by Gretinah Machingura and Xu Lingui
HARARE, Oct. 16 (Xinhua) -- Proceeds of drug trafficking are likely to be used by extremist groups in East and West Africa to band-roll terrorist activities in the growing vulnerable region, an African Union official said on Wednesday.
Olawale Maiyegun, the director of the African Union Commission social affairs department, told Xinhua on the sidelines of an continental experts meeting on drug control held in Zimbabwean capital Harare that the drug problem is actively linked with other forms of organized crimes such as terrorism and trafficking of small arms.
"In the case of Mali, proceeds from drug trafficking were used to fund destabilization in the northern part of the country," he said, adding that though the link is obvious in some cases, it would be pre-mature to say so for all the terrorist activities.
Maiyegun said there was no part of Africa that was free from drug trafficking although the crime was more prevalent in West Africa and recently in the continent's eastern region.
Drug control experts say West Africa has been a major transit route for cocaine trafficking from South America to Europe while East Africa served as a transit point for trafficking of heroin from the New Crescent area in West Asia including Afghanistan, Pakistan.
The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in East Africa the seizures of heroin increased almost 10-fold since 2009.
Maiyegun, a former senior Nigerian diplomat and leading anti- money laundering official before joining the AU, said with Kenya suffering more organized crime, there was a possibility that proceeds from piracy could have been used to commit the recent terrorist attack at the Westgate shopping mall that killed 67 civilians and security agents and injured at least 175 others.
"There is high crime in Kenya including piracy, drug trafficking and terrorism and I have no doubt that money from piracy played a significant role in the recent attack at the shopping mall," he said.
Al-Qaida-linked Islamist group Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was retribution for Kenya' s military deployment in neighboring Somalia.
Al-Shabaab is not the only terrorist threat Africa faces. In the north and west fronts, Islamists also wage wars, denote suicide bombs, or stage bloody attacks, wrecking havocs across the Sahel region on the borders of the Sahara desert.
In Nigeria, where drugs become a serious problem, authorities also fight with the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram which aims to create an Islamic state and in the process killing several hundreds of people, most Christians, in the country.
Maiyegun said Africa was increasingly becoming a major transit route in global trade of narcotics because of its central geographical location in the world and weaker links in the chain of law enforcement.
The continent is dealing with vast porous boarders and coastlines, fragile and post conflict states, weak criminal justice systems, corruption, among other social challenges that made the continent vulnerable to drug trafficking.
According to the UN, seizures of heroin in the past few years were particularly high in Nigeria, Benin, Togo on the western African coast and Tanzania on the eastern coast.
Plagued with chronic instability, the Portuguese-speaking country Guinea Bissau in West Africa is particularly reduced to a drug haven. Traffickers will use container ships or small boats to smuggle pure cocaine from Brazil and unload them in Bissau, before shipping drugs further to Europe or the United States.
"Traffickers are seeking for markets and will always look for the weakest links in the chain of member states," Maiyegun said.
The official said Africa therefore needed to develop stronger, harmonized laws to combat drug trafficking and abuse. And the response needs to focus on reducing both the supply and demand for drugs.
"As long as there is demand there will always be supply of the illicit drugs on the market," Maiyegun said.