France’s surprise intervention in northern Mali against Islamist fighters involved in lucrative drug-running has disrupted cocaine supply to Europe but smugglers are already finding new routes, analysts said.
The former colonial power sent its jets and troops exactly two months ago to eliminate Al-Qaeda-linked groups that had been controlling northern Mali for nine months and were threatening to move south towards the capital.
The jihadist network in Mali’s north has funded itself by taking foreign hostages but also by levying a tax on smugglers running drugs from Latin America to feed Europe’s ever-growing market.
Poverty and the lack of government presence in the vast desert expanse has provided an ideal ground for smugglers.
Typically, the drugs are shipped to the Gulf of Guinea or flown in directly from Venezuela, for example, into Mauritania or Mali, where they are stored and eventually taken overland to the Mediterranean’s southern shores.
The route is known as “Highway 10″, in reference to the 10th parallel, a line of latitude which cuts through Colombia and Venezuela at one end, Guinea and Nigeria at the other and just misses Mali.