West Africa is appealing to traffickers for several reasons. It has endured a staggering level of poverty, which promotes a susceptibility to corruption: on average, 50% of the population lives on less than $2 a day. West Africa lies in close proximity to Latin America. Dakar, Senegal, is 700 miles closer to Recife, Brazil, than it is to Paris, France. West Africa’s borders also are mostly unguarded and porous. The region boasts more than 2,600 miles of coastline. In perspective, our Pacific coast (minus Alaska) and Atlantic coast each are less than 2,100 miles long. West Africa’s area and population are slightly less than that of our contiguous 48 states. Many governments do not have the legal systems, judicial structures, plans, funding, resources, and political will to combat drugs. Half the region’s population is under the age of 18 and the unemployment rate of the work-age population average is 30-50%. Thus, the trafficking of illegal narcotics is a lucrative alternative in a culture disposed to view narcotics like any other commodity to buy and sell.
According to Carson, billions of dollars worth of cocaine are now smuggled through Guinea Bissau alone:
Guinea-Bissau’s GDP is $340 million; that is the wholesale value of six tons of cocaine, which can easily be trans-shipped over one to two months. This creates a threat to good governance, local and regional stability, and development in West Africa. UNODC has noted that,“The relationship between diamond smuggling and the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia has been well documented, but, at their peak, profits accruing from this activity amounted to some tens of millions of dollars per year. The potential destabilizing influence of the cocaine traffic, where the value of a single consignment can exceed that sum, is very real.”
In the face of this onslaught, Carson proposes the United States respond with perhaps two cents worth of assistance for every dollar's worth of cocaine trafficked through West Africa:
For Fiscal Year 2010, the Department has requested $7.96 million in narcotics and law enforcement assistance for West Africa.
- Guinea-Bissau ($3 million)
- Cape Verde ($2 million)
- Nigeria ($2 million)
- Ghana ($500,000)
- Sierra Leone ($250,000)
- Guinea ($110,000)
- Burkina Faso ($100,000).
"To complement these efforts, we propose applying $42.4 million in other Department resources to bolster democracy, governance, and rule of law programs in these countries," Carson adds.