Narco State or Failed State? Narcotics and Politics in Guinea-Bissau




Bybee, Ashley Neese

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Drug-funded insurgencies in Latin America and more recently in Afghanistan have prompted the use of the term “Narco-State” to describe those countries that have fallen victim to drug cultivation, narco-corruption, trafficking and related activities. In around 2005, West Africa emerged as a major transit hub for Latin American Drug Trafficking Organizations transporting cocaine to Western Europe, prompting many observers to label several countries in the region as the world’s newest “Narco-States.” The absence of a standard definition for a “Narco-State,” however, has compelled many to question the purpose of this designation, asking not only “what is a Narco-State” but “so what?” Moreover, the vulnerability of Transit States – i.e. states through which drugs are transported – to these pressures adds another interesting dimension, begging the question “can Transit States also succumb to the pressures of an illicit drug trade without cultivating drugs within their borders?” and “to what extent?” Lastly, the latest trend of drug traffickers to exploit weak and failed states, such as Guinea-Bissau and its neighbors in West Africa, adds yet another layer of unanswered questions such as “how do the impacts of drug trafficking differ in states with various degrees of institutional strength and capacity?” Using Guinea-Bissau as the primary case study and comparing it with the experiences of four other geographically, economically, and institutionally diverse Transit States, this research seeks to clarify the impacts that the drug trade has on weak and failing states, and how – if at all – those states can become destabilized by this phenomenon.



Drugs, Guinea-Bissau, Narco-State, West Africa, Failed-State, Transit State