Countries in Eastern and Southern Africa are receiving much larger illegal shipments of South American drugs than previously thought as global cocaine markets expand, InSight Crime, an organization that studies organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, indicated in an early January report.
“Cocaine trafficking from Latin America through Africa increased because the African continent is an excellent transit route,” Carolina Sampó, coordinator of the Center for Studies on Transnational Organized Crime in Argentina, told Diálogo on January 18. “In addition, little by little and due to pressure from those who export drugs, [the African continent] is also becoming an important consumption area.”
Shipments of narcotics travel mostly in shipping containers departing from the Port of Santos, Brazil. There is also a constant flow of human couriers flying smaller quantities of drug out of Brazil’s major international airports such as São Paulo Guarulhos airport.
Most of these shipments land in countries on the coast such as South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya, and Tanzania, and are then taken to other continents or inland, Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC), a Switzerland-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) that focuses on organized crime, indicated in a December 2022 report.
“In the beginning, these routes were used by Colombian cartels to avoid paying Mexican cartels,” said Sampó, about the relationship between Latin America as a cocaine-producing region and Africa as a trafficking, storage, and consumption area. “A collaboration between African and Latin American criminal organizations began to open up, which led to an increase in consumption in Europe and the opening of new markets such as the Middle East and Asia.”
Cocaine traffickers regularly send large shipments to various countries in the region. This happens in three ways: in containers, on maritime vessels such as fishing boats, and through narcotrafficking schemes from Latin America, GI-TOC indicated.
The NGO’s research identified several major receiving ports, such as Durban in South Africa, Pemba and Nacala in Mozambique, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar in Tanzania, Mombasa in Kenya, and Walvis Bay in Namibia.
According to InSight Crime, Nigerian narcotraffickers have long dominated maritime and aerial flows since establishing outposts in São Paulo, Brazil, in the late 2000s. By 2013, they were already coordinating up to 30 percent of cocaine exports by boat or shipping container from the Port of Santos, a report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) indicated.
“African states are co-opted by criminal organizations,” Sampó said. “These generate greater incentives for Latin American narcotraffickers, who consider that this route is less risky and more profitable than others, even when they have to negotiate part of the logistics with their African counterparts.”
For Sampó, drug shipments are able to circulate in Africa due to scarce control in regions such as the Mali desert or the islands off Guinea-Bissau, where cocaine is transferred from large ships to speedboats that travel along the coast of Africa.
GI-TOC highlighted that boats drop off drugs “along the east and west coasts of South Africa, the northern coast of Mozambique between Angoche and Pemba, the coastal waters of Zanzibar and Madagascar, the Kenyan coast from Kilifi to Lamu, and the coastal waters of the Somalia-Kenya maritime area.”
“Patrols on the sea are quite limited because state resources are scarce and also because public and private officials in these countries are corrupt,” Sampó said.
Brazil fights back
Brazilian authorities, however, have been cracking down on narcotrafficking that targets transatlantic routes from the Port of Santos.
In late October 2022, for instance the Brazilian Federal Police (PF) seized 125 kilograms of cocaine from the Port of Santos; the drug was hidden in a shipment of ceramic tiles bound for Sudan, Africa, CNN Brasil reported. Months earlier, the PF made a record 1.5-ton seizure of cocaine from two shipping containers, also from the Port of Santos, bound for Africa, Brazilian news site G1 reported.
The PF also reported numerous seizures at airports from people attempting to smuggle cocaine to Africa. On April 16, two women were arrested attempting to board a flight for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with almost 18 kg of cocaine. A day prior, a Brazilian passenger, whose final destination was Maputo, Mozambique, was caught carrying nearly 12 kg of cocaine, U.S.-based news site Homeland Security Today reported.
According to G1, between 2010 and 2019, the PF seized a total of 80.7 tons of cocaine at the Port of Santos. Seizures seemingly dropped the following years as transnational criminal organizations shifted to smaller ports in Brazil, a report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime indicated.