Home > A powder storm: the cocaine markets of East and southern Africa.

Eligh, Jason (2022) A powder storm: the cocaine markets of East and southern Africa. Geneva: Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

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There is a transition occurring in the production and distribution of cocaine. Despite the extensive population containment and control measures put into place across the globe in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the flow of cocaine powder from Latin America to global markets appears to have been largely uninterrupted. This is despite the fact that measures to significantly reduce supply have been put in place by the governments of Colombia – a country that is still the primary cultivator of coca – and the United States, the primary progenitor of and ally in the war on drugs. The markets and supply chains for cocaine, as well as other illicit drugs, have proven to be remarkably resilient in the face of the growing patchwork of restrictions on movement and transport since March 2020 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The many predictions by experts of supply chain disruption to drug flows and the potentially disruptive impact of this on consumer markets have not come to pass. 

Cocaine distribution networks and related agents quickly found ways to bypass challenges raised by lockdowns and restrictions. Coca cultivation and potential cocaine production even expanded during the first year of the pandemic, reaching record or near-record levels in the three primary cultivation countries of the Andean production region. Recently, a change has been observed in the prominence of international destination markets for cocaine. There has been a growing shift away from the US as the destination market of choice towards supplying domestic markets in Europe. This has been enabled by maritime and air supply chains that allow the efficient movement of commodities direct to European Union (EU) ports and cities, but also through an apparent resurgence of traffic through indirect transit supply routes in the African countries along the Atlantic coastline, which are vulnerable to exploitation and well located for transit from other regions. While the West African state of Guinea-Bissau has long been a prominent player in the transit of cocaine from the Andean region of South America to Africa, and has been tagged as a narco-state because of its illicit drug trade dynamics, the story of cocaine in Africa today extends well beyond this country and its regional neighbours.

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