To date, drug trafficking has been largely met with law enforcement and hard security responses, yielding limited if not counterproductive results.

30 Aug 2016

Funded by the Global Drug Policy Program of the Open Society Foundations, International Alert conducted research in three critical contexts – Afghanistan, the border between Colombia and Peru, and Nigeria – to unpack the links between drug trafficking, conflict, violence and instability. The research seeks to clarify the impact drug production and trafficking has on the political economies of these nations, and to understand if peacebuilding could introduce new angles and ideas into the conversation.

All four countries share similar political, social, and economic grievances that are, to various degrees, associated with drug trafficking. Both in terms of what determines the reasons for entering production and becoming associated with the trade, and the impacts this wields on individuals, governance and security.

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An important distinction can be drawn between producing and transiting countries in terms of the economic opportunities that the drug trade offers. In producing countries (Afghanistan and Colombia/Peru), illicit crops provide a livelihood to many communities, which are part of a much larger chain of local ‘fixers’ and national and international traffickers – many of which are linked to criminal or illegal armed groups. Conversely, in countries like Nigeria, which is mostly a transit country (even though the production of methamphetamines is on the rise), the narcotics trade strengthens the economic position of already powerful individuals, reinforcing their influence over the state.

Yet, in all three contexts, the trade is not usually violent, unless the trade itself is in danger. Violence is not conducive to business and attracts attention, preventing things from running smoothly. In fact, communities even strike ‘deals’ with drug traffickers so that ‘peace’ is maintained and violence is waged elsewhere. This is not to say that drugs and violence are not connected. But their connection is more subtle and the drug trade provides the economic incentives required by certain groups, whether non-state armed groups or ‘gangs’, to exist and to exert control over portions of the state territory. This in turn affects government provision of security and increases the risk of violent conflict by preventing the establishment of the rule of law.

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