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Opinions of Friday, 2 May 2008

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie/Daily Dispatch

THE OUTSIDER: The drugs boom

I am beginning to think that cocoa has lost its position as Ghana’s number one export commodity. Gold is also not as high as it used to be on our exports lists. The economists advised us to diversify our exports and we are doing exactly what they want us to do. Cocaine now seems to be our number one export commodity, closely followed by heroine and ‘ganja’ is also very high on our list of ‘non-traditional exports’.

The drugs trade has become so profitable that an increasing number of farmers now prefer to cultivate ‘ganja’. If the president’s special initiative had been on ‘ganja’ (instead of cassava) it wouldn’t have failed so badly. So profitable is ‘gangja’ farming that those who care about national food security and want to make a quick buck are taking to mixed cropping – they cultivate vegetables and ‘ganja’ on the same piece of land. After all, ‘ganja’ doesn’t rot and leave them in debt. There is also a ready market for weed. In fact, a ‘ganja’ farmer doesn’t worry about transporting his produce on dangerous roads to the nearest market. The market comes to him.

Our police officers are also cashing in. I think they are having an even bigger bonanza than the farmers. They wine and dine with the drug dealers. You heard the story of the officer who had a party in his house with a bunch of drug dealers, didn’t you?

Your average police office will most likely count himself lucky if he is detailed to arrest a drug dealer because he knows that if plays his cards well, he will end up with thousands of dollars in his account. That’s a great deal of help considering that most police officers will have to work for at least five months to make a thousand dollars. Those officers who are not smart enough to refuse to wine and dine with the drug barons brave all odds to have the crooks arrested. But nothing happens to the crooks.

A couple of years ago an officer at the Cantonments Police Stations turned himself into a courier boy for a suspected drug dealer who was in pre-trial detention. The officer used to take the suspect out to the bank to cash money after which they would go shopping with the police inspector, ostensibly, pushing the cart. They will only return to the police station at night, after the suspect had finished bar-hopping. The day usually ended with a wild party at the police station. One day, the suspect outwitted the dim-witted police inspector and run away. The officer was later interdicted and till date, we don’t know what became of the case. No one wants to talk about it. I won’t be surprised if the officer is still on the police payroll.

The drugs trade is also providing a livelihood for fetish priests and magicians who have lost most of their clients to people like Nicholas Duncan-Williams and Osofo Apraku. Had it not been for the drugs trade, these fetish priests and magicians would have been walking the streets jobless. But the drugs trade has provided them with a niche market. Not all drug dealers are bold enough to go to church and pray for miracles and buy Mercedes Benzes for their bishops in appreciation. So they choose to go to the fetish priests. And these priests often work miracles – usually through the police officers. That is why 77 parcels of cocaine disappeared – just like that – under the watchful eyes of about a dozen police officers. It was such magic that made it possible for cocaine (which had been locked up at the police headquarters of all places) to turn into ‘konkonte’ powder.

When government announced that a committee had been formed to look into how cocaine turned into ‘konkonte’, I knew that the committee wouldn’t come up with any solid explanation because there wasn’t a single fetish priest on the panel. A few days ago, the committee presented its report and what did they say? Nothing!

They couldn’t even point to a single suspect. The best they came up with was that there wasn’t any co-ordination between the IGP and the director of CID. They were asked to go and investigate how the cocaine turned into ‘konkonte’, not the relationship between top police officers. If a president beat up his vice, why should we be worried if the IGP is not on ‘talking terms’ with the CID boss? I am tempted to believe that the magicians screwed up the minds of the committee members to come and tell us all this irrelevant stuff about how top police officers love to hate each other. The magicians should also be blamed for making it impossible for the top police officers to see eye-to-eye because the moment they decide to work together, a lot of drug dealers and their accomplices within the security apparatus (and even in government) will be exposed.

The drugs trade has also become the latest ‘sika duro’. Gone are the days when people went to fetish priests with get-rich-quick requests. Those days the priests would ask you swallow 12 frogs, keep 80 snakes under your bed or have sex with 30 corpses. Many people don’t have the heart to do these things. So most of those interested in easy riches just allow themselves to be used as mules to carry the drugs abroad. One trip will earn you more than your father has earned after working in the civil service for 25 years. Is there a better way to get-rich-quick? I don’t think so.

There are many people in this country who are so rich and we wonder how they got their wealth. Some of them have given themselves a measure of respectability by going into legitimate business, which, of course, they use to cover up their involvement in drugs. Last week, we heard the news about ‘Goodies’. The music producer was arrested at the Kotoka International Airport for attempting to smuggle cocaine to the United Kingdom. Reports suggest that he had swallowed 80 pellets of the ‘goodies’. The greedy fool!

Now we know where he has been getting all his money from, don’t we? Dr. Emmanuel Anin, who has conducted extensive research on the