Botswana emerging as transit point for global heroin trade

03 Aug 2018

Heroin, Cocaine and cannabis are some of Europe’s most commonly used drugs, with approximately 3.7 million adults (aged 15–64) estimated to have used it in the last year.

Heroin is trafficked to Europe from the producer countries such as Afghanistan by air, sea and road using a range of methods and routes. Just like in any supply chain, there are several points between the producer and the final destination of the commodity; and Botswana’s role is to warehouse the heroin before it continues on the more than 10 000 km journey to Europe.

An International Development Working paper on The political economy of heroin trafficking 2018 shows that Botswana is growing to become an important transit centre for heroin destined for Europe. According to Joseph Hanlon, senior fellow at the London School of Economics, the supply chain first starts in Afghanistan where heroin hydrochloride – a white powder or grey crystal blocks - is produced then proceeds to Pakistan before going by sea to northern Mozambique. From Mozambique it goes by road to Johannesburg, and in the process passes through Botswana between Tshabong and Kgalagadi Transfontier Park. From there it is sent to Europe via Angola and Namibia.

A drug enforcement agent from South Africa, Michael Oosthuizen, indicated that whilst Botswana might not be a heroin transit hub, he indicated that the country is gradually growing to become a transit point for mass-scale drug traffickers.

“It is not surprising why large amounts of heroin transit through Botswana, Mozambique and Namibia. These countries do not have a market for heroin but act as transit points. The final destination of the drugs is mostly Europe where the market is good and lucrative.”

Oosthuizen also said that the volumes of illicit drug trade is equivalent to the GDP of some African countries and contributes to violence in transit countries. Quoting from a report entitled “The Uberisation of Mozambique's heroin trade” he said heroin has been one of Mozambique's largest exports for two decades and the trade is increasing. “Estimates vary from 10 to 40 tonnes or much more of heroin moving through Mozambique each year. With an export value of $20 million per tonne, heroin is probably the country's largest or second largest export (after coal),” he says quoting from the report.

Although Botswana Police Service (BPS) could not give an official figure as to how much money is generated illicitly from drug trafficking in Botswana, an law enforcement official who spoke to this publication indicated that it is probably in the millions.

“Heroin from Maputo port passes through Zimbabwe and Botswana as they are important transit routes. If heroin in Mozambique which passes through Maputo port contributes up to $100 million per year to their local economy, how much does Botswana and Zimbabwe make since they are designated transit routes ideal for shielding illicit offload?” he asks.

The importers use different initial patterns. While some networks move drugs to warehouses, the newer decentralised networks in Botswana have a preference for inland locations where access can be guarded.

He also said as the law enforcement agency they are concerned because “most heroin that arrives in Botswana is in transit, but increasing amounts stay behind and this is a call for the intelligence units and law enforcement to join hands and increase vigilance especially at the borders.” He also said as the law enforcement, they “are concerned mainly in stopping heroin entering the country (in order to reduce local use) and there are few checks on exports.”

He also said whilst the use of heroin exists, it is not widespread in Botswana. However, he said they are concerned by the growing use of “nyaope which is a mix of heroin and cannabis, and sometimes other drugs. It gives a very short high but is very cheap.”

"The production and trafficking to different markets around the globe leads to a surge in related violence, as well as political and social instability," he said adding that this is the reason why Botswana has to act fast and tough in order to stop trafficking in its tracks.

He indicated that what is making their job difficult is the move toward the gig economy which is making it easier for traffickers “to organise alternative channels, with local people hired by mobile telephone for specific tasks.”