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07.02.2009 Feature Article

Ghana and West African States Must Take the Cocaine Threat Seriously

Ghana and the entire West African sub-region is sitting on a time bomb waiting to explode and the social, economic, political and international ramifications of the bomb when it explodes will be so severe that no one will be spared of its consequences.

Over the last decade or so Ghana and the entire West African sub-region has become a major hub for cocaine transport to Europe and America damaging our reputation and our image as a credible and sincere member of the global community. Even though I am very worried about the international image of our country and sub-region, I am more deeply troubled and worried about the effects of the amount of cocaine being consumed internally by Ghanaians and other West Africans. This is because Ghana is a tiny country with weak institutional capacities and very limited resources to deal with the problems associated with cocaine consumption. It is fact that not all the cocaine been brought into the country and the sub-region leave the shores for Europe and America. Whereas a sizeable portion of the cocaine brought into the country is repackaged for shipment into Europe and America a certain amount of the drug remain in the country for local consumption.

Even though reliable data is not available as to how much cocaine is being consumed in the country, there is a total agreement by experts that the consumption is growing with deadly consequences. It is this unknown amount being consumed and the effect that it is going to have that has prompted me to write this article to urge the governments in Ghana and other West African states to act swiftly to stop the country becoming cocaine addicted nation. Already there are signs in our cities that people are beginning to become addicted to the Class A drug and the earlier we take measures to address it the better.

Unlike USA, Britain and Holland which have the resources, the technology and the human expertise and could afford the several billions dollars needed annually to treat those addicted to the white substance, Ghana is different in that she has only a limited amount of the resources, the technology and the human expertise needed to treat cocaine abuse.

I do not want to sound like a prophet of doom but the devastation that the drug will cause when it becomes a full blown problem, will overwhelm the government, law enforcement, the justice department, the prison service, our hospitals and the economic foundation of our country so much so that our very existence will be threatened.

A likely effect of an addicted society is increase in crime. As people become addicted or highly dependent on cocaine, they resort to all manner of crimes such armed robbery, theft, prostitution, carjackings in order to stay alive. According to a report by the Guardian newspaper published in 2002 in the UK, 'nearly half of all London street crime is committed by offenders addicted to cocaine or apparently dependent on the drug'. According to Deputy Assistant Commissioner Mike Muller who is the head of the Mets Drugs Directorate, '48% of people arrested for street crime had a significant cocaine dependency or addiction'. When the cocaine trade is fully developed several gangs and death squads will spring up to control the trade and finance their lifestyle and our neighbourhoods, towns and cities will become battle grounds for these gangs as is always seen in Mexico, New York, London, Chicago, Sao Paulo and Liverpool. In 2008, official figures released by Mexico's Justice Ministry confirmed that 5,612 Mexicans were killed in the drug war between drug gangs and cartels. El Universal news paper however estimated that as high as 8,463 Mexicans died from the drug violence and most of the dead were innocent civilians who were caught in the gun battles between rival drug gangs, death squads and cartels. There are two sets of gangs in Mexico as is elsewhere those who consume and who have become addicted and who constantly need money to finance their addiction, and those who deal or peddle who want to control the trade in their catchment area or sphere of influence. One thing is common about these two groups. They all resort to violence in order to survive. Peddlers and dealers battle one another to control the trade in their vicinity. They also battle law enforcement officers who try to stop them from operating. On the other hand those addicted to the drug battle everyone in society as they try to get enough money to fund their lifestyle. Such high crimes always have political connotations and Ghana will not be exception.

Kidnappings, murder, assassinations, disappearances and revenge are a part of the life of both peddlers/dealers and those addicted or depend on the drug. The problem of kidnappings, disappearances and assassinations of officials is one that has dread many law enforcement officials and has pushed many of them to provide greater security measures for their families, themselves and their superiors. Police officers, prison officials, members of the judiciary and politicians who try to deal with the menace become targets of assassination, blackmail, arm twisting and bribery. In May, 2008 Mexico Federal Police Chief was assassinated by drug cartel hit men who saw him as a threat to their way of life. Earlier that month the commander of Mexico City's investigative police force was killed by gunmen as he left his home. So far over 200 police officers have been killed in the country and several others injured. These kidnappings and assassinations are what await Ghana if we fail to confront the problem now. Our officers will be assassinated, kidnapped and murdered. The cost of protection accorded to these officials and their families will become a drain on the national coffers. To prevent our officers and officials from becoming target of assassination, we must act fast to stop the drug threat from growing.

