Tag Archives: black globalization

West Africa and international drug trade

The connection of local economies with global markets often results in the local development of new skills, wealth, and infrastructure.  However, in the absence of effective governance black globalization can develop.  The integration of some parts of West Africa, such as Guinea-Bissau, into global trade networks has lead to the accumulation of skills in smuggling and smuggling institutions that have enriched few while impoverishing many.  For example see the UNDOC report Cocaine Trafficking in West Africa: The threat to stability and development (pdf).

Stephen Ellis, the Desmond Tutu professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Free University  of Amsterdam, writes earlier this year in African Affairs (doi:10.1093/afraf/adp017) about the development of West Africa’s International Drug Trade

A major change in the global cocaine trade is taking place. South American cocaine traders are reacting against the saturation of the North American market, the growing importance of Mexican drug gangs, and effective interdiction along the Caribbean smuggling routes. These factors have induced them to make a strategic shift towards the European market, making use of West Africa’s conducive political environment and the existence of well-developed West African smuggling networks. Some leading Latin American cocaine traders are even physically relocating to West Africa and moving a considerable part of their business operations to a more congenial location, just as any multinational company might do in the world of legal business. Most recently, since a coup in Guinea in December 2008, there have been reports of Latin American cocaine traders moving in significant numbers to Conakry, where some relatives of the late President Lansana Conte have an established interest in the cocaine trade. Some observers believe that the next step for Latin American cocaine traders might be to commence large-scale production in West Africa. Some African law-enforcement officers are deeply concerned by the likely effects of the drug trade and drug money on their own societies, and indeed there is evidence that drug money is funding political campaigns and affecting political relations in several West African countries. Diplomats and other international officials worry that some West African countries could develop along similar lines to Mexico, where drug gangs have a symbiotic relationship with political parties and with the state and drug-related violence results in thousands of deaths every year.

Research by the present author shows that Lebanese smugglers were using West Africa as a transit point to transport heroin to the USA as early as 1952. A decade later, Nigerian and Ghanaian smugglers in particular began exporting African-grown marijuana to Europe on a scale large enough to attract sustained official attention. By the early 1980s, some had graduated to the global cocaine and heroin business. Since then, successful Nigerian and Ghanaian drug traders have established themselves in most parts of the world, including other West African countries, where they work with local partners in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire and elsewhere. Very large shipments of cocaine from South America to West Africa have been recorded for the last ten years. In short, West Africa’s role in the international drug trade has historical roots going back for over half a century and has been a matter of significant concern to law-enforcement officers worldwide for decades rather than years. Latin American traders who see some benefit in moving part of their operations to West Africa can find local partners with well-established networks who provide them with safe houses, banking, storage space, and a host of other facilities in return for a suitable financial arrangement or for payment in kind.

Not only is West Africa conveniently situated for trade between South America and Europe, but above all it has a political and social environment that is generally suitable for the drug trade. Smuggling is widely tolerated, law enforcement is fitful and inefficient, and politicians are easily bribed or are even involved in the drug trade themselves. Many officials throughout the region are deeply concerned by the effects of the drug trade, but are often confronted by people and networks more powerful than they, with other priorities. The recent emergence of a sophisticated financial infrastructure in Ghana and Nigeria is a further reason for the enhanced importance of West Africa in global drug trafficking. All of the above draws attention to a point made by Jean-François Bayart and others more than ten years ago, namely that expertise in smuggling, the weakness of law-enforcement agencies, and the official tolerance of, or even participation in, certain types of crime, constitute a form of social and political capital that accumulates over time.

The UNODC has pointed out that the relocation of a substantial part of the Latin American cocaine business to West Africa, including even some senior management functions, is not best understood as a consequence simply of comparative advantage in pricing. A more important reason for this development, which has been taking place for over a decade, is the exceptionally favourable political context offered by ineffective policing, governments that have a reputation for venality, and the relative lack of international attention given to West Africa. A pliable sovereign state is the ideal cover for a drug trafficker. The Colombian economist Francisco Thoumi states that ‘[p]rofitable illegal economic activity requires not only profitability, but also weak social and state controls on individual behavior, that is, a society where government laws are easily evaded and social norms tolerate such evasion’. In short, ‘[i]llegality generates competitive advantages in the countries or regions that have the weakest rule of law’. Drug production is not primarily to be explained by prices, but by reference to ‘institutions, governability and social values’. This is consistent with the ‘new’ international trade theory, which emphasizes the role of technical knowledge, public infrastructure, and the qualities of institutions in encouraging trade, supporting the view that ‘institutional and structural weaknesses and cultural aspects determine the competitive advantage in illegal goods and services’.

It is not hard to see why powerful people may nonetheless tolerate the drug trade in West Africa. For countries as poor as Guinea-Bissau or Guinea-Conakry, it makes a huge, though unofficial, contribution to national income. The UNODC, however, warns that crime hinders development, which it defines as ‘the process of building societies that work’. Crime is said to destroy social capital, and therefore to be anti-development. In purely technical terms, the emergence of the drug trade in West Africa over a period of fifty years or more is an astonishing feat. West African traders, with Nigerians in the forefront, have created for themselves an important role in a business characterized by competition that is cut-throat – literally – and by high profits. They have penetrated drug markets in every continent. Their success, and their growing ability to cooperate with organized crime groups elsewhere in the world, is inextricably linked not only to globalization and new patterns of international migration, but also to specific experiences of rapid economic liberalization in the late twentieth century. Nigerians especially were playing a significant role in the illegal drug trade in the 1970s, before the era of structural adjustment. Subsequently, the manner in which new financial and economic policies were implemented in West Africa in the 1980s contributed greatly to the formation of what has been called ‘a shadow state’, in which rulers draw authority ‘from their abilities to control markets and their material rewards’. Dismantling large parts of the bureaucratic apparatus inherited from colonial times, and the formal economic activity that went with it, rulers became intent on identifying new shadow state networks, sometimes drawing in foreign investors. West Africa’s ‘shadow states’ are thus relatively new, but they draw heavily on older traditions. These include not only the existence since pre-colonial times of initiation societies that are sites of power, but also the colonial practice of indirect rule, which sometimes resulted in local authorities operating unofficial networks of governance rooted in local social realities, hidden from the view of European officials whose attention was focused on the official apparatus of government.

