in West Africa is stored and repackaged, and then transported to European markets, usually via the trans-Sahel-Sahara route through Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad to Libya and Egypt. Even Moroccan hashish follows this ancient route.
The arrival of groups such as MUJAO (the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa), AQIM (Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb) and Ansar Dine in northern Mali has had consequences for the drugs trade. AQIM and MUJAO (2) exact tolls from cocaine convoys that cross their territory and, for a price, supply protection (3). Only a modest amount of AQIM’s income comes from drugs – hostage-taking is much more lucrative – but MUJAO makes more. Contrary to expectations, the division in Mali hasn’t made the trade easier. “A weak state presents an opportunity for traffickers, but a completely disorganised territory is dangerous,” the Sahel specialist told me. “Without reliable support from the army or the police, or from local and national politicians, the security of cocaine consignments can’t be guaranteed. Even if you have struck deals with all the jihadist and MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) groups in the north, you still risk being ripped off.”
That’s why the traffickers have decided to move their business to neighbouring Niger. “Networks are taking shape in Arlit and Agadez [in Niger]. More and more traffickers are moving there from Mali,” said a politician from Niger (4).
In spite of its instability, Guinea-Bissau is one country that has not yet caused the drug traffickers to flee: 15th in the Failed States Index 2012 (just after Nigeria), it is a major hub for cocaine in West Africa. In 2007 the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimated that between 800 and 1,000kg of cocaine entered the country by air every night. Ports, airports and even islands have been leased to traffickers with the knowledge of the government, who have abdicated responsibility to the army.
“In almost all cases in 2006-07 that involved the seizure of one to two tonnes of cocaine, there was no prosecution. And in the few exceptions, no sentence was handed down,” a French specialist in the country said. “In Guinea-Bissau, trafficking results from a deal between the army and civil authorities.”
After a period of calm that had lasted since 2008, European anti-drugs agents noticed the arrival of cocaine consignments measured by the tonne in early 2012 – again with the complicity of the (often senior) military. Planes touch down on landing strips in the heart of the country, and sometimes on roads. “The army sees to logistics and protection for the planes: runways, fuel, storage. They don’t take part in organising the trade or reselling the product: they’re just a service provider,” the specialist said.
To operate this trade, the international cocaine traffickers, especially the South
LMDLeMonde diplomatique FEBRUARY 2013 3
Police officers guard bags of cocaine found in the basement of a villa near the Senegal seaside resort of Nianing, south of the capital Dakar
GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Gety Images
Americans, forged top-level alliances with Guinea-Bissau’s civil and military leaders. Carlos Gomes Júnior (“Cadogo”), the country’s former prime minister arrested in the April 2012 coup, was suspected of covering up this trade and profiting from it. “Suspicions about Gomes date back to 2008, when a boat disappeared along with its cargo. He was accused of being behind it. The case got shelved,” the analyst recalls. “Not everything is drugs-related,” Lapaque points out, “but it always has to be taken into account.”
In 2011, the chief of staff, Antonio Indjai, neutralised his rival, Rear Admiral José Americo Bubo Na Tchuto, then head of the navy, and took control of the ports. “Bubo” features on the US’s international drugs trade wanted list; he was freed in the 2012 coup but seems to be currently out of action. It seems that the army’s chief of staff, who is close to Gomes Junior, gave his support to the coup only at the last moment, realising that he was better off with the military, a group of clans who pick their own leader.
The April 2012 coup wasn’t just caused by the cocaine trade: there had also been accusations of electoral fraud, historical tensions between politicians and the military, communitarian claims by the Balante (the main ethnic group in the army) and calls for greater recognition for Bissau, the autonomous capital. Fear of reform of the security sector planned by Gomes Junior caused particular alarm: the military opposed it, as it would have forced many of them into unemployment or retirement, with minimal guarantees (tiny pensions, unconvincing retraining schemes). After the April coup, the drug trade went quiet due to the level of disorder, a trend seen after every serious disruption.
Cocaine has become an important new revenue source for some West African elites – just as cannabis has become an alternative cash crop for the continent’s peasants – but its impact on national conflicts needs to be put in context. Drug money feeds conflicts, but it isn’t the prime motivating factor. Control of the traffic and territories was at the heart of the rivalries and score-settling between Indjai and “Bubo” in Guinea-Bissau, and the Tuaregs and the other peoples of northern Mali before
2012. But for those in the military or politics who hold power in Guinea-Bissau, and for the Islamist fighters who are flocking to Mali, and the new rulers in Bamako, the drugs trade is a tool for pursuing political objectives.
