Africa and the drugs trade revisited

Gernot Klantschnig, Hannah Cross, Margarita Dimova

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


In the 1990s Africa, once again, became ‘a new frontier’ – this time for the global war on drugs. Recognising the significance of the continent’s immersion in the global drug trade, this journal dedicated a pioneering special issue to the matter in 1999 (Vol. 26, No. 79). The previous year, the UN had held its General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) and published its first major report on drugs in Africa (UNDCP 1999). ROAPE’s focus on the drugs trade grew out of these initiatives at the time. The next UNGASS took place this year, in April 2016, against the backdrop of accelerating global drug policy reforms and the expansion and transformation of drug markets throughout Africa. The role of developing countries in policing drugs, but also in informing and shaping broader policy, added both depth and dilemmas in the run-up to the deliberations in New York.1 Seizing this opportune moment to present and discuss new research from across the continent, this special issue revisits some of the themes explored in 1999 and introduces new findings and avenues for research. Intended to dispel myths about Africa’s ‘drug problem’, contributors aim to steer both the academic and policymaking debate towards issues emerging from empirical findings in a variety of country contexts. The parameters of the continent’s involvement in the production, sale and consumption of (illicit) drugs have been subject to a number of notable changes since ROAPE’s first special issue on the topic. National policing bodies such as Nigeria’s National Drug Law Enforcement Agency have expanded their capacity, often with the assistance of external donors. The US Drug Enforcement Administration has opened offices in Lagos, Accra, Nairobi and Pretoria, and actively seeks to collaborate with local authorities. A multinational maritime task force is now policing the Indian Ocean and making record seizures, such as the more than 1.5 tonnes of heroin intercepted off the coast of Kenya and Tanzania in 2015 alone (CMF 2015a, 2015b). As a result, trafficking routes have evolved to evade intensifying policing. Consumption patterns on the continent have also changed. New drugs, such as methamphetamines, are sold and even produced in a number of African countries (Mark 2013). Substances previously confined to metropolitan areas are now trickling into rural areas (Syvertsen et al. 2016). In April 2015, Pierre Lapaque, the West and Central Africa representative for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), described the continent as ‘the market of the future for illegal drugs’ (Bouchaud 2015). Today drug consumption, trade and production in Africa is the subject of a special commission headed by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and discussed by media and policymakers in almost every African country (WACD 2014). The fact that the African Union has developed two Plans of Action on Drug Control and Crime Prevention – for 2007–2012 and for 2013– 2018 – is indicative of the continental scale of the phenomenon. However, statements like Lapaque’s convey an image of a sudden crisis that fits neatly into the broader rhetoric of the global drug prohibition regime. It also resonates with Africa-specific narratives of terrorism, corruption and state ‘failure’, which have captivated a range of audiences in the past decade and a half. Of course, the ways in which drugs are smuggled, sold, consumed, perceived and talked about throughout the continent have changed. The trends outlined above are just some of the major developments that have taken place. Yet, very little has changed since 1999 in one fundamental aspect – our knowledge base and its use in formulating ‘evidencebased’ policy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-173
Number of pages7
JournalReview of African Political Economy
Issue number148
Early online date27 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jun 2016

Structured keywords

  • SPS Centre for the Study of Poverty and Social Justice


Dive into the research topics of 'Africa and the drugs trade revisited'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this