BY LEONARD MADU
July 11th, 2009
In early march this year, President joao Bernardo Viera of
Guinea Bissau was assassinated. It was reported that he was
assassinated in retaliation for the assassination of the army chief,
General Tagme Na Wai. Both have been at loggerheads for years.
However, informed observers and diplomatic sources state that it might
not be unconnected with control of the drug business now ravaging the
country. Not one single head of state attended the President's funeral.
The country's Prime Minister, Carlos Correia, went as far as calling the
late President “the biggest drug dealer in the country”. Afraid for his
life,he promptly went into hiding after making this statement. The
United Nations has designated Guinea Bissau as the first narco state.
In neighboring Guinea(Conakry) as soon as the long time President
Lansana Conte died,(he ran the country for 24 years) the army seized
power and immediately instituted an inquiry into the activities of the
former president and his acolytes. The result was dramatic and revealed
what most Guineans have suspected for long-the family of the President
and key government officials were directly involved in the receipt and
shipments of cocaine President's son, Ousmane Conte confessed on
television that he was directly involved in the drug business. Not only
was the Presidential guard used to secure the cargo,but the first lady's
private residence and the President's VIP salon at the airport was also
used to store and secure the drugs. The President's son further
admitted that he was paid $300,000 for the first shipment he secured.
Subsequently, the intelligence chief, the President's brother in law, the
head of the anti-drug unit and the police chief have all confessed to be
involved. The police chief who earned less than $500.00 a month, was
building a university before the army takeover. It is not surprising that
in 2006, Guinea was rated the most corrupt state in the world by
Transparency International. Previously, Nigeria and Bangladesh held the
The confessions paint a picture of an illicit trade conducted with total
impunity, and the large role Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone and
other West African countries are playing as drug hubs, and how
vulnerable they are to the corrupting influence of drug dollars.
What these countries have in common are extreme poverty,where
society has been ravaged by war and the institutions of state can easily
be bought off-so that instead of enforcement, there is collusion by the
government. And no more so than Guinea Bissau, whose institutional
weaknesses makes it a trafficker's dream prey. In Guinea Bissau, the
value of the drug trade is greater than the national budget and the
country has been mired in civil conflicts since gaining independence from
Portugal in 1974. According to the United Nations, unemployment stands
at 80%, and running water and electricity are luxuries few can afford.
It is stated that there is so much cocaine floating off the coast of
Guinea Bissau, that ignorant fishermen assume that it is powder and rub
it on their faces. In Guinea(Conakry), unemployment stands at 60%,
despite having the largest bauxite deposits in the world, as well as gold
and other minerals. Guinean trade union leader, Rabiatou Serah states
that in the neighborhood where he lives in the capital,there has been no
running water in five years despite the abundance of rivers. In Sierra
Leone after years of civil war, unemployment stands at about 70%. In
Equatorial Guinea run by a rapacious and greedy family clique,
unemployment stands at about 60%, despite an abundance of oil. The
Annobon island away from the Equatorial Guinean mainland and close to
Nigeria, is reputed to be a cocaine paradise. Nigerian drug gangs have
always been an energetic presence on the global trafficking scene, but
the target of the South American traffickers have been the failed
states along the Gold Coast, with Nigerians acting as facilitators..
One may then be permitted to ask-why have the drug cartels shifted
their attention to West Africa?. The answer lies in several factors.
There is more demand now for cocaine in Europe than in the United
States, hence the transatlantic crossing.The old cocaine channels
through the Caribbean, markedly Jamaica and Panama, had become more
intensively policed, forcing the Colombians to develop new routes to
traffic cocaine. The increasing might of Mexico's powerful drug cartels
has forced the South Americans to search for trafficking routes to
Europe across the Atlantic rather than through Central America.
Moreover, the West African coast with thousands of small islands are
porous and thinly policed. But most importantly, the corrupt governments
that act as willing accomplices to the detriment of their own peoples.
According to the United Nations office on Drugs and Crime(UNODC),
99% of all the drugs seized in Africa since 2003 have been found in
West Africa. Between 1998 and 2003, the total quantity of cocaine
seized each year in Africa was around 600kg. Since 2005, at least 46
tons of cocaine have been seized en route to Europe via West Africa,
bringing profits that sometimes exceed the national budgets of the
countries it passes through. In February this year, a Liberian ship, the
Blue Atlantic, was intercepted by the French navy with 2.4 tonnes of
Once ravaged by the transatlantic slave trade, the West African coast
is again under attack. It is ironic that in the 19th century, Europe's
hunger for slaves devastated West Africa, and two hundred years later,
it could be said that its growing appetite for cocaine could do the same.
Just like the corrupt African chiefs played a vital role in selling their
own people to Europeans, corrupt African leaders are doing the same
today through drugs. When the leadership, rather than the criminal
elements in a society plays a leading role in such crimes, social and legal
order breaks down, and the moral fiber of the society is destroyed.
Dr. Leonard Madu is a diplomatic troubleshooter and President of the
African Chamber of Commerce.