Misappropriation of funds at the highest levels of society in West Africa is not limited to the cocaine trade. Drugs get particular attention because of their health consequences and impact on Europe; they push into the background the instability caused by oil smuggling in eastern Nigeria, which is deemed more socially acceptable. They also allow states to justify repressive policies that target street dealers and addicts, while demonstrating complete inertia over economic and social development.
TRANSLATED BY GEORGE MILLER (1) Simon Julien, “Le Sahel comme espace de transit des stupéfiants: Acteurs et conséquences politiques”, Hérodote, no 142, Paris, March 2011. (2) The participation of Ansar Dine has not been proved. (3) Abdelkader Abderrahmane, “The Sahel: a crossroads between criminality and terrorism”, Actuelle de l’IFRI (Institut Français des Relations Internationales), 10 October 2012. (4) Interviews conducted in November and December 2012.
initiatives are not enough to guarantee the capability of the troops they train (the example of Mali speaks for itself), but they show how a policy of providing assistance, without intervention, to the armed forces of partner nations could develop in Africa, including high-intensity actions against irregular forces that are now heavily armed.
Hollande’s declaration on 19 January that France will stay in Mali ‘for as long as is necessary to ensure victory over terrorism’ is a sign of a new, almost Sarkozian recklessness with words
This background of mutual knowledge partly explains why the Ecowas summit in Abidjan on 19 January voted unanimously to speed the strengthening of the International Support Mission for Mali, so as to provide effective support to the Malian and French forces involved in Operation Serval. Eight countries – Muslim and Christian, francophone and anglophone – have promised to contribute. Chad, Togo, Benin, Senegal, Niger, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Ghana are to send 3,600 troops.
When it comes to defining the enemy – and limiting the objectives of the intervention – the record is mixed. Hollande’s declaration on 19 January that France will stay in Mali “for as long as is necessary to ensure victory over terrorism” (5) is a sign of a new, almost Sarkozian recklessness with words. Having announced that France would not intervene, he was saying, three months later, that no time limit had been set on its presence in Mali. Does this mean that the “strategic hiccups” are about to start up again? The reappearance of the simplistic and open-ended slogan “war on terror” in connection with Mali is all the more troubling because the US, which coined it, abandoned it in 2009 (6). (Barack Obama belatedly remarked that it was stupid to make war on a mode of action without studying the political causes of the fires you were trying to put out, after having lit them.) “Terrorism” cannot be conquered any more than seasonal flu can be eradicated. It can only be restricted. A mode of action, however reprehensible it may be in absolute terms, is by definition theoretically available to any partisan fighter, and using that mode of action does not necessarily bar them from playing a role in any future negotiated settlement. This idea may be shocking but there are the examples of the FLN in Algeria, Michael Collins in Ireland, the UCK in Kosovo, the Irgun in Israel, and the “good Taliban” with whom Hamid Karzai will have to negotiate after 2014 in Afghanistan.
Strategic efficiency requires that the enemy and the objective be more carefully defined, and that the head of state should rather speak of “the time required to drive the most radical irregular Saheli forces permanently from Malian territory.” Once Operation Serval has achieved this reasonable objective, this would leave a welcome amount of room for a political agreement between the Malian government in Bamako, its regional supporters and a nebulous adversary made up of former and present irregular fighters, opportunist traffickers, army deserters, neo-jihadists radicalised by Gulf Wahhabism and “secular” independence fighters. The complex situation in Mali cannot be understood by considering everything in terms of a “global war on terrorism”.
A medium-term goal better suited to the situation in Mali, the Sahel and North Africa would also be more in line with the actual capabilities of France’s armed forces, which are about to suffer their biggest budget cuts for a decade. France’s foreign and defence ministries are confident. It remains to be seen whether the country’s military can sustain the required effort for the duration. How will France’s White Paper on defence and national security, due to be published in the next couple of months, take account of Operation Serval?
TRANSLATED BY CHARLES GOULDEN (1) Qatar’s prime minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani on 15 January criticised France’s intervention against jihadist groups in Mali, saying that he preferred a “regional dialogue” approach and suggesting that Qatar should act as mediator. (2) In an interview on 11 October with reporters from France 24, RFI and TV5 Monde. (3) The official language of the Republic of Mali is French; other languages include the Mande languages, Songhay, Dogon, Hassaniya Arabic and Berber. (4) It should be noted that this operation never consisted of “liberating the women of Chad”. (5) François Hollande, speech at Tulle, France, 19 January 2013. (6) See Scott Wilson and Al Kamen, “‘Global War on Terror’ is Given New Name”, The Washington Post, 25 March 2009.