Weakened by a decade of conflict, West Africa suffers from political instability, violence, corruption, poverty and high unemployment, particularly among youth. Fundamentalist groups are exploiting this situation, largely by targeting disadvantaged youth and trying to attract them to their ranks. In addition to recurrent instability, West Africa has become in recent years a hub for arms, goods, and drug trafficking, with much of this illegal trade benefiting fundamentalist groups. Traffickers and fundamentalists are therefore each complicit in their own activities.
The Sahel, a territory conducive to trafficking
The Sahel has been facing a series of threats for several years, the most notable of which are Islamist terrorism, organized crime, and illicit trafficking. Trafficking has a long history on the routes linking North Africa to sub-Saharan Africa. They are also very disparate, from cross-border food trafficking to cocaine trafficking managed by armed groups, as well as small arms and gasoline trafficking.
In this part of Sahel, the weakness of institutions and the often inadequate role of the security forces, the lack of resources, and the conflicting interests of the various actors have prevented the establishment of permanent security structures and have encouraged trafficking of all kinds.
Smuggling and organized crime networks fuel jihadist criminal networks
Whether it is Boko Haram, EIGS or JNIM, all of these groups need financial support, whether it is to procure weapons, vehicles, connected devices or to pay their members. Traffickers and fundamentalists have become the source of this support. A classification of the illegal trafficking that feeds terrorist groups can be made.
1. Profit-making activities and the sale of goods
Terrorist financing can be achieved through the sale of goods and other lucrative activities that are overpriced and then transferring the profits to terrorist groups. For example, an individual in charge of a telecommunications company arrested in Nigeria admitted to transferring part of his earnings to Boko Haram. Similarly, in Senegal, a Canadian citizen of Somali origin was identified as the head of a money laundering network through the creation of fictitious real estate companies.
2. Terrorist financing through NGOs
In addition to donations and various collections, the execution of work for an NGO by a construction company is a common practice that allows the latter to grow.
3. Financing terrorism through the smuggling of weapons, goods and currency
Security agents in Nigeria regularly arrest suspected Boko Haram members. During interrogation, the accused confess that profits from arms sales are often redistributed to Boko Haram. In addition, two Niger nationals were apprehended at the border between Burkina Faso and Niger on their way to Nigeria. Both were in possession of weapons, ammunition (approximately 80,000 rounds), and 8,000,000 CFA francs.
4. Financing terrorism through drug trafficking
Triangular drug trafficking involving Latin America, Africa and Europe is an old phenomenon, but it has grown in recent years, taking advantage of the security and political vacuum. The change took place in the 1990s, with the explosion of drug trafficking. The African continent then offered Latin American drug traffickers an ideal opportunity to develop trafficking with impunity.
With its porous borders, its proximity to Europe and its fragile states, West Africa has become a crossroads par excellence for drug trafficking. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the market value of cocaine transiting West Africa each year was estimated at $1.25 billion in 2013.
Interactions between traffickers, fundamentalists and terrorists difficult to stop
We therefore find a real tangle of issues, actors, and networks for the control of local resources and the product of exchanges in areas where the state is poorly represented or even almost non-existent. This juxtaposition of interests makes the search for lasting peace and stability more difficult, since several dynamics are opposed in the same area.
Security and surveillance at the various national borders are imperfect, which leads to the passage of terrorists and small arms.
The inability and weakness of national authorities are partly responsible for the deterioration of security and the increase in the financing of terrorism in the subregion.