Corruption and strategic location are behind Madagascar emergence as a drug trafficking hub, says Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC) in a recent study.
GI-TOC’s senior analyst Lucia Bird said drug markets are expanding while diversifying, fuelling corruption and driving growing domestic consumption.
“In Madagascar and Comoros, drug markets are facilitated by corrupt elements in state institutions, while drugs are the major criminal economy in Seychelles and Mauritius,” she said in a report titled “Changing tides: The evolving illicit drug trade in the western Indian Ocean.”
Seychelles, Mauritius, Comoros, Madagascar, French Overseas Territories of Mayotte and Réunion are rendered vulnerable by proximity to major trafficking route of heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine, the study says.
Madagascar’s rise as transshipment hub is linked to southern route shifts along East African coast. Disembarkation points for ships carrying heroin have moved from Kenya to Tanzania and ports in northern Mozambique.
According to GI-TOC’s analyst Julia Stanyard, the majority of heroin arriving in Madagascar is trafficked to other Indian Ocean island states while a portion is moved onwards by air to Europe and North America using mules.
“Commentators have warned for some years that Madagascar either is, or is at risk of becoming, a hub for international drug trafficking. Our research finds these warnings are coming to fruition,” she said.
However, growing law enforcement has displaced landing points on Africa’s eastern seaboard. Increasing heroin seizures off Mozambique’s coastline and disruptions due to conflict in Cabo Delgado province have contributed to Madagascar’s increasingly role as a repackaging and redistribution hub.
There is low naval or coastguard capacity to monitor Madagascar’s 5,000 kilometre shoreline peppered by informal ports and landing points. Limited infrastructure makes some rural areas hard to access. Armed cattle rustling and banditry also make state oversight of rural and coastal areas minimal.
Transhipment at sea from larger vessels (ships) to smaller boats is a common way of import across the islands. Drug cargoes are offloaded either directly onto small boats or into the sea as coordinates are shared with accomplices on land.
“Heroin is trafficked to transhipment points on East African seaboard, including Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique, before being later transported to Madagascar, Mauritius and the Seychelles,” said Ms Bird.