WhatsApp hops on the white horse, becomes a key facilitator in the heroin trade

Thanks to its unrivaled encrypted messaging, WhatsApp is democratizing the dope trade in one of the world’s largest hubs for heroin.

On the record, Mozambique’s two largest exports are aluminum (worth $378m) and coal (worth $678m). Off the record, it’s heroin.

WhatsApp hops on the white horse, becomes a key facilitator in the heroin trade

Quartz writes that as much as 40 tons of heroin travel through Mozambique annually, at $20m per ton — that’s $800m for those of you keeping score at home.

Now, WhatsApp has emerged as a key platform for disruption in this highly lucrative (and previously exclusive) drug market.

Friends in high places

Historically, Mozambique’s drug trade was tightly controlled by a small group of kingpins cozy with government officials and other Mozambique elites.

The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime reports that “criminal governance” has seamlessly integrated heroin into the economies of coastal East Africa, allowing families to launder money through government bonds and ship drugs through international ports.

Known as the “southern route,” drugs make their way down the African coast in truck and fishing boats, and eventually overseas to more lucrative markets in Asia and Europe.

But, much like Uber upended the taxi industry… 

WhatsApp has opened the door for “freelancers” to serve the world’s growing dope demand, on demand. 

The app’s hyper-secure, encrypted platform allows fishermen or truck drivers looking to pick up extra cash to securely respond to anonymous directives from Dubai and the United Arab Emirates. 

This decentralized system even arms “gig workers” with bribe money and the contact info of corrupt officials to give it to (any money left over counts as the driver’s “commission”).

It’s an innovative “solution” exacerbating a much larger problem (thanks to their role as a middleman, Africa is currently “experiencing the sharpest increase in heroin use worldwide”) — and, chances are, you won’t see these guys at a TED talk anytime soon.

Get the 5-minute news brief keeping 2.5M+ innovators in the loop. Always free. 100% fresh. No bullsh*t.