Sunday, May 31, 2009

Africa’s Illegal Drug Burden

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars held a fascinating forum recently that was not only thought-provoking about a major trans-national crime issue, but also offered some possible answers about why some African countries remain under-developed despite hundreds of millions of dollars in aid money and numerous external and internal development plans.

Antonio Mazzitelli of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime presented a cycle that appears to explain a great many things we see on the continent. Organized crime cartels from Latin America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East seek vulnerable countries in Africa, especially those with inadequate governance systems and/or high poverty, to serve as conduits to markets in Europe and North America. According to Mazzitelli, heroin (mostly from Afghanistan with a bit from Pakistan) moves into Ethiopia and Kenya and on to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria. Cocaine (largely from Columbia, Bolivia and Peru) moves through Equatorial Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire Sierra Leone and Senegal.

Once the illicit drug trafficking has begun, the tremendous amounts of money it generates makes corruption inevitable. Drug trafficking produces an estimated US$400 billion annually. The amount of money it generates makes it easy to bribe officials who are poorly or even sporadically paid. Drugs also allow the entry to terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda, who often engage in drug trafficking to raise money for their activities. The deliberate corruption of governance systems produces weak states in which the law enforcement system exists, but only to hold off the chaos that makes even illegal activities difficult. Justice is for sale to the highest bidder. Conflict from unfair, undemocratic governance produces refugees, whose instability limits economic development and whose movements can destabilize neighboring countries as well.

The question one must ask from this information is: to what extent are African governments cooperating in keeping their governmental systems ineffective and damaging legitimate, sustainable economic growth? Corrupt government officials also benefit when there are inadequate controls and oversight of their activities. Too many short-sighted officials subvert their own nations to make money today without a thought of their homeland’s tomorrows. Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ghana have seen political developments in recent years that are cutting into this drug cycle. Donor nations, such as the United States, must first act to cut their own demand for drugs and then help other African countries step up their efforts to curb the flow of illicit drugs, which not only poison the lives of their citizens , but dim the prospects for their future.

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