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Drug seizures, particularly of cocaine and cannabis resin, have significantly increased in the West African Sahel region, pointing to the area becoming a major route for drug trafficking. The UN report revealed that in 2022, a total of 1,466kg of cocaine were seized in Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, and Niger, compared to an average of 13kg between 2013 and 2020. Cocaine is now the most seized drug in the Sahel after cannabis resin. The region’s strategic location, lying south of the Sahara desert and spanning from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, makes it an natural transit point for cocaine being trafficked from South America to Europe.

The increase in drug trafficking in the Sahel has negative repercussions on peace and health locally and globally, according to Amado Philip de Andres, UNODC regional representative in West and Central Africa. Various armed groups’ involvement in the drug trade is detrimental to peace and stability in the region. The report highlighted that drug trafficking provides financial resources to armed groups in the Sahel, supporting the flourishing of extremist networks in the midst of recent political upheavals and coups. The involvement of individuals from the political elite, community leaders, and armed group leaders in drug trafficking allows these armed groups to sustain their conflict activities, including the purchase of weapons.

Corruption and money laundering are key facilitators of drug trafficking in the Sahel. Recent seizures and arrests have uncovered the complicity of the political elite, community leaders, and armed group leaders in enabling the drug trade. The UN emphasized the urgent need for coordinated and comprehensive action by states in the Sahel region and the international community to dismantle drug trafficking networks. Leonardo Santos Simao, special representative of the UN secretary-general for West Africa, stressed the importance of addressing the issue of drug trafficking through unified efforts to combat corruption and money laundering in the region.

In addition to drug trafficking, the Sahel region is also facing challenges related to drug consumption, with recent interceptions of cannabis and opioid painkillers like Tramadol. The instability in the region creates opportunities for criminal markets and drug trafficking to thrive, as the government struggles to maintain control in certain areas. Lucia Bird, director of the Observatory of Illicit Economies in West Africa at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, highlighted the role of corruption in fueling criminal activities within the region. She emphasized the need for stabilization in the Sahel and a comprehensive response from the entire supply chain to address the challenges posed by drug trafficking, rather than placing the burden solely on transit countries.

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