Upon arriving in Accra, Ghana, a handful of things clear to me very quickly. Accra is a friendly, colourful, progressive and interesting city that makes Ghana the country that it is. But with these observations also comes the opportunity to see what issues are still present in Ghana and still stifle this country from fulfilling its full potential.
Drug trafficking is a problem that is proving to be one of Ghana’s most prevalent and most insidious. This issue caught my eye due to its monumental impact on the country’s economy and social welfare, but also because the trade has huge ramifications for the rest of the world.
The drug industry in South America is booming. Led by cartels in Peru and Columbia, the drug exporting and trafficking industry is valued in the tens of billions of dollars. The produce is principally sold in Europe and North America and, in order to get there, West Africa is used as the main hub of transit.
Nations like Ghana are entangled is the cartels’ web of exploitations to such a vast extent that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimate that since 2006, between twenty-five and fifty thousand kilogrammes of cocaine has transited through West Africa from South America en-route to Europe. This is unsurprising as, according to Gilberto Gerra, the chief of drug prevention at UNODC, “West Africa is completely weak in terms of border control and the big drug cartels have chosen Africa as a way to reach Europe”.
The result of such weakness and the impact of such criminality are not to be underestimated. The trafficking industry costs Ghana millions of Cedi a year by perpetuating and worsening the drug abuse problem. The Narcotics Control Board (NACOB) released figures concluding that an estimated 30% of the population used illegal drugs last year, with those aged between eighteen and thirty-five the most vulnerable. Upon further analysis NACOB attributed this rising percentage to the increase in drugs being made available through the prominence of drug trafficking in Ghana.
The reach of this evil has no boundaries. Drug trafficking puts a strain on law enforcement, healthcare and social welfare, thereby incurring costs that the taxpayers’ wallets should not have to endure. Therefore, this merciless trade inhibits Ghana’s growing economy and holds Ghanaian society back from progressing as it has done for the last half century.
Perhaps the most heinous of all the crimes committed by the drug trafficking trade is that it continually and aggressively undermines the democratic constitution that sets Ghana aside from many of its fellow African states. This constitutional integrity is not something this proud nation wants to forfeit any time soon.
Ghana has a steep hill to climb if it wished to overcome this poisonous path in which is it a stepping-stone. Despite being ahead of most other African countries with regard to issues of social justice, political progressiveness and criminality - this is one that Ghana is yet to excel in dealing with. It would be wise to do so as this trespasses on the strong foundations of government that this nation stands for and besmirches the values that embody this prosperous country.
That being said, there is still hope for tackling this wicked trade. Ghana is one of the most politically and economically advanced countries in Africa. It is a country of integrity, honesty and democracy. It is full of strong, intelligent and progressive people who I am sure will, with time, overcome this great struggle.
Author: Nicholas Madsen
Nicholas is a scholar in international relations at the University of Amsterdam, specialising in European and Middle Eastern integration and security.