Sunday, March 03, 2013

The Drug Problem

Africa was and still remains an attractive trading route. Pre and post colonialism, African States have provided countries in Asia, Europe and America the route to move goods. Africa’s central location is both a blessing and a curse. It was a curse because it inspired slave trade and colonialism which set us back a few centuries.
In the last 60 plus years, this location has been a curse thanks to illegal drugs. Though the level of drug trade across the continent has not reached Afghanistan or Mexican heights, it is very worrying. Awareness of drugs and drug trade began in the 1980s. However, research show that it has been ongoing since the return of WW2 veterans and the discovery of coca (cocaine) farms in the 1950s. Until the 1980s, the trade went unhindered because European and American officials were unaware of Africa as a new route. Given the levels of unemployment and poverty in the continent, it is imaginable that Africans were lured into the trade for economic benefits.
The last two decades has seen the transformation of Africa has a hub for transportation and consumption of drugs (Cocaine, Cannabis, Marijuana and AMTs). From Guinea- Bissau, Kenya, Mali, Libya to Ghana and Nigeria, we have become exporters and consumers of Methamphetamines, Cannabis, Cocaine and heroin. Globally, the trade generates between 900 million dollars to three billion annually. The UN Drug Commission also reports that about about 35-50 metric tonnes of cocaine are trafficked annually (that is about 2200, 23kg travelling bags) and remember that this is what we know. Recently, 7 people were arrested for carrying large quantities of heroin in Kenya.                                  
Why is drug trade a problem?
Although, drug running is not the cause of Africa’s under development, drug trade makes our already weak and fragile institutions and systems weaker by threatening government authority and the rule of law- fairness, equity and justice. As a researcher observes “illicit drugs is not the main cause of destabilization instead it is a consequence of the pre-existing lack of stability”. Yet, It enables drug peddlers undermine the government. The money drug running provides allows peddlers to buy over the State and get away with anything. Government failure and inefficiency results in less development, more unemployment and more of the ills we currently battle. It shifts the focus from development issues to security issues. Just as corruption gives wealth to a few, the gains of drug trade also give wealth to a few people. Also, drug trade also affects our politics because it enables peddlers influence elections and buy over government officials.
Another reason why drug trade is a problem is terrorist financing; countries like Nigeria and Mali currently battle attacks from insurgent groups. The on going conflict in Mali is a case in point. It is believed that Al-Qaeda in Maghreb (AQIM), ANSAR DINE and AZWAD (the guerrilla groups in Mali) are funded with monies made from drug running. This is highly possible because Mali is known for cocaine trafficking. In 2009, a plane carrying drugs was burnt down after offloading at Tarkint in Northern Mali. The huge funds generated from drug smuggling provide a gigantic source of income for terrorist activities.
Drug running is also a public health issue and this is two-sided. First, there is an increasing number of users. In 2010, the estimated number of drug users is between 22-72 million up from about a million in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This portends health challenges for the continent. Imagine citizens yet to receive adequate treatment for Malaria now grappling with mental, HIV (research shows that drug use and HIV infections are related because of injecting drug use), and other drug related health issues. The second dimension is the discovery of coca and cannabis farms in the continent. Land that should provide food for nutrition is used for drugs.
On the other hand, it is argued that though drug trade is illegal, it is an income- generator as it has economic ripple effects. For instance, a drug peddler would employ people to build his new mansion, spend money at his local supermarket etc. thus creating prosperity for himself and others. A fair argument. However, this “economic benefit” is not lasting and drug peddlers have no reason to be benevolent.
To combat this problem, there is need for strong political will on the part of government. It is believed that African governments are complicit in drug running in their countries. We can recall allegations that some of our past military rulers were drug barons. Therefore, governments have to determine to tackle this problem head on without any sacred cows. In addition, there has to be tighter and stricter border controls. It was reported that over 1000 illegal routes into Nigeria was discovered. This is in addition to our already porous legal border routes. At airports, there has been thorough searching of travellers and drugs have been discovered. The same rigor should be applied to our borders.
Also governments should create public value for their citizens so that there is no incentive to engage in drug trade. That cliché says a stich in time saves nine and that is the case here. In these parts, we usually fail to connect the dots and treat issues as isolated cases. They are not. Drug running is a problem, a problem that causes other problems. It has to be addressed.