The Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) on Monday said the rise of wealthy organized crime syndicates now illicitly trafficking narcotic across West Africa has thrown yet another mix into the already lengthy and ‘toxic brew’ of threats plaguing the region.
“The rise in drug trafficking, including an increase in local drug production and consumption, is fast becoming a mighty adversary to overcome in the pursuit of peace, stability and security in West Africa,” it said in a statement..
The statement, copied to the Ghana News Agency, said it was a challenge that required a coordinated and multi-pronged solution and also requires the active involvement of civil society actors across the region.
Ms Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei, OSIWA Programme Manager in Charge of Law, Justice and Human Rights, signed the statement.
OSIWA said West Africa’s geographical proximity to European markets makes it strategically located for drug-smuggling purposes and it is not only a trans-shipment zone, local production but also consumption is also on the rise especially among its burgeoning youth population.
Over 70 per cent of the sub-region’s estimated 300 million people are under the age of 35. The vast majority have limited education and are unemployed or working in the informal sector.
Lack of employment opportunities or reliable income put youth in precarious positions where they may be vulnerable to involvement in the drug-trade and drug use itself.
The statement recounted last week’s inauguration of West Africa Commission on Drugs by Vice President Kwesi Amissah-Arthur at the Kofi Annan Peacekeeping Training Centre chaired by the former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.
OSIWA described the establishment of the Commission as a good omen and its inauguration timely to examine ways and means to crack down on drug trafficking and prioritize grappling with drug trafficking impacts on West Africa.
According to the statement trans-shipment of illicit narcotics from Latin America through to West Africa and onwards to Europe has increased significantly.
It said since 2008, the volume of cocaine transiting through West Africa was roughly 50 tons a year and its annual worth estimated at US$2 billion. Nearly 50 per cent of all non-U.S. bound cocaine, or about 13 per cent of all global flows are now smuggled through West Africa.
According to the statement, apart from the damaging effects of drug use on West Africa’s human resource base, related offences such as corruption and money laundering have also had a severe impact on the socio-economic development and governance of the region.
It said drug-related corruption and money laundering accentuate the chronic poverty in many West African states by disrupting effective economic governance. In a number of countries, the profits from trafficked drugs exceed the gross national income.
The statement noted that a lot of time and resources have been invested in trying to combat this scourge, stressing that at the regional level, the African Union (AU) has just developed its fourth revised plan of action.
This new 2013-2017 policy on drug control seeks to strengthen continental and international cooperation and further integrate drug control issues into national legal and institutional frameworks.
“On a sub-regional level, the ECOWAS issued a declaration entitled “Community Flame Ceremony: the fight against drugs” and set up a regional fund for financing drug control activities in West Africa.
The statement said 10 years later, ECOWAS adopted the Praia Plan of Action and the Abuja Declaration to address the security threats posed by drug trafficking in the sub-region.
At the national level, OSIWA acknowledged that almost all ECOWAS states have adopted National Integrated Programmes (NIPs), whilst some have amended their drug trafficking and consumption legislations, empowered their judicial authorities, established new drug enforcement agencies and imposed stiffer penalties for offenders.
OSIWA noted that in spite of the efforts poor implementation, lack of funding, and singularly focusing on toughening punitive measures have accounted for the seemingly failures of the interventions.
It said “apart from the absence of political will and a clear vision from West Africa’s leaders, there has been an absence or altogether inability to mobilize a critical mass of the population to actively participate in the full stretch of the process – from inception to implementation, through to monitoring and review.” GNA