Special Reports

The Development Response to Drug Trafficking in Africa


Drug trafficking poses a growing problem in Africa. Increasing flows of illicit drugs threaten good governance, peace and security, economic growth and public health. Failure to address this threat risks undermining the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s investments and thwarting U.S. Government objectives on the continent.

In recognition of the issue, USAID’s Africa Bureau initiated research in 2011 on the development causes and consequences of drug trafficking and potential programmatic responses. The resulting programming guide aims to help USAID, other development actors, and other U.S. Government personnel understand the relationship between drug trafficking and development assistance and seek ways to mitigate any negative impacts. At a minimum, development actors should undertake crimesensitive programming that ensures their efforts do no harm. Where possible, development actors should consider programming targeted to counter the flow of drugs (e.g., anticorruption efforts or judicial reform) or programming to ameliorate the impacts of drug trafficking, such as demand reduction programs including prevention and treatment. This guide helps Missions examine opportunities for incorporating such considerations into current or future USAID programming.

This guide first focuses on identifying the development challenge in Africa. The second section addresses the political economy analysis that will inform what type of programming is appropriate and which actors are appropriate partners for development efforts. The third section presents programming options to: (1) counter drug trafficking, (2) ameliorate its impacts, and (3) incorporate crime sensitivity. The fourth section presents key findings and lessons learned. These include:

  • Drug trafficking in Africa threatens development. Drug trafficking has exacerbated instability in Guinea-Bissau and Mali and is corroding governance throughout Africa. If left unattended, drug trafficking threatens to further undermine stability and governance and impair economic growth and public health.

  • Development practitioners must “get smart” on the issue. Given the significant threats across development sectors, USAID personnel should increase awareness of this issue by engaging with U.S. Government counterparts and incorporating issues of drug trafficking and criminality into planned assessments and analyses.

  • Interdiction alone will not solve the problem. Interdiction must be accompanied by demand reduction efforts to help counteract the potential increased profitability from decreasing the supply of drugs. Moreover, interdiction must lead to prosecution of traffickers beyond the lowest level to effectively disrupt drug trafficking networks.

  • Early identification of the problem and prevention efforts are critical. Although it is difficult to garner support for these issues before they erupt, early investments to contain the influence of drug money in politics and local conflicts and to prevent the spread of a retail drug market could significantly contribute to Africa’s future stability and prosperity.

  • Political will must drive the counternarcotics approach. Whereas Missions can undertake crime-sensitive programming and support efforts to ameliorate harm and increase demand THE DEVELOPMENT RESPONSE TO DRUG TRAFFICKING IN AFRICA: A PROGRAMMING GUIDE 1 for counternarcotics measures without accompanying political will, they should only pursue supply-side efforts to improve counternarcotics efforts where there is corresponding political will.

  • Resources influence programming options. To the extent that a Mission has democracy and governance funds and a serious drug trafficking issue, the Mission could direct resources to building accountable governance that simultaneously addresses core democracy and governance challenges in the country and promotes counternarcotics efforts. Absent such resources, Missions may still ensure that existing programming across development sectors incorporates crime sensitivity and works to ameliorate the impacts of drug trafficking (e.g., consider using health resources to raise awareness and support demand and harm reduction).

  • Change presents windows of opportunity and vulnerability. The environment for drug trafficking is fluid and Missions should identify windows of opportunity, or moments that present a chance for positive change, and vulnerability, or moments that risk fostering drug trafficking.

  • Coordination increases impacts. Given the many actors involved in providing assistance, USAID should work closely with its local, interagency and international counterparts as coordinated efforts are more likely to result in system-wide reform than those undertaken by any single entity. In addition, USAID should seek ways to align efforts across a region to prevent successful efforts in one country from simply pushing the problem elsewhere.

Click here to read the full MSI report.

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