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West Africa Rising: Heroin, cocaine traffickers find more buyers at home

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West Africa Rising is a weekly look at business, investment, and development trends.

Since Colombian cartels first docked here in the early 2000s, the tiny West African country of Guinea-Bissau was supposed to be the crossroads – just the crossroads – of Africa’s booming drug trade, a four-continent-crossing caravan of cocaine, heroin, and war weaponry.

More and more, however, this country’s cobblestone capital and the region around it constitute a thing more dreadful: a market. It has become a place to sling crack and hook users.

“We have seen a huge increase in crack addiction in West Africa,” says Regional Representative Alexandre Schmidt for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The tonnage is staggering: The UN estimates that 13 metric tons of cocaine – an $800 million snow worth as much as the entire gross domestic product of Guinea-Bissau – were inhaled in West Africa in 2009, the UN’s last year on record.

Those tons were intended, originally, for Europe. They accounted for one-third of the 35 tons thought to have been unloaded that year from the unregistered speedboats, planes, cargo ships, Boeing jetliners – and maybe even submarines – that dock, land, or bubble up onto West Africa as they carry their coke toward Europe’s nightlife.

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