The chaos in lawless Somalia is helping to transform East Africa into a major crime hub, with widespread trafficking in illegal drugs and other contraband, the United Nations crime and drugs boss said on Tuesday.
In a speech to the UN Security Council, the head of the Vienna-based UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, said heroin from eastern Africa appeared to be meeting up with cocaine from western Africa in the Sahara Desert.
"Mainly because of the dramatic situation in Somalia, the region (East Africa) is becoming a free economic zone for all sorts of trafficking drugs, migrants, guns, hazardous waste and natural resources, in addition to having the world's most dangerous waterways because of piracy," Costa said.
Some 30-35 tons of heroin from Afghanistan, the world's top producer of the drug, flow into East Africa each year, he said. Some 50-60 tons of cocaine enter West Africa annually, where Guinea-Bissau is a key trafficking hub.
Heroin and cocaine have become "a sort of new currency", Costa said, with the two substances simply being swapped on the market in the Sahara. He added that the spread of drug trafficking had dangerous security implications for Africa.
"Drugs not only enrich organised crime," he said. "Like in the Andeans and in West Asia, terrorists and anti-government forces in the Sahel extract resources from the drug trade to fund their operations, purchase equipment and pay foot-soldiers."
The Sahel is a belt of Africa extending across the continent just south of the Sahara
By Louis Charbonneau
December 9, 2009