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Cocaine trade increases in East and Southern Africa

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As global cocaine markets continue to expand, a new survey suggests countries in eastern and southern Africa are receiving much larger drug shipments from South America than previously thought.

According to a report by the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC), a study of the drug market in 16 countries revealed both significant local consumption and inflated transit flows to Europe and the United States. ‘Australia.

These mostly travel by sea container from the Brazilian port of Santos, although a steady stream of human carriers also transport smaller quantities from Guarulhos airport in Sao Paulo. Most cargo lands in coastal states like South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania, before being transshipped to other continents or heading inland.

SEE ALSO: South Africa emerges as cocaine trafficking hub

The result is a flourishing drug trade, the full extent of which is masked by weak interception capabilities. West Africa and North Africa are the continent’s most notorious cocaine corridors, but given their much higher enforcement profile – with French aircraft carriers patrolling the Gulf of Guinea – it is difficult to compare based on input data alone.

Below, InSight Crime provides three key points on the cocaine push in East and Southern Africa.

Retail prices of cocaine in the region. Courtesy of Jason Eligh and GI-TOC

Large-scale flow

Cocaine traffickers regularly ship bulk shipments to various countries in the region. This happens in three ways: in containerized shipments, in seagoing vessels, such as fishing boats, and in drug trafficking schemes from Latin America.

The survey identifies several prominent receiving ports including Durban in South Africa, Pemba and Nacala in Mozambique, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar in Tanzania, Mombasa in Kenya and Walvis Bay in Namibia.

Meanwhile, vessels are landing or laying drugs “along the east and west coasts of South Africa, the northern coast of Mozambique between Angoche and Pemba, the coastal waters of Zanzibar and Madagascar, the Kenyan coast of Kilifi in Lamu, and the coastal waters of Somalia”. -Kenya Maritime Zone,” the report notes.

Microtrafficking patterns are the most diverse, both in terms of smuggling method and destination. These are typically shipments of cocaine under 5 kilograms, which can be delivered through the mail, by human carriers on commercial flights, and in unaccompanied overhead baggage collected by conniving airport personnel.

Interception rates are very low and human carriers move easily through the area. Abundant flight connections mean Ethiopia’s Bole Airport in Addis Ababa and South Africa’s OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg are major hubs to Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Nigerian drug traffickers have long dominated sea and air flows since establishing outposts in Sao Paulo, Brazil in the late 2000s. In 2013, they organized up to 30% of cocaine exports by ship or by container from the local port of Santos, according to a report released that year by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The Brazilian port of Santos.

More recently, in December, police arrested an alleged Nigerian cocaine trafficker in São Paulo. He was accused of having shipped 5 tonnes of cocaine in October 2021 from the port of Rio de Janeiro to Europe via Mozambique. However, that case aside, Nigerian players are believed to have lost ground, said Jason Eligh, report author and lead expert at GI-TOC.

“They play a role, particularly in the regional distribution capacity of cocaine in eastern and southern Africa. The extent of that role today – compared to a decade ago, for example – is a question mark,” he told InSight Crime.

Arrival of the Brazilian CCP

The meteoric rise of another group may have moved Nigerians: Brazil’s most notorious prison gang, the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC). Since the mid-2010s, the São Paulo-based CCP has dominated drug trafficking from Brazil to Europe, turning the port of Santos into a global center for the cocaine trade.

They have also started moving increasing volumes of powder to the African Atlantic coast in recent years to diversify transit to Europe and establish new markets in Africa and Asia. Linguistic, historical and transport links have made Mozambique an important route, especially given its proximity to South Africa, the main cocaine hub in the region.

“The country has become a regional transit node for the gang’s cocaine shipments from the port of Santos both to the regional market – particularly South Africa – and to Europe and beyond,” says The report.

The Mozambican coast.

“With its mix of flexible local officials, moderately developed infrastructure, multi-modal transport links to European markets, a common language and a habit of turning a blind eye to the movement of illicit goods such as heroin, the gang clearly considers Mozambique as a viable transit point for its cocaine flows,” the document concludes.

SEE ALSO: Mozambique becomes southern Africa’s cocaine hub

In 2020, international fugitive and Brazilian drug trafficker Gilberto Aparecido Dos Santos, alias “Fuminho”, was arrested alongside two Nigerian associates in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, where he allegedly arranged drug deals for the CCP. The Brazilian press claimed that he had already done business in several neighboring countries.

Since then, there have been no further arrests of CCP members in the area. Going forward, however, it seems likely that it will increase its targeting of southern Africa. The only question is whether the group will send “baptized” gang members like Fuminho to organize the expeditions – as it allegedly does in Portugal – or simply rely on outside brokers.

Surprisingly high consumption

One of the main findings of the report is that cocaine markets in Eastern and Southern Africa are much more developed than expected. Gunpowder and crack were widely available throughout the region, with consumption calculated to be surprisingly high in several countries.

For example, a rough estimate concludes that the 60 million inhabitants of South Africa could consume up to 19 tons of cocaine per year. On a per capita basis, it is comparable to Australia, one of the world’s top cocaine consumers. Its 25 million people used about 5.6 tonnes of cocaine from 2019 to 2020, according to the country’s latest illicit drug data report.

In addition, the purity is also relatively strong. The most recent available figure from UNODC from 2017 puts the average purity of one gram of cocaine powder in South Africa at 55%, compared to 60% in the UK that year, the largest user of cocaine. cocaine in Europe.

Three grams of cocaine powder split in a Kenyan coastal village. (Courtesy of Jason Eligh).

And revenues are healthy. As of December 2022, a kilogram of cocaine powder was selling wholesale in South Africa for around $26,000 to $29,000, Jason Eligh said. That’s just below what he would fetch in parts of Western Europe. Similarly, the report estimated that the average retail price per gram was $38 in South Africa in 2021, which, although low in Europe, still generates a net profit.

The market is not limited to South Africa either. Neighboring Eswatini and Lesotho consume a staggering amount per capita, while Malawi reportedly consumes eight times more cocaine than heroin addicts. Crack is widely smoked throughout Zambia, and the cocaine trade in Kenya is lucrative enough to spark fierce competition among distributors.

“In short, the research has revealed that the region should no longer be viewed as existing on the periphery of the global cocaine trade,” Jason Eligh said. “It’s a major market destination.”

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