Wednesday, November 21, 2007

This is your country on drugs

Why does small Guinea-Bissau have such a big drug problem? According to Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, this is why:

To appreciate the malaise of a country like Guinea Bissau, imagine that you are a policeman there and are tipped off about a drug shipment coming in by plane. First, you have to find a car to drive to the landing strip, and get official permission and money to fill up the gas tank. There is no way to call for backup without a two-way radio and no electricity to charge your mobile phone. If you reach the scene of the drop in time, the next challenge is to build a makeshift roadblock to stop the truck from off-loading the cocaine. Strangely, the truck's driver is wearing an army uniform and is not too concerned when you seize his cargo. You take him to the police station in the back of the car - without handcuffs, because you don't have any. A senior government official intervenes to try to secure his release. The police chief refuses, and is so incorruptible that he sleeps beside the drugs to prevent the multi-million-dollar evidence from disappearing. Later that week, the suspect is released into the care of the military, and the police chief is fired.

This is a true story. And it is not an isolated case. Nor is Guinea Bissau the only country in the region vulnerable to serious organised crime. Convoys of heavily armed four-wheel-drive vehicles travel at high speed across the Sahel region of Western Africa, bringing hasish from Morocco via Mauritania, Mali, and Niger to Chad and beyond. This drug trafficking equivalent of the Dakar Rally covers 4, 000 kilometers of inhospitable terrain, across regions controlled by rebel groups and terrorists associated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. These forces are probably profiting from the drug trade. At the very least, their collusion enables the traffickers to obtain fuel, spare parts, accommodation, and guides.

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