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

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

The continent’s cities are larger, younger, and flush with more disposable income than ever. Increasingly, drug traffickers – who are often paid in drugs themselves – are finding way to unload their product inside the region’s overcrowded cities, according to the UN.

“It’s a huge issue for public health,” Mr. Schmidt says. “We don’t have any treatment centers here.”

Or rather, Guinea-Bissau has one: a rural clinic run by an elderly priest.

From South Africa to Europe

Kind as the past decade has been to West Africa’s businesspeople – the region includes some of the world’s faster-growing economies – it’s been even kinder to its people whose business is drugs.

European consumption of South America’s cocaine doubled in the decade, and West Africa juts outward into a particularly profitable stretch between the two.

The region, the size of the US, hides impenetrable wetlands and vast Saharan tracts, whose police often earn, in the case of Guinea-Bissau, around $100 a month. The country’s border agents don’t have uniforms, many police stations don’t have bicycles, cars, or gas, and the coast guard doesn’t have a ship.

“It’s very easy to corrupt them,” says Manuel de Almeida Pereira, a legal officer for the UNODC. “Some of these payments are being done in drugs, and these drugs are falling into the streets.”

Trends

In the past year, the UN says they’ve seen the region’s drug trade shift.

Afghanistan’s heroin has found a route through Africa’s Sahara, where it exits the continent through Guinea-Bissau before heading to the US.

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