The Gambia: It is time to wake up to the threats of Drugs Cartels
It is more than three months since 118 bags of cocaine was discovered by operatives of the Drug Law Enforcement Agency, The Gambia “DLEAG” on the 7th January 2021. Three (3) tons of cocaine was seized by Gambian authorities from a shipment of industrial salt originating from Ecuador. The drugs were found in a shipping container “SUDU7531754” according to a DLEAG Officer, which is part of a consignment of four containers originating from Ecuador.
The contact person in the Gambia, one Sheriff Njie has been arrested while one Banta Keita a Gambian resident with a French passport, and the alleged owner of the containers, is still at large and wanted in connection with the cocaine.
The seizure, one of the biggest drugs bust in West Africa, confirmed the Gambia as a storage and transit route for cocaine by international organized criminal groups. Nevertheless, The Gambia is just one piece in the jigsaw of West African countries that have become cocaine smugglers’ paradise.
The United Nations “UN” estimates around 50 tons a year of cocaine, worth almost 1.5 billion at Western European wholesale prices, passes through West Africa. Indicating that more than a quarter of the cocaine used by Europeans is now smuggled in through West Africa.
However, before this most recent seizure of 3 tons of cocaine in the Gambia, there was a seizure of 900 blocks of Moroccan Hashish in Wulingkama village, West Coast region of the Gambia by DLEAG in December 2020. Evidence emerged that the vehicle involved in that operation, had a Malian number plate and some Mauritanians involved. Thereby suggesting that the drug was heading to Mali.
It could also be recalled that 48 parcels of cocaine was found in a container imported by a Laura Food Company. This happened in July 2019 during offloading of sugar by the labourers and government mounted an investigation and arrested some Lebanese businessmen but alas, nothing came out of it and the drug dealers went unpunished.
But what is more alarming in the wake of the seizure of 3 tons of cocaine, there is no statement, updates from DLEAG, the Presidency, Interior, the police and Justice Ministry. This beg the question, who is protecting all these alleged drug traffickers in the Gambia? The deafening silence from our government is very worrying and results in the proliferation of conspiracy theories that there are moles in the government that are complicit in the drugs imports into the Gambia.
Equally, it will be difficult for the South American drug cartels to have the audacity to use the Gambia as a drug transit point en route to Europe without an insider in the pinnacle of the government. And without INTERPOL trailing the drug cartel and informing the Gambian authorities, there is a possibility that the 3 tons of drugs seized would have melted into the country without notice.
The Gambia, once an oasis of peace, stability and almost a drug free country during the first republic, is gradually succumbing to cocaine’s lure. There is heavy presence of ecstasy in the country, skunk and other forms of new psychoactive drugs “NPS” and amphetamine type stimulants “ATS”.
There is a growing domestic demand for cocaine consumption, led in part by the increase in tourism development from Europe. The Gambia is also experiencing increase in criminality, corruption and drug use among youths. With addicts and people with mental health issues hidden away and/or left wandering in the streets, many still believe that their mental health issues are the result of evil spirits and works of traditional voodoos instead of drug addiction.
There is a concern that law enforcement initiatives are failing to stem the flow of drugs into the country. Our institutions are undermined by drug money and corruption. Gambia is a celebrated country of corruption at the mercy of wealthy, well-armed and advanced narcotics traffickers.
With the Gambian election scheduled for 4th December 2021, there is a heightened tension between political groups and this provide more scope for corruption. The risk is that the drug cartel will have easy penetration of dirty drug money into politics and with more money the higher the chance to paved your way to victory. State corruption is a significant contributor to the trafficking environment and drug trafficking groups act with impunity in the country as long as they are in support of the government.
Also, because of extreme poverty, the institutions of the state can be easily bought off – so that instead of enforcement, there is collusion within government machinery. With high office and low pay, civil servants are subjected to great temptations to live above their income and thus become corrupt. Hence, one can easily buy the services one need from the government employees, security officers and the people.
Consequently, since our institutions are not protected, drug traffickers will penetrate our security services, executive, legislature and the judiciary. The significant part of the country’s economy is at the handles of the drugs kingpins, businesses and economic mafias. Counterfeit currency is widely circulating in the markets and the real currency notes are hoarded by money launders.
Above all, however, it requires the Gambian leader – President Barrow to take the lead to act courageously to speak out and protect our national institutions and democratic process from infection by drugs money. Until then, our country will be worryingly vulnerable to corruption and drugs money.
Ebrima Scattred Janneh
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