French-led Mali war breaks up cocaine supply to Europe

BAMAKO — France’s surprise intervention in northern Mali against Islamist fighters involved in lucrative drug-running has disrupted cocaine supply to Europe but smugglers are already finding new routes, analysts said.
A French soldier of the 92nd Infantry Regiment assesses the security situation in Amakouladji village, north of Gao in Mali on March 10, 2013. Net photo.
A French soldier of the 92nd Infantry Regiment assesses the security situation in Amakouladji village, north of Gao in Mali on March 10, 2013. Net photo.

BAMAKO — France’s surprise intervention in northern Mali against Islamist fighters involved in lucrative drug-running has disrupted cocaine supply to Europe but smugglers are already finding new routes, analysts said.

The former colonial power sent its jets and troops exactly two months ago to eliminate Al-Qaeda-linked groups that had been controlling northern Mali for nine months and were threatening to move south towards the capital.

The jihadist network in Mali’s north has funded itself by taking foreign hostages but also by levying a tax on smugglers running drugs from Latin America to feed Europe’s ever-growing market.

Poverty and the lack of government presence in the vast desert expanse has provided an ideal ground for smugglers.

Typically, the drugs are shipped to the Gulf of Guinea or flown in directly from Venezuela, for example, into Mauritania or Mali, where they are stored and eventually taken overland to the Mediterranean’s southern shores.

The route is known as “Highway 10”, in reference to the 10th parallel, a line of latitude which cuts through Colombia and Venezuela at one end, Guinea and Nigeria at the other and just misses Mali.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime said in a recent report that around 10 percent of the 172 tonnes of pure cocaine that entered Europe in 2010 transited through West Africa. The military intervention in Mali has “totally disrupted the trafficking of drugs, weapons and migrants in the region, smashing up all the networks transiting through northern Mali,” French researcher Mathieu Guidere said.

Guidere, a specialist of Islam and of the year-old crisis in northern Mali, said smugglers have been paying a fee worth around 10 percent of their cargo’s value to groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

“Some groups would even, for an additional fee, offer protection for the convoys,” he said.

With its elite special forces and aerial firepower, France has blasted its way into some of the jihadist groups’ most remote bases and “this has sent everyone scurrying away but they are all trying to set up new routes,” Guidere said.

Alain Rodier, who heads up France’s CF2R intelligence research centre, said regional smuggling networks had already been disrupted by the Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia and Libya.

“Traffickers however are continuing their business by using other routes, which demonstrates their ability to adapt,” he said. Smugglers have always successfully adapted to new situations, said criminologist Xavier Raufer, pointing out that the supply of cocaine from Latin America to Europe has never broken once in 40 years.

“You can never draw accurate maps of cocaine trafficking because the routes have already changed by the time the ink dries up,” he said.

Raufer said the authorities combatting drugs would have to seize a larger proportion of narcotics and, importantly, of drug money.

Subscribe to The New Times E-Paper


You want to chat directly with us? Send us a message on WhatsApp at +250 788 310 999    

 

Follow The New Times on Google News