Again a likely effect and directly linked to crime is the rise in demand for law enforcement and prison infrastructures. As communities get swam with drug addicts, demand for law enforcers and law enforcement infrastructure such as police cells, prisons, courts will also soar. Recruitment, training and retention of police, lawyers, judges and prison officers become an added problem as they struggle to cope with the increased crime weight. With the increase in addiction and crime from cocaine related problems, the Prisons will become choked, and there will be a constant call for expansion of facilities to accommodate the increase. Already the prisons in Ghana are choked and if the cocaine problem develops into a full blown adult the situation in our prisons will go from bad to worst.

Socially, when the addiction becomes an epidemic, there will be a break down of family values. Single mothers and fathers will increase with all the problems associated with it such as child waywardness, delinquency, teenage pregnancy, neglect and abuse. As families break down children who become casualties will find it difficult to cope and may join the addicted wagon sooner or later. Children who are suppose to be in school will leave the classrooms for the street of crime. Prostitution will increase as female addicts try to sell sex for money in order to finance their addiction and there is no doubt sexually transmitted diseases will increase with all the problems that come with it. Orphans will multiply as gangs and death squads rip our neighbourhoods apart. With the addiction and dependency soaring, school drop out rate will increase among the children. The drop out rate will also affect our higher institutions while underachievers will be uncontrollably high as the drug floods our universities, polytechnics and secondary schools. Already there are signs that our tertiary institutions are already breeding from the effects of the drug and the sooner we tackle the menace the better. The NDC government must act without delay so as to prevent the social chaos that waits the nation.

Furthermore, a surge in cocaine addiction in Ghana will put excessive pressure on the already over stretched hospitals and health infrastructure in the country. There will be pressure to build more hospitals and clinics to cater for those addicted. There will be the need to establish rehabilitation centres for addicts. Added to it will be the need to train and retain doctors, nurses, pharmacists, paramedics and other health workers as well as social workers. More doctors and psychiatrists will be needed to treat the addiction. The family breakdowns resulting from addiction will call for more foster homes to be built to cater for the number of children who will become indirect victims of the addiction. More social workers and foster parents will be needed to give these children the parental love that they will miss. Failure to do so will push these children into the crime bracket with serious and devastating consequences. All these will be a drain on the budget and our limited resources. This is the more reason why we must prevent the problem from reaching an epidemic level. Our sports will be tainted as sports men and women will try to boost their performance by using the dangerous substance.

Economically, cocaine addiction and dependency will seriously and negatively impact on the nation's productivity. Businesses will struggle to recruit and retain their workers as addiction and its effect begins to have its toll on the workers and management alike. Sick leaves and absenteeism will increase forcing companies to incur further cost. Addicted workers will be fired and job losses will increase as men and women become inactive and less productive. Cost of running business will therefore skyrocket and businesses that cannot meet the challenge will go bankrupt. Government will loose a lot of revenue and pressure will brought on those who remain working to absorb further burden in the form of higher taxes. Thousands if not millions will be unemployed, families and households will disintegrate and pressure will be brought on government to do something to help those caught in that circumstances.

The ramifications of an addicted and drug dependency society as evidenced in the United States are too grave for us to ignore in Ghana. Anyone can fall victim to the drug as was the case of HIV/AIDS. Dealers, peddlers and abusers all will stop at nothing to achieve their goal and this is what makes the threat serious and frightening. In 2007 over 23,000 people died in Columbia. This figure is relatively small compared to the 28,000 who died in 2002 that is about 70 people per day. The irony is that a good number of those who died were farmers and peasants who were caught up in the battle between Marxist guerrillas and the right wing paramilitaries all of which are heavily involve in the illicit drug trade. According to the US Centre for Disease Control 22,400 Americans died of drug overdose in 2005 alone.

Evidence in Columbia, Mexico, USA, Britain, Amsterdam, and many other places show that the barons and the peddlers never quit and never give up their lucrative business. They are dangerously ruthless, heavily armed and financially well resourced and will do anything just to frustrate the authorities and get their money. Today, Mexico looks more like a country at war as several thousands of soldiers have been deployed in areas near the Mexico border with US. The Taleban in Afghanistan is strong today because of profits from drugs. The everyday violence in Sao Paulo, Brazil has drugs as its epicentre.The tentacles of the drug are reaching every part of our society. Already we have a former Parliamentarian already serving a 10 year jail sentence in America. We have also seen the casualties in the Police Service where drug money has been used to bribe and corrupt top officials and their subordinates in the Service. Currently there are rumours that our judiciary has already fallen victim to the menace as prosecutors are dropping charges against criminals. There are also rumours that judges are being bribed to free or bail criminals involve in the drug business. Our immigration service and port authorities have been accused of turning a blind eye while criminals move in and out with drugs and drug money.

