Coruption and the drug trade in Ghana

Ghana has for quite some time been part of the drug trade with corruption helping drug smugglers not get caught. West Africa has become a transit point for South American drugs destined for Europe, every year according to the UN at least 50 tonnes of cocaine go through Western African countries. The UN says that Ghana along with Guinea-Bissau is the major hubs of cocaine smuggling within the region.


In Ghana there have been constant claims of corruption within the government such as in 2008 where the ex executive director of the UNODC, Antonio Maria Costa said that when it comes to drugs in Ghana “[s]ome of the political leaders, or members of families of political leaders, some of the high officials, including law enforcement are involved, or in any event turn a benign eye."


Kotoka International Airport (KIA) is the main entry and exit point in Ghana and due to the suspicions that many working within the airport are corrupt, it has become a very lucrative transit point for drug smugglers trying to get their drugs into Europe. Operation Westbridge was introduced by the UK government to try and stop that by steming the flow of drugs getting through KIA. UK officials work with those from the NACOB to try and prevent drugs smuggling within the airport. Operation Westbridge was launched after a similar operation in Jamaica (Operation Airbridge) proved successful.


If the 2010 Wikileak US cable is to be believed Operation Westbridge has had some trouble due to corruption being so widespread that it has made the operation very challenging. In particular the allegations that the corruption apparently stretches all the way to the NACOB (narcotics control board). This has reportedly meant that scanners have been sabotaged and NACOB officials being accused of channelling certain passengers who are suspected of carrying drugs to a security exempt VIP lounge.


One UK official apparently claimed that some NACOB agents would redirect passengers away from flights which were receiving extra security and scrutiny. Once this UK official unexpectedly returned to the airport at 4 am to screen a flight and was told by a drug smuggler that they were not expecting Operation Westbridge to be operating that night. On another occasion NACOB agent’s phone numbers were found on one smugglers phone and on another occasion drugs were found strapped to a seat of a KLM flight before any passengers had even boarded. Of course this is all speculation based on wikileak documents however the evidence that corrupt officials are helping drug smugglers seems to be growing.


Especially with the arrest of 12 members of the NACOB who have been arrested for helping drug traffickers smuggle drugs through Kotoka International Airport. This does seem to suggest that the claims by the wikileak documents could be true and this could also suggest that within NACOB there is widespread corruption undermining any attempt to curtail drug smuggling.


The 12 members of the NACOB are not the only ones who have been arrested along with them a Ghana premier league football president has too and apparently is a major financer of the drug trade within the country.  This arrest has further highlighted how far the drug trade has spread in Ghana from government officials to football club presidents.


It is important to stress that not all officials are involved in helping drug smugglers and indeed some are being framed for political reasons. The NDC (National Democratic Congress) has for a long time claimed that the NPP (New Patriotic Party) was not committed to tackling drugs and so long as the NPP remained in power the drug issue could never be tackled. One Ghanaian newspaper recently (the Stateman) has written an article where apparently they have uncovered a plot by some members of the NDC to frame NPP officials by planting drugs in their bags when they take trips overseas. Since then the NPP General Secretary has issued a warning to all members of the NPP who are planning to travel outside the country due to the increased risk of being framed.


In Ghana drugs trafficking is a big issue politically and so too is corruption both of which are used as political capital by the Ghanaian parties. For instance the NDC have on several occasions indirectly and directly accused the NPP of using drug money for their campaigns with a presidential aide, Stan Dogbe saying that the NPP took offence to the warning by the NACOB executive secretary that political parties should not use drug money for the campaign because “wikileaks made it clear to us that the NPP benefited from funding from drug barons”.

It’s an issue that both parties are trying to use to their advantage with the NPP hinting that their members could potentially be framed whilst the NDC have accused the NPP of using drug money to fund their campaigns. The issue of corruption helping the drug trade is however something that can’t be hidden under a rock it is a well known issue the extent of which is however unknown.

The widespread nature of officials accepting bribes for drug traffickers is also not fully known but it is very plausible that all sectors of government have been impacted by it. Especially with the NACOB chairman cautioning the judiciary to be wary of the influence of drug barons. They are however only hints and accusations to date the only arrests for helping drug barons have come from within NACOB with the recent arrest of 12 members of it.


 Western Africa as a whole has become susceptible to drug smuggling because of  the fact that it is relatively easy to bribe officials. This is down to the general problem that officials within organizations such as the NACOB are not really given the best pay and the amount of money drug smugglers are willing to bribe them with can be very tempting. Western Africa is thought by many as a hub for drug smugglers a place where they can get their drugs into the big market of Europe.