Screen capture from a video (below) provided by Sally Bilaly Sow. It was filmed during a traffickers' run in August.
His job: driving for hundreds of miles through the forest between Guinea and Senegal, transporting motorcycles and contraband. A Guinean trafficker told our Observer about his daily life on the road, including the many dangers he faces.
Our Observer Sally Bilaly Sow met young traffickers in the town of Labé, in northern Guinea. Here is what one of the traffickers told him…
"The top three dangers: wild animals, rivers, and troops"
Diallo Mamadou is 22. After giving up on his studies in 2009, he couldn’t find any work, so he decided to start trafficking motorcycles between Labé in Guinea and Kédougou in Senegal.
On average, you can buy a motorcycle for 4 million Guinean francs [about 437 euros] and sell it for 370,000 CFA [about 560 euros] on the other side of the border.We usually buy four or five motorcycles, and take apart one or two of them. We put the pieces in suitcases. If we have space left, we stuff bags full of all sorts of goods: cigarettes, palm oil… [others said they transport medicines]. We tie everything up with big cables. We often carry about 100 kilos per motorcycle.Once we’re all packed up, we set off on a 300-kilometre journey. We travel in groups. Salesmen who bring motorcycles into Senegal the legal way go through customs at the northern border, where they have to pay a fee, which means they then sell their motorcycles at a higher price. Me, I take a road through Senegal’s national park to avoid customs. By taking this road, I have better chances of avoiding Senegalese army patrols. I do have to pay 20,000 Guinean francs [about 3 euros] per motorcycle in bribes to cross the border, but this is a small price to pay. I then sell them to people who work in the goldmines not far from the border, for well below the market price.The only problem with all this is that the journey is a living hell. Our lives are constantly in danger. There is no road, so we have to drive in the dense forest, where it’s easy to run into a rough spot, fall off your motorcycle and break your bones. This happens quite often, and there’s nobody around but your colleagues, who are not trained doctors…! I’ve got scars all over my legs and arms; scars that will never go away…"We live with a permanent fear of having to start all over from scratch"That’s not our only problem, though. Here are the top 3 dangers: number 3, the wild animals we run into. This is a natural preserve, so there are many of them! The worst are the snakes and the crocodiles. Some of us have even run into lions and elephants, and have had to abandon our goods while fleeing.Number 2, crossing rivers: this is a tricky step. You never know how much weight the dugout canoes can bear until it’s too late. We often lose bags of goods to the river. I have several friends who have drowned trying to save a few bags.But what we’re most scared of is definitely number 1: the Senegalese troops. If you run into them, you’re done for. They take everything you have, everything you’ve worked for, and you’ve got a good chance of ending up in jail. We live with this permanent fear of having to start all over from scratch.Traffickers unload goods from their motorcycles before crossing a river.I wouldn’t recommend becoming a trafficker to anyone: it’s physically and psychologically exhausting. It’s rare for me to go on more than two trips a month. Best-case scenario, I manage to make 2 or 3 million Guinean francs [between 200 and 300 euros. According to the World Bank, the average salary in Guinea is just 53 euros]. Why do I continue? It’s a vicious cycle, a habit, and I’m greedy. Often, though, I wonder if what I earn is worth the risks I take.
"The traffickers wanted to show me how difficult it was for them to work like this"
Sally Bilaly Sow is a biology student in Labé. He met several traffickers, including Diallo Mamadou.
I was shocked to see what these young men, who are usually between the ages of 18 and 30, are willing to do for just a couple million Guinean France [a few hundred euros]. Most of the ones I met wanted to show me how difficult it was for them to make a living, with the legislative elections just around the corner.They didn’t try to defend what they do, but they believe that there is a major unemployment problem affecting young people, and that this encourages the youth to turn to trafficking. [According to the authorities, nearly 60 percent of Guineans under 25 are unemployed.]
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Alexandre Capron (@alexcapron).