Narco links between South America and Africa

Narco links

Why does this matter?

Criminal organisations and ‘Cartels’ dedicated to drug trafficking in South America enjoy significant narco links across Africa apart from traditional markets like the United States. An informal business model has been established between South American Transnational Criminal Organisations (TCO) and recipients in Africa. This increases the frequency of drug trafficking to Europe and the U.S. as well as the long-term presence of narcotics within communities in Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau, Mali or Mozambique.

  • A decentralised drug-trafficking network has highly likely been established between different criminal actors across Africa. The provision of narcotics from South America, particularly Brazil, and the broad horizontal nature of the network provides TCO’s with business-trafficking opportunities with little governmental resistance.
  • Investment by criminal actors and an increase in local markets likely incentivise TCO’s like the Primer Comando Capital (PCC) to increase the flow of Narcotics through the African continent. Creating a self-sustaining model of trafficking will likely continue to make any humanitarian and law enforcement effort short-termed.
  • Extremist-related conflict in northern Mozambique and southern Tanzania highly likely creates an opportunity for TCO’s to partner with new actors. PCC-related networks in Mozambique and South Africa have a likely opportunity of expansion and increasing revenues.

Relevance & Importance

In March of this year, ‘Fuminho’, an alleged partner of the heads of the PCC was arrested in Mozambique, along with two Nigerian partners. In Nigeria a man was arrested on the 20th of November after travelling from Sao Paulo with cocaine hidden in a suitcase, ultimately heading to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Established narco links between South American and Nigerian associates have shown the capability to exploit environments, conflicts or corruption to their advantage.

Jihadist groups in the Sahel like AQIM or in East Africa profit from drug trafficking, turning the link between TCO’s into an informal provider of narcotics for trafficking purposes. The presence of Italian mafias along the Gulf of Guinea to obtain drugs from South America is an indicator of the attractiveness which corruption has over any other factor within the criminal market ‘industry’.

Profile of the Relationship

The nature of the trafficking narco links has evolved and developed over the years. Initially a transit point, countries like Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde provided launch pads to European drug markets. An increase in customers and trafficking actors in Africa in the last 10 years has expanded the attraction of TCO’s like the PCC or FARC rebels in Africa as a key player in the drug-trafficking industry rather than an asset.

Similar to Mexican-Colombian relations in drug trafficking, South American TCO’s have couriers or delegates in African countries establishing a decentralised smuggling and trafficking network. Similarly, members of African TCO’s like Nigerian organised crime groups have a presence in significant ports and cities in South America. For example, an arrested cocaine courier in Nigeria originated in Sao Paulo where alleged Nigerian members participating in organised crime provided the narcotics. Although only an example of the relationship, highly de-centralised organisations and informal networks are pursued by both actors to deter any law enforcement efforts and in turn increase local recruitment in ideal communities for drug trafficking.

The Ideal Environment

Terrorist Actors

It has been reported that both AQIM and ISGS provide protection and partly narco links for TCOs across the Sahel and Sahara desert. Nigerian TCOs based in the Gulf of Guinea enjoy a geographical advantage that allows them to profit from regional conflicts, incentivising an increase in the flow of trafficking. The arrest of Fuminho, although in Mozambique, allegedly involved the trafficking of weapons as well as drugs, highlighting the likelihood of the PCC and other criminal organisations like FARC indirectly providing resources to armed actors.

The conflict in Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique has likely been supported in a direct or indirect manner by the PCC and Nigerian TCO’s. Evidence of weapons being trafficked in other countries apart from Mozambique and South Africa demonstrate the capability of TCO relationships to adapt to environments and generate profits outside of traditional drug-trafficking networks.

Corruption as a Player

The government of Guinea-Bissau, as previously reported on Grey Dynamics, has become an independent actor in the drug trafficking business. Political divisions following an election that lacks legitimacy as seen by a majority of the country are the latest of events to impede an effective counter-trafficking strategy. The country has been used by both FARC and the PCC to transport large amounts of narcotics into Africa, some allegedly for AQIM but others for distribution by members of the Government. On the 15th of September, the head of migration services of Guinea-Bissau was arrested for links with drug trafficking, while in 2013 the head of the Navy was arrested in a DEA sting operation and later released on ‘good behaviour’.

The PCC-Nigerian ‘cartel’ link is the major South American actor in Africa at the moment but not the sole actor. A Colombian-Guinean drug ring was brought down in September 2019 along with arrested members from Mexico and Mali. The links between the Guinean member and the political environment of Guinea highlights the preference of criminal actors, not just TCO’s, for using Guinea-Bissau and corruption-riddled governments to enter the African drug-trafficking market.

Recruitment & Social Impact

The flat structure of the trafficking bodies likely pushes TCO’s like the PCC to act with multiple criminal actors. The spread of the network from Guinea to South Africa pushes the ‘cartel’ to engage with private-like contractors in the criminal enterprise which provide smuggling and trafficking services in limited regions. Nigerian TCO’s likely control or influence a large part of the illicit market. Still, drug-rings involving multiple nationalities and members are likely an example of other criminal organisations in Africa which have the capability to collaborate with South American cartels in importing drugs, primarily cocaine.

The localised nature and structure of the relationship between South American cartels and African counterparts will likely motivate youth recruitment due to the low attraction and cooperation it generates within rural communities. Similar to strategies observed in Mexico or Brazil, trafficking will likely create alienated communities and increase social confrontations.


The role of Africa in drug trafficking has expanded from primarily transit points to regional and international hubs. The proliferation of armed conflicts has attracted players and investors to obtain a profit from the narcotics business. High levels of corruption in countries like Guinea-Bissau or Nigeria incentivise the increase in relationships between South American criminal organisations and criminal actors in Africa dedicated to drug trafficking.

Image: United Nations (link)

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