Interview of Ahmedou Ould Abdallah to Africa Drugs Blog on RFI :Former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for West Africa, Somalia and Burundi, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah now heads the Center 4 S (Center for Security Strategies in Sahel and Sahara) based in Nouakchott. For this good expert on West Africa and its mysteries, the fight against terrorism tends to obscure the importance of the drug trafficking. Even if he remains vague as for naming countries and culprits, the former diplomat denounced links between some heads of state in place and the networks of drugs.
Africa Drugs: You are among the ones who believe that the fight against terrorism, although a priority, tends to overshadow the pursuit of drug trafficking, including cocaine, in West Africa. What makes you say that?
Ahmedou ould Abdallah: I think that terrorism should not be the tree that hides the forest. By ‘forest’, I mean that the endemic corruption of some security institutions and public services, but also and especially the drug traficking, have not yet disappeared. As a matter of fact, why the reports on the drug coming from Latin America and elsewhere, –that we were talking so much about beforehand–, has suddenly disappeared from the headlines, radio or diplomatic cables? So, the focus on terrorism may sometimes obscure the seriousness of the drug trafficking, which protagonists are carefully avoiding to be exposed in full light. But they are very well present in some capitals, sometimes with official titles and connections. Everybody knows that! Most surprising is that some Western intelligence services are fully aware of that but seem to prefer to continue focusing on terrorism…
Yet, until recently, there was much talk of links between terrorism and drugs, including a G20 meeting in Paris?
AOA: The drug trafficking is being left over when the Western services are speaking to our countries in the Sahel- Sahara region. However, my experience in Somalia and elsewhere showed me that there is a vital link. Being hashish, cocaine … or piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, all this increases the process of criminalization in the national economies. The work of the leaders who are not corrupted, or the security forces who want to stay clean, is becoming extremely difficult.
Isn’t it already the case? There are many examples in the area of links between trafficking and certain political or security people in charge…
A.O.A: Indeed, this already a proven case. Moreover, given the weakness of the African States of the region, the more there will be collusion, the more it will become impossible to eradicate it and return to a normal situation. It is enough to see what happened in Mexico and other Latin American countries to imagine what may happen in our regions.
Do you believe the traffickers have penetrated the top of the state in Mauritania, Senegal or in other countries in the region?
AOA: We’re all focused on Guinea- Bissau, which is a small country, insisting that this is a narco-state. Even though this affirmation has some truth in it, it will be a mistake to ignore what is going on elsewhere. In the other West African countries, the connections through private, family or other kind of networks are numerous. So, I think, the traffickers have a message that their correspondents understand very well: « The drug is not sold and consumed in your countries”, they say. What does it cost you to pass it through the region? Either way, it is for others …” What they do not say is that the drug money distorts everything. It distorts justice, police and therefore the security system. Worse, there is not anymore a possibility for democracy. Those who are financed by drug traffickers cannot easily be beaten in an election.
In your opinion, do the traffickers find complicity among the leaders of the region or will the latter only close their eyes?
AOA: I think lots of the leaders, through family relationships or through their own relays are connected to drug trafficking in the region. This allows them access to large private funding. Because it is not possible for justice, for example, to release proved traffickers, if there were no green light in the circle of power. It is not easily understandable that people can enjoy diplomatic statute and travel without any problem if they have not protections at the top. Of course, to prove it materially is not an easy task. But the facilities enjoyed by some relays of notorious cartels in Latin America suggest that the system in our country is quite gangrene. When we see the difficulties that the United States have to work with Latin American countries, we imagine in a few years – if it is not already the case – the difficulty that Westerners will have to work with countries of West Africa.
Can drug dealers or their relay weigh in local elections in West Africa?
AOA: Traffickers have already impacted local elections, especially if they support the candidates already in place. They have enough resources. They do not need transparent accounting. They can play bullying. And there is no doubt in the mind of many observers that the traffickers have relay to a very high level. They will certainly weigh in some elections in the coming months.
Based in Nouakchott, the Centre’s area of intervention is the band of land stretching from Mauritania down to Guinea along the Atlantic coast and, across the savannah, to Chad and Sudan. The main issues it addresses are: defense and security of the Sahel Sahara; armed violence and terrorism; competition for oil, gas and uranium; irregular migrations within and outside the region; trafficking in human, cigarettes, drugs, etc; environmental and renewable energies. The main priority is to help the region and its international partners – public and private, as well as those from Civil Society organizations, Universities, Forums, and others Groups, to collaborate further in order to ensure security and prosperity of the Sahel