Bulldozers will soon raze sections of 20 neighbourhoods of Benin’s economic capital, Cotonou, that officials say have become overrun with drugs.
“They [drug traffickers] bring the drugs in from surrounding countries and sell this on the local market,” said police commissioner Achille Blochaou from the Wlacodjni district. From 10 to 12 March, dozens of officers carried out raids that netted a total of 50 kg of cannabis and led to 45 arrests in his district.
Blochaou told IRIN police will soon follow up with a more destructive sweep called “Cleaning out Placodji,” named for the economically destitute area the commissioner said has become a drug haven in Cotonou.
When asked how authorities will spare and protect residents in those neighbourhoods who are not involved in the drug trade, the commissioner told IRIN: “We will carefully target the places we tear down. Innocent law-abiding citizens will not be caught in this campaign.”
Blochaou said there are approximately 10,000 people who live in the high-risk drug zones that are targeted. “That is where there are the most problems. It is where you have all the stories of beatings and injuries,” said the commissioner. “The violence is daily"
While the UN estimates some 40 metric tonnes of cocaine are transited through West Africa en route to northern Africa and Europe every year, it has said cannabis has more of a home-grown market: more than two-thirds of Africa’s drug treatment cases in recent years have been for cannabis, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s 2008 World Drug Report.
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Law enforcement agencies throughout West Africa have noted that farmers faced with declining profits have turned to quick cash from clandestine cannabis farming.
Of an estimated 42,000 metric tonnes of cannabis grown worldwide in 2006 – sold as marijuana or hashish – 25 percent was grown in Africa where it is the most common drug of abuse and cultivation, according to the most recent UN World Drug Report.
In recent years non-profits have said the focus on reducing supply has overshadowed rising local demand. The Economic Community of West African States pledged its commitment in October 2008 during a regional conference on fighting drug trafficking in the region to increase detoxification programmes and HIV prevention services to a growing numbers of drug abusers.
Benin’s police commissioner Blochaou told IRIN his department will not be defeated by mafia elements of drug rings. “We mobilised 150 police and military police [during the March raids] and disbanded their [drug criminals’] ranks. These were the people who had sown terror through their power.”
The coastal country has been riddled with corruption in its highest ranks, with its top drug crimes investigator sacked in a 2007 corruption probe. His replacement at Benin’s Office for the Control of Illicit Traffic of Drugs (OCERTID), Bertin Adanlè, told IRIN last October that his first priority was to hire top-notch “morally fit” crime fighters.