Oil Pirates of Nigeria

From the BBC Fighting for Nigeria’s oil wealth:

The Niger Delta, a region the size of England, is littered with violence and gas flares – the offshoot of oil extraction – whose roar and heat you can feel for hundreds of metres around.

The flares have become symbols of the region and the paradox that exists in an area where you find one of the world’s richest oil regions alongside some of the poorest people.

With unemployment at 90%, many people of the Delta are tempted to join the criminal gangs who terrorise the area, kidnapping foreign oil workers and launching raids on oil platforms.

Maintenance of the gangs, their boats and weapons is expensive and is funded by the theft of oil on a huge scale – up to 200,000 barrels a day.

The gangs are well-armed and the Joint Task Force is ill-equipped for the challenge.

They’ve managed to seize only a few of the barges used to ferry the stolen oil to huge tankers waiting offshore to take it on to the world’s refineries. It’s a huge and sophisticated operation on an international scale.

For more information on oil piracy see the Christian Science Monitor, PBS Newshour, and the BBC who write “Nigeria’s oil production has been cut by around a fifth since 2006, partly as a result of the violence by criminal gangs and militants. “

Illegal logging, black globalization, and undercover environmentalists

Black globalization is an evocative name for how multi-nationals and mafias can blur together by using violence and global trade to avoid regulation, certification, and quality control. In the New Yorker article The Stolen Forests Raffi Khatchadourian writes about the global trade in illegally logged timber, and how an environmental NGO, the environment investigation agency, collects data to document illegal logging and encourage law enforcement.

Chances are good that if an item sold in the United States was recently made in China using oak or ash, the wood was imported from Russia through Suifenhe. Because as much as half of the hardwood from Primorski Krai is harvested in violation of Russian law—either by large companies working with corrupt provincial officials or by gangs of men in remote villages—it is likely that any given piece of wood in the city has been logged illegally. This wide-scale theft empowers mafias, robs the Russian government of revenue, and assists in the destruction of one of the most precious ecosystems in the Northern Hemisphere. Lawmakers in the province have called for “emergency measures” to stem the flow of illegal wood, and Russia’s Minister of Natural Resources has said that in the region “there has emerged an entire criminal branch connected with the preparation, storage, transportation, and selling of stolen timber.”

A fifth of the world’s wood comes from countries that have serious problems enforcing their timber laws, and most of those countries are also experiencing the fastest rates of deforestation. Until a decade ago, many governments were reluctant to acknowledge illegal logging, largely because it was made possible by the corruption of their own officials. As early as the nineteeneighties, the Philippines had lost the vast majority of its primary forests and billions of dollars to illegal loggers. Papua New Guinea, during roughly the same period, experienced such catastrophic forest loss that it commissioned independent auditors to assess why it was happening; they determined that logging companies were “roaming the countryside with the self-assurance of robber barons; bribing politicians and leaders, creating social disharmony and ignoring laws in order to gain access to, rip out, and export the last remnants of the province’s valuable timber.” In 1998, the Brazilian government announced that most of the country’s logging operations were being conducted beyond the ambit of the law.

In 2001, experts with the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of Congo coined a phrase, “conflict timber,” to describe how logging had become interwoven with the fighting there. The term is apt for a number of other places. In Burma, stolen timber helps support the junta and the rebels. In Cambodia, it helped fund the Khmer Rouge, one of the most brutal rebel factions in history. Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia, distributed logging concessions to warlords and a member of the Ukrainian mafia, and the Oriental Timber Company—known in Liberia as Only Taylor Chops—conducted arms deals on his behalf. The violence tied to Taylor’s logging operations reached unprecedented levels, and in 2003 the U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on all Liberian timber. (China, the largest importer of Liberian timber, tried to block the sanctions.) Shortly afterward, Taylor’s regime collapsed. An American official told me that the U.S. intelligence community “absolutely put the fall of Taylor on the timber sanctions.”

Wildlife, globalization, and resource wars

Diamonds, cocaine, coltan, oil and timber are valuable resources that finance armed groups that blur the distinction between gangs, rebels, and mafias.  Now WRI Earthtrend’s writes that the Illegal Animal Trade Finances War in Africa:

Illegal animal trade, once a high-profile environmental concern, has largely taken a back seat to climate change, habitat destruction, and pollution as a threat to biodiversity. Despite being out of the spotlight, however, so-called wildlife trafficking is a big business. The U.S. Department of State estimates that black-market trade in illegal ivory, snake skins and venoms, live birds, primates, tiger parts, rhino horns, and other wildlife and wildlife products generates between 10 and 20 billion dollars per year. China is the number one destination for such products; the U.S. is number two.The targeted animals are increasingly threatened by poaching, and many are critically endangered in the wild. But species conservation isn’t the only reason that wildlife trafficking has been drawing increased attention recently. Rather, the alarm is of a relatively new sort: national security.

The black market trade in endangered animals, once a crime committed by small groups of local poachers, has become dominated by organized crime syndicates. Like the conflict diamond trade that has funded brutal wars in Sierra Leone, trade in wildlife provides a steady stream of unreported money–some of which, it seems clear, is supporting civil war and terrorist organizations.