As our institutions and officials become corrupted with drug money so will our effort to fight weaken and the peddlers and barons will have a field day taking us hostage. We should not allow that to happen because it is our life and the lives of our children and our children's children that are on the line. We should not quit but fight till we are done with the criminals. All Ghanaians no matter ones political, regional, ethnic or tribal affiliation should get involve and help root out the drug threat and salvage our international image once again. We should not allow politics to prevent us from doing what is good for the people of Ghana and the sub-region.

Already some officers in the Police Service and the Judiciary have shown that they would not hesitate to work closely with criminals for financial gains. These officers who have brought shame to nation, themselves and their families must be arrested put and before court of law and when found guilty should be given long sentences to prevent them from enjoying whatever their corrupt life has given them to serve as warning to would be traitors. Every effort must be made to root out corrupt officers at the ports, in the immigration, police, Narcotics Control Board, armed forces and the judiciary. The navy, police, army, customs, Narcotics Control Board and other security agencies must be drafted in to fight the drug lords and the peddlers in our neighbourhoods. The security agencies must coordinate, share intelligence and resources so that they can bring those using our country for their selfish interests to book. Corrupt officials in the transport and haulage companies who assist these criminals to transport their goods must be arrested and given hefty sentences.

The government of Ghana and other West African states like Guinea Bissau must have a comprehensive drug combat policy that seeks to root out drugs from the country and the sub-region. The governments in West Africa must cooperate and share information so as to blow out the drug syndicate operating in the sub-region. In addition to that the Ghana Police Service must have a coherence drug combat strategy. A strategy that seeks to cut off the suppliers and eliminates the dealers and peddlers. A special unit should therefore be established, trained and equipped to deal with the barons and the peddlers. The judiciary must be equipped to deal with those involve in the drug business. Investigators must be trained and their capacities build so as to give them a full insight as to the nature of the problem. The loophole in our laws concerning importation, distribution and use of chemicals and drugs must be overhauled and tightened. We must not rely on human capabilities alone to fight the menace. We must use technology, train dogs and a wide array of arsenals to fight the barons and their associates.

We must not forget that HIV/AIDS was relatively unknown in Ghana before the 1980s but its negative effect on families, communities and the entire nation after it became known cannot be over emphasised. This is why all hands must be brought on board to tackle the problem before it becomes a plague. The effects of cocaine and its associated crime in America especially among the black communities are all too clear and need no explanation. The US today spends between 30 and 50 billion dollars annually just on the drug war. The effects of cocaine in Mexico where thousands are killed each year on coke related violence should not escape us.

Drug education must be introduced in schools to make our students become aware of the dangers of drugs and more importantly cocaine. We must educate them before we start loosing the battle. We as a country should as matter of urgency begin a campaign to warn the youth and indeed all Ghanaians about the dangers of falling victim to the drug. Now that the use of the drug has not become an epidemic in the country, the government and civil society must get involve straight away to warn dealers, peddlers and would be abusers about the dangers the drug present not only to themselves but to their families, communities and the country as a whole. The long term cost and effects of a full blown addiction problem will be so overwhelming that our economy and institutions might collapse under its weight this is the more reason why we must act now.

Whereas we may be able to deal with menace while it is at its infancy by working hard to stop the country being used as a hub, we may never be able to deal with it when we allow it to grow and get out of hand. For even America, Britain and other western countries with all their resources have not been able to deal with it.

We must have tougher sentences for pushers and drug lords and anyone who aid and abet them so as to deter future peddlers and dealers from getting involve.

We must know that the benefits of combating the problem far outweigh any decision not to fight it. All stakeholders of the nation must act together as a common force to tackle this cocaine and other drugs. Churches must do their part to let the youth understand the dangers of the problem. Traditional rulers, civil society groups, NGOs and CBOs must all come together to confront the problem before it gets out of hand. The media especially the electronic media must show documentaries showing the effect of the problem on those who abuse the substance, the effect on their families, communities, and the nation as a whole.

But we cannot fight the menace alone. We need the support and cooperation of the international community more importantly United States, Great Britain, France, Spain and Holland whose wealth of intelligence, technology, human expertise as well as financial resources could be very valuable. We must share intelligence with them and them with us so that this global enemy could be defeated.

The clock of the epidemic has started and there is no time to waste. We must act now.

By Lord Aikins Adusei
Stockholm, Sweden

Lord Aikins Adusei
Lord Aikins Adusei, © 2009

This author has authored 133 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: LordAikinsAdusei

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