipating will not be met at the target," he added.
Border officials say West Africa is not a source of drugs or a final destination, but a transit region on the way to Europe. It has long been a concern that West African nations with large porous borders and little security could be safe havens for terrorist groups from inside and outside the continent.