Could it be… good news?
UNODC’s 2009 World Drug Report is out, and there’s a lot to digest. I’ll probably return to a few items but one point caught my eye while I was skimming through. We have written previously on the disastrous surge of cocaine trafficking through West Africa; UNODC now claims the massive flows have been stemmed thanks to international efforts.
By 2008, seizure volumes were in sharp decline, and as of May 2009, there have been no multi-ton seizures reported. The number of air couriers detected in European airports has plummeted. According to the database of one network of European airports, of all cocaine couriers detected, the share coming from West Africa dropped from 59% in the second quarter of 2007 to 6% in the first quarter of 2009.
While many of the vulnerabilities that made West Africa attractive to cocaine traffickers remain in place, the increase in international attention appears to have been sufficient to persuade them to find paths of less resistance. It is possible, if not likely, that they would return should international attention falter. But for now, West Africa has been spared the corrupting influence of a cocaine flow valued at more than the GDPs of some countries in the region.
If true, this would of course be good news — not least for UNODC, which after all exists to promote international cooperation on counternarcotics. I think I’d like to see some more information on this, however. An enduring problem in evaluating global drug flows is that data on seizures and trafficking arrests are not conclusive; there is no real way to know what percentage of the flow you are capturing. I’m by no means an expert on West Africa — and would be delighted to hear from anyone who is — but let’s keep an eye out for more research and evidence on what’s going on here.