Reviving the Drug War in the West African Sahel: Transnational Drug Pedagogy and Security Sector Reform

Authors: Brittany Meché*, University of California - Berkeley
Topics: Political Geography, Military Geography, Africa
Keywords: War on Terror, War on Drugs, Africa, Militarism, Policing
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: 8211, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper contemplates the imbrication of the War on Drugs and War on Terror in the West African Sahel. I argue the incorporation of drug interdiction strategies within a broader framework of security sector reform represents a normative vision of security, which links policing, drugs, and governance. In addition, I suggest that the hallmarks of what I am calling transnational drug pedagogy open new ways of pursuing a wide swath of security interventions, including counterterrorism projects. Amid numerous critiques of the War on Drugs and increased recognition of the limitations of criminalized approaches to drug use, the Sahel has emerged as a site of experimentation, where the coupling of counterterrorism and anti-drug trafficking strategies provides a way of salvaging remnants of an older style drug war, while also revealing the institutionalization of drug expertise as a mode of security governance. I suggest that the incorporation of drug interdiction policies in the Sahel does not automatically follow from extensive drug use in Sahelian countries, or even a measurable uptick in the amount of drugs transiting the region, instead I posit that transnational anti-drug programs exist as part of a broader set of interests around security sector reform and attempts to teach “good policing” in the present. And I engage drug interdiction efforts as a type of conceptual and methodological shorthand for the demands of contemporary good policing. In this way, transnational security experts frame the development of drug expertise by local security forces as a sign of improved governance outcomes.

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