New IDS Report on West Africa

A few years back there was a jump in the amount of South American drugs, particularly cocaine, being found by authorities in West Africa. Starting in Brazil and Venezuela, the shipments move across the Atlantic to the West Coast of Africa, and from there through the Sahara and on to Southern Europe. A new route presents many challenges, portending not just drug-related violence but threats to the integrity of government institutions themselves. West Africa has not suffered drug-related violence on the scale of Latin America. However, the effect on governance and development in weak and generally impoverished states could be grave.

A new paper from the Institute of Development Studies’ programme on ‘strengthening evidence-based policy’ takes a comprehensive look at the situation in West Africa and the predominant approach of international institutions to the rise in trafficking through the region. The report, written by Markus Schultze-Kraft (technical advisor to GDPO) and titled “Getting Real About an Illicit ‘External Stressor’: Transnational Cocaine Trafficking through West Africa”, critiques the current focus on law enforcement as the answer to the problem.

The author presents the framework of understanding pushed by the World Bank, which separates external stresses – military invasion, illicit trafficking and so on – from internal stresses like unemployment and corruption. These ‘stressors’, the World Bank has argued, combine to generate new stresses and violence in turn. In contrast, Schultze-Kraft contends that the World Bank external-internal dichotomy neglects the inter-relationship between the two and thereby “runs the risk of over-simplifying complex issue and framing the analysis in a way that reduces its usefulness for policy purposes. It also runs the risk of uncritically reiterating dominant contemporary discourses on global and transnational problems.” In reality, the paper argues, complex processes like trafficking “tend to involve external, internal and transnational actors and variables that are often interrelated.”  Therefore, “internal and external stresses should not be conceptualised as separate but actually as relating to and reinforcing one another for they are interconnected through transnational actors and processes that are part of broader globalising dynamics.” The paper highlights the importance of considering such factors in creating new, sustainable, effective policies.

Drug trafficking through West Africa has been an area of focus within the drug policy community for around a decade. More recently, the development community has joined in. But studies of trafficking through the region “tend to reflect institutional/organisational interests and mandates rather than rigorous independent research.” The UNODC, for example, produces reports that are “heavily skewed toward representing a situation that calls for building up increased regional law enforcement and interdiction capacities to curb illicit flows,” a goal which happens to be “at the core of its mandate.” Present policies, designed and paid for by outside actors, are focusing narrowly on trafficking routes and as such “they ignore the political economy of drug trafficking in countries such as Guinea-Bissau, Ghana or Mali,” decreasing the likelihood of policy success and “increasing the likelihood of political instability and governance failure.”  “The major task at hand,” Schultze-Kraft writes, “is to devise strategies that effectively enable and support West Africa’s states to manage the opportunities afforded to them by, and the pressures resulting from, processes of illicit globalisation in such a way that the incentives for national elites and their patronage-dependent constituencies to engage in trafficking are reduced; and the incentives to build more accountable, legitimate and effective public institutions are increased.”

Among many recommendations that could form the basis of a new approach, the paper argues that effective global-level policy to tackle the problem in West Africa would need to focus on:

– increasing investment in public-health-focused and human-rights-based interventions to reduce cocaine demand in Europe and in other large consumer markets, such as the US, Brazil, South Africa and Russia;

– achieving a new international consensus on drug policy based on the reform of the existing international drug control regime.

The paper can be read in full here.