The nations of West Africa face a growing threat from transnational criminal groups, particularly narcotics traffickers. The often porous borders of some countries, the region’s long coastline and insufficient maritime security and criminal justice capacity make it a transit point for criminals smuggling drugs, firearms, people and other illicit cargo from source countries to both local markets and those in Europe and the Western Hemisphere.
As bad as that is, the proceeds of this activity are fueling corruption by co-opting government officials and security forces, the very authorities responsible for fighting crime. Criminal networks are seriously compromising the effectiveness of anticorruption and institution-building efforts as they permeate government. The influence these groups wield is believed to have contributed to the current political crisis in Guinea Bissau, and overall their activities threaten the collective security of both the region and the international community.
To address this escalating problem, the United States has developed the West Africa Cooperative Security Initiative, or WACSI. It is premised on the concept that cooperation with international partners and donor coordination is essential to fight transnational crime. U.S. officials met in Abuja, Nigeria, on June 21 with other active regional donors such as Brazil, Mexico, France, the United Kingdom, the European Union, United Nations offices for West Africa and Drugs and Crime and several other nations to promote cooperation in counter-narcotics operations with the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS.
The U.S. and other nations attending the meeting announced their support for renewal of an ECOWAS action plan to fight transnational crime and drug trafficking that expired last year. The group also emphasized the need for the development of the drug unit within ECOWAS to oversee and implement the it.
The plan calls for ECOWAS member nations to allocate adequate budget resources to combat drug trafficking, promote regional cooperation among law enforcement agencies and share information on drug trafficking and abuse problems. Meanwhile, the United States will continue to identify ways that our nation can work with ECOWAS, its member states, the African Union and other international partners on counternarcotic and anti-crime assistance in West Africa.