According to the latest data, East Africans are now the second highest per capita users of cocaine in Africa after South Africa.Nigeria, continent’s most populated country comes in third.It is clear that cocaine use within the wealthier echelons of society is so unremarkable that studies of East Africa cocaine market suggest that alongside hardcore users, there is a large group of casual users. The drug is being used widely by people on more moderate incomes, typically relatively well educated and employed, usually in private with friends. Cocaine use is becoming more socially acceptable.Increased demand is being met by increased supply. East Africa data shows a marked increase in seizures of cocaine measured by weight in recent years. There’s also evidence that Latin America cartels have become involved in the supply and distribution of the drug in East Africa, and have been stepping up the scale of smuggling.So how much do East Africans pay for their cocaine? By international standards, cocaine prices in East Africa are high. In Europe, you can expect to pay a wholesale price of around USD$18 per gram but in East Africa according to the data in my possession costs USD $25 per gram.In East Africa, it’s rare to see that wholesale price fall below USD $25 per gram, depending on purity.Does that price in Mombasa or Dar Es Salaam reflect the real cost of cocaine? Not at all according to experts.Economists define the real cost of a good or service not just in terms of the cost paid by the buyer, but also the cost to other parties affected by the transaction, the negative externalities.This is why as institutions try to estimate the social cost of drug use.It’s also important to bear in mind the costs and consequences associated not just with its use, but also with its supply. There are negative externalities on the supply side of goods and services.When it comes to cocaine, how it gets to East Africa, and what other costs, whether monetary or not are created along the way varies.Most cocaine is produced in Colombia, before being trafficked through Central America into the major narcotics transit hub of Brazil where on most occasions is parked as sugar. The fight between cartels for control of East Africa territory, trafficking routes and local distribution is a large part of the story behind the drug war in the region. The cartels corrupt public officials and extort and intimidate still more people including law enforcement agencies. Politicians wield considerable influence over entry points for East Africa cocaine where they connive with despicably corrupt coppers and members of security services.While cocaine is by not their sole business and other cartels are allegedly involved in protection and extortion, and it’s estimated that a large proportion of the cartels’ revenue is from cannabis, the East Africa market is lucrative. Like legal business, organised crime goes where the money is, and for cartels there is plenty of money in cocaine.The cocaine makes its way from Brazil to East Africa via a number of routes.
The majority of cocaine intercepted coming into East Africa entered via small craft by way of Indian Ocean or stowed away in commercial shipping containers say, hidden in a shipment of rice or sugar. As total shipments of legal products increases and the capacity to inspect them remains constrained, the latter method becomes easier and easier in port of Mombasa which is the main entry point for drugs to East Africa market.With user of technology there can be reduced risks for suppliers. Better encryption makes it easier to communicate and coordinate pickups without being detected for some time, the encryption in Blackberry made it the mobile phone of choice for cannabis traffickers in Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Guinea and Senegal.Ultimately, getting cocaine into the East Africa region involves lining the pockets of the public officials and other individuals at stops along the way, as well as here upon arrival. The same is true of cocaine smuggled into the region by plane, as demonstrated by the alleged cooperation of airport staff and customs officers in bringing cocaine into the region through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. And if the corruption of public officials isn’t a bad enough additional cost, bear in mind that corrupt and criminal networks can easily be used to smuggle one product illegally into a country can easily be used to smuggle another. As in any illegal market, doing regular business requires the ability to enforce your own contracts.Cocaine dealers need to be able to protect themselves from the authorities that want to shut down their business. And they need to be wary of competition. Dealing with these issues necessarily involves the use or threat of violence and the corruption of officers charged with policing narcotics, particularly when an illegal market becomes entrenched like it is in East Africa region. In addition to corrupting local police, suppliers tend to outsource distribution to local groups.This has proven to be a lucrative business model for South Africa gangs collaborating with local Kenyan organised crime in distributing cocaine in the region.Pre existing criminal groups in East Africa are alleged to be involved with the Brazilian cartels. An industry that shores up criminal groups that already pose a serious problem is a costly one indeed.Assuming decriminalisation or legalisation are not on the table, targeting suppliers in an illegal market such as this is unlikely to eradicate the problem. One possible complement would be to focus on consumer awareness and information such as an anti-cocaine campaign that tries to reduce demand. Something that pushes buyers to face up to these not so hidden costs.There’s every reason for authorities in the region to worry about the real cost of cocaine.