The United States says West African countries have emerged as key transit hubs for cocaine trafficked from South America to Europe. In its annual assessment of the drug trade, the White House said drug trafficking is undermining the stability of West African nations.
The Bush administration said drug traffickers have focused their illegal activities in Guinea-Bissau, but have also recently extended their operations south to Guinea.
The report said Nigeria is also a major transit country for illegal drugs destined for the United States. However, the report says Nigeria continues to make some progress on fighting drug trafficking and has cooperated with the United States on drug-related money laundering cases.
Francis Munu is assistant inspector general for crimes services for the Sierra Leone National Police. From the capital, Freetown, he told VOA there are several reasons why drug traffickers have targeted the West Africa sub-region.
"One is because there are now very rigorous tracking procedures if you have to transfer the drugs from South America to North America or to Western Europe because of improved technology, they find it difficult to use those routes for fear of detection. Therefore they come to West Africa which is very vulnerable in terms of having no capacity to detect drugs," he said.
Munu also said rampant corruption in some countries has assisted the drug traffickers to carry out their illegal trading.
"When we talk about corruption, it is a two-way process. It's not done by one person. They receive the connivance of people, sometimes in high places so that the drug dealers can have their way and then bring the drugs and transport to Europe. So we know this is happening; it's part of organized crime activity, and we have had to contend with this for quite some time now," Munu said.
Last month a Cessna Aircraft landed at Sierra Leone's Lungi International Airport apparently without a landing permit and carrying about 700 kilograms of cocaine.
Munu said the Sierra Leone government, in conjunction with British authorities, has launched an investigation and that charges would soon be brought against the crewmembers of the aircraft.
"The government took a no nonsense stance in order to get to the bottom of the matter to know who did this, why they did it, and who their collaborators are. And at the moment we are finalizing the investigation and very shortly they will be charged under a new law that has recently been promulgated that makes provision for stiffer penalties than the previous legislation," he said.
Munu said although individual West African countries have their own strategies to combat drug trafficking, the region as a whole does not have a common approach to deal with the increasing illegal drug trafficking in West Africa.
"Actually we do not have a harmonized activity to deal with this menace. Although individual countries have their own strategies to address the problem, I totally agree with the suggestion that we can only deal with it satisfactorily if we have the communications, the collaboration and cooperation of other West African states. But we find out that because there is this lack of cooperation, the drug dealers targeted in one area and then they shift to another area. It's quite a menace, and we need to have a concerted effort," Munu said.