The rainy season is about to begin. Climatically, The Gambia enjoys about three months of rainfall. In recent years, floods from rains displace families and wreak havoc on their lives.
Giving our poor drainage system, streaming rain water is usually full of human waste and other dirt. Consequently, they are prone to bacterial infection and this can lead to cholera outbreaks.
Because of such perennial disasters, the government established offices like the National Disaster Management Agency and during floods, you will see His Excellency, the President himself visiting such areas to have a firsthand look, sympathise with the victims and offer them support.
Now, we all know that the cyclical trend of rains in this country, yet families living in flood-prone low lands like Ebo Town, Kotu Quarry sit back doing nothing. This is pathetic. And rather than wait expecting government to rush to their aid when disaster strikes, they should take ownership of their situation and simply vacate those flood plains. Government has a lot to do, so we should support it not kill it.
With just the little rain in May and on June 12, I saw stagnant pools of water on the streets already. What is going to happen when the deluge comes in late July and August?
Drugs in West Africa
I heartily welcome the report of the West Africa Commission on Drugs as reproduced in your newspaper of Monday, June 17th 2014.
Guinea-Bissau’s emergence as a major hub for cocaine shipments reveals how drug traffickers can use the electoral process to gain a foothold in West African states. In 2005, Colombian drug traffickers reportedly financed the lavish re-election campaign of President João Bernardo ‘Nino’ Vieira, effectively placing him and his country at the service of drug traffickers. The persistence of state official involvement in the drug trade in subsequent years included “repeated allegations of complicity of high-ranking officials in government and the military in drug trafficking” as well as a number of “questionable judicial and executive decisions that appear to be corruption-related.”
By April 2012, when the armed forces once again seized power and imprisoned interim President Raimundo Pereira, former prime minister and presidential candidate Carlos Gomes Junior, and several other senior officials, drug trafficking had reportedly become the key economic activity of the country’s military elite (which controls the state), with the UN reporting at least twenty transatlantic flights involving small aircraft loaded with drugs landing in Bissau in the following six months after the coup,26 and the inclusion of two high-ranking military officials on the US Treasury’s drug kingpin list.
The point I want to make here is evidence from around the world shows that weak state institutions facilitate the drug trade.
Countries in Europe, the Americas, Asia, and the Caribbean have lived similar experiences at different stages of their development paths, underscoring the vital importance of strengthening institutions of governance in West Africa.
Media commentary and interviews across West Africa suggest that the spoils of drug trafficking have been used to corrupt elected and other officials. Case files on recent seizures and arrests in several countries shed light on how the work of traffickers is facilitated by a wide range of people, which can include business executives, politicians, members of the security forces and the judiciary, clergymen, traditional leaders and youth.
Traffickers seem to connect easily with people of influence and are able to establish and operate informal social networks, allowing them to avoid detection by the formal security apparatus or co-opt it when necessary.
Operating in this way, traffickers can reshape relationships between and among political and security actors, the citizenry, and the business community within and beyond borders. The infiltration and potential weakening of military, police and customs and border agencies by criminal organisations in countries across West Africa are a real threat.
Easy access to drug money (and other forms of organised criminal activity) can place additional pressures on vulnerable political systems and increase the risk of polarisation and violence around electoral contests.
One key source of weakness is that elections – key instruments of democratic politics – are not publicly funded in most of West Africa. In many cases, candidates tend to “own” parties, funding them from their private resources or raising support from friends, regional allies or from their ethnic base. Moreover, though some electoral systems in West Africa require asset disclosure and impose ceilings on campaign spending and restrictions on campaign funding, mechanisms to verify and monitor such measures are limited.
Where they do exist, they do not always expose new means of cheating the system, and in many cases the absence or weakness of access to information laws makes monitoring by civil society difficult. These flaws make West Africa’s electoral processes vulnerable to corruption by drug money.
West Africa’s ability to defend itself against political penetration by drug traffickers will largely be determined by how well it can protect its electoral systems from such interference. This reality was acknowledged at a conference on elections and stability in West Africa in Praia, Cabo Verde, in May 2011. The resulting Praia Declaration on Elections and Stability explicitly addressed the problem of the financing of political parties and their campaigns by criminal networks, particularly drug trafficking networks.