15 Jul 2007
The arrest of two teenage British girls at Accra airport for cocaine trafficking has been making headline news for the past week. The sixteen year olds, Yasemin Vatansever and Yatunde Diya were arrested July 2 with 6.5 kg (worth 300,000 pounds Sterling) of cocaine stuffed in laptop bags as they were about to board a British Airways fight bound for London from Ghana.
The girls were apparently being used as “drug mules” by an increasingly sophisticated African based arm of the Narco traffickers of Latin America. From their jail cells in Accra, the girls said they were innocent. They claimed that a London based Ghanaian man (that paid for their trip to Ghana) requested that they bring the laptop bags to him on their return. “We never thought anything bad was inside [the bags]”. Yasemin was quoted as saying.
The story of these girls only highlights what has become another growing problem that has come to add to Africa’s long list of woes.
Many respected news sources and people involved in fighting crime now acknowledge that Africa, especially W. Africa has recently become a major hub for smuggling cocaine from Latin America into Europe and to some extent Middle East and Asia.
Guinea Bissau (pop 1.5million) situated between Senegal and Guinea Conakry tops the list of leading drug transit nations in Africa. A combination of favorable conditions has made her to earn the unenviable name as Africa’s first ‘Narco-State’. Geographically, Guinea Bissau (with a coastline of 350 kms) has over fifty mangrove covered and mostly uninhabited islands scattered offshore with some possessing abandoned airstrips.
The country is situated at the shortest crossing point between Africa and South America. The distance from Guinea Bissau’s coast to the coast of Brazil (2800kms) is the same as that from Guinea Bissau to Cameroon (in the same sub region). The country has weak institutions, high unemployment, lowly paid civil servants and a literacy rate less than 50%. Politically unstable, Guinea Bissau is reported to be the 5th poorest nation on earth and corruption is rife especially in the military. Suffice it to say that these social problems do not only apply to Guinea Bissau alone. Many countries in the West African sub region possess some of these narco-favorable qualities to varying degrees—hence the growing trade. Western governments, according to a recent report prepared by the Council of Foreign Relations, estimate that $150 million worth of drugs flow into Guinea Bissau monthly.
In June, Time Magazine quoted a senior drugs intelligence officer at Interpol as saying that drug barons now export between 200,000 and 300,000 kg of cocaine a year through Africa to Europe. Senegal, Niger, Mauritania, Nigeria and a host of other West African countries have intercepted drugs transiting to Europe at various times.
The African route has become attractive to drug smugglers because of increased surveillance by law enforcement agencies on traditional routes. More so, the relative chaotic nature of poverty ridden and corruption prone African countries provide a viable fertile alternative to continue doing business.
Some observers believe that Africa’s drug smuggling problem is just beginning while others believe that it is already deeply embedded. European nations are said to be holding discussions on how to help the affected African countries combat the menace. That seems to be the only possible solution because, left on their own, the beleaguered African governments will allow the situation to get out of control.
Njei Moses Timah