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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.

“They are other people’s problems that have been loaded onto our backs,” says Guinea-Bissau’s Attorney General Amine Michel Saad.

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