Pubdate: Sat, 03 Jan 2009
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2009 The Edmonton Journal
Author: Alistair Thomson
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Corruption - Outside U.S.)


Political Parties Accused Of Collusion With Traffickers

Hopes of future oil prosperity have given a lift to Ghana's
presidential election race, but drug trafficking threatens to spoil
the West African country's image with the stain of corruption.

During the heated election contest, the results of which may be
announced this weekend, lurid headlines in the partisan press accused
both main rival parties of collusion in trafficking or of using drug
dollars to win votes.

Hard evidence was lacking, but the allegations are indicative of
Ghana's failure to tackle an illicit trade experts fear is turning
West Africa into a "Coke Coast" and of corruption that threatens to
cloud a bright future.

After years of military rule and economic instability, Ghana has been
seen as a success story since President John Kufuor was elected in
2000, attracting foreign donors and investors eager for a safe haven
in a restive region.

Yet tonnes of cocaine vanishing from police surveillance, a
parliamentarian jailed in the United States for trafficking heroin,
and the sabotage of efforts to combat smuggling or graft are more
reminiscent of the region's failed or failing states.

"I think it's an extremely serious threat," said Patrick Smith, editor
of newsletter Africa Confidential.

"It's not just the transhipment, it's the criminalization of the
economy and of institutions. There is growing hard drug use among
Ghanaians. They are all mutually reinforcing factors, and yet the
government has not come down hard on them," Smith said.

Yao Gede, a lecturer in international relations at the University of
Ghana, said the record of Kufuor's administration in attracting
investment and extending health and education services was undermined
by widespread suspicions of graft.

"There is that perception of corruption in the country, there is the
belief that resources have not been shared equitably," he said.

Increased investment in Ghana, encouraged by the startup of offshore
oil production scheduled for late 2010, raises the stakes for both the
criminal networks and those fighting them.

"We hear of ... people being approached with huge cash offers to sell
their houses to Colombians and Venezuelans, and it's clearly (money)
laundering," said Smith.

Nigerian gangs began smuggling heroin through the country in the
1980s, said Antonio Mazzitelli, regional head of the UN Office on
Drugs and Crime.

Eric Amoateng, a member of parliament for Kufuor's ruling New
Patriotic Party, was arrested in 2005 for smuggling 62 kilograms of
heroin into Newark airport. He was jailed last year by a U.S. court
after quitting his seat, but enjoyed significant support from
parliamentarians and constituents who regarded him as a

In recent years, cocaine trafficking has been spread across West
Africa by rich, well-armed Latin American gangs who have used the
impoverished region as a transhipment route to smuggle drugs into Europe.

"Although Ghana is mainly a transit point for drugs, there is an
increasingly organized framework within which these transactions take
place," Kwesi Aning, head of conflict prevention at the Kofi Annan
International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Ghana, wrote in a 2007
report on criminal networks.
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