SUNS  4307 Thursday 22 October 1998


Paris, Oct 19 (IPS/Thomas Hirenee Atenga) -- Drug production and abuse are on the increase in Africa, and so is money laundering, according to a new report by a Paris-based institution that
monitors illegal narcotics worldwide.

In its just published 1998 report, the Observatoire Geopolitique des Drogues (OGD - Geopolitical Observatory for Drugs) says that a trend observed since the end of the 1980s - that Africa is becoming an increasingly important hub in the international drug trade - has been confirmed.

More and more cannabis is being grown in all regions of Africa in response to the economic crisis in general, and the crisis in the agriculture sector in particular, according to the OGD report, which adds that armed conflicts in many Sub-Saharan African countries have also encouraged drug trafficking.

"Africa is no longer just a drug transit point because of its porous borders, but a large production and consumption area," says the OGD, which notes that South Africa has a top slot in drug
production, consumption and trafficking in Africa.

Of the 54.3 tonnes of cannabis seized in Africa last year by customs officials, 47 tonnes came from South Africa. Cannabis is grown worldwide on some 35,000 hectares which can yield a total of
22,140 tonnes with a street value of around 23 billion French francs (more than 4.2 billion dollars), according to the OGD.

Growing 'dagga' (cannabis) is the sole means of livelihood for most peasant farmers in Kwazulu-Natal and the eastern Cape in South Africa, the report says.

In Mauritius, where intensive money laundering has created the conditions for a boom in drug consumption, about 10,000 people out of a population of 1.2 million are hooked on heroin, while 4,000 others inject themselves with other drugs at least three times a day.

The government, political parties and civil society are trying to understand how drugs have taken root there. However, says the OGD report, they are unlikely to achieve much since significant amounts of drug money have been invested in tourism, on which the Indian Ocean nation depends heavily.

Mauritius is not alone in Africa. Whitewashing drug money is fast becoming a continental problem, according to the OGD, which says the lack of national or regional studies on drug trafficking or
abuse makes it hard to come up with precise figures.

"If tendering and licensing were more transparent in Africa and if African countries did not need foreign investments as much as they do ... (money laundering) would not do so well," says OGD
researcher Laurent Laniel. "In the long run, it's a most perverse system because it needs to maintain disorder and corruption in order to thrive."

The OGD report notes that in countries with armed conflicts, drugs have been grown to finance wars. Conflicts like those in Angola, the Casamance region of Senegal, Guinee-Bissau, Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Kinshasa and Soudan have been financed with drug money, it says.

The expansion of drug cultivation threatens the development of legal agricultural production, which tend to be supplanted by the illegal narcotics, notes the OGD. This, it says, endangers the supply of food to towns and the survival of cash crops.

In Senegal, for example, groundnuts used to be the engine of development but now it is on the decline: production has fallen from 800,000 tonnes in 1960 to an annual average of between 300,000 and 500,000 tonnes. Less rainfall has led people to plant less groundnuts and grow more cannabis: not only is the weed less demanding on the soil, but it also yields at least 200,000 CFA
francs (about 370 U.S. dollars) a kilogramme, 50 to 100 times more than legal crops.

"That's why cannabis has spread to most of Senegal's regions," says the report, which adds that the most important cannabis-growing region in that country is Casamance, "both for climatic reasons and because of the ongoing conflict there".  Government troops have been fighting separatist rebels for years in Casamance, which is in the south of Senegal.

In Togo, the proceeds from the sale of cannabis leave an evident trace: some people build and equip homes with drug money; others open small bars or sell spare parts; still others buy cars or go
into activities such as pig-rearing or chicken farming.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) government officials have amassed fortunes for years by selling hard drugs and precious stones, while people on the ground grow cannabis, which they see as one of the best economic alternatives.

Drugs are grown throughout Congo, the report notes. In the north-western province of Equateur, plantations as big as 30 hectares in size are hidden away in logging concessions, from where
timber trucks ferry the narcotic weed to the port of Matadi to be shipped abroad.

The market in Guinea Bissau is controlled by Ghanaians and Nigerians, who supply amphetamines to various circuits, the main ones being discotheques. The country's waters are hardly ever
patrolled so it is easy for the drugs to be brought in or taken out by canoe from supply ships offshore.
Generally, the economic crisis in Africa has created such disenchantment that many people see drugs as the main way out, says the report, which adds that as the authorities pull back from
various sectors, drug cultivation and money laundering are gradually becoming a development model.