The Institute for Security Studies is a regional human security policy think tank with an exclusive focus on Africa. As a leading African human security research institution, the institute is guided by a broad approach to security reflective of the changing nature and origin of threats to human development.
Beginning in the middle of the last decade, the international community was alerted to the fact that drug trafficking in West Africa was in danger of spawning a series of near ‘narco-states’: countries whose economies, politics and social structures were being infiltrated and distorted by the drug trade.[i]
Some seven years later, after an inadequate and uncoordinated response to that call to arms, the inevitable has happened. Where previously cocaine trafficking was one of the most important challenges the subregion faced, this has compounded exponentially, deepening a crisis of statehood that may be difficult to reverse.
The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) has just started the first phase of a year-long research project funded by the National Endowment for Democracy on the relationship between statehood and illicit trafficking in West Africa. Recent interviews conducted on the ground in the subregion highlight unequivocally that current attempts at solving drug trafficking throughout West Africa have not achieved their stated objectives.[ii] Of more importance, however, is that they bring to the fore the seeming absence of political will – either nationally or internationally – to address the problem.
This policy brief aims to remind any actor or institution that is serious about democracy, sustainable development and human security that a ‘business as usual’ approach to the problem of trafficking in West Africa should not be accepted. This is no longer an issue of crime, law enforcement, or security, but strikes at the core of the human rights, democratic and humanitarian foundations upon which global governance rests.
[i] Admittedly this is a fairly broad definition and not accepted by everybody. An African ambassador to Guinea Bissau, for example, argues that the country is not in fact a narco-state given that the trafficking of drugs is not ‘official state policy’. Nevertheless, in this particular case, the level of penetration of the state, economy and society of money generated through the drug trade is so significant that it is hard to argue that there is no impact, whatever definition used.
[ii] An initial round of interviews was conducted in September 2012 with, among others, political and community leaders, UN staff, diplomats, law enforcement officials, businessmen and journalists in Dakar and Bissau. Apart from qualitative interviews, later work under the project will also include the conducting of focus groups in several countries across the region.
Written by Mark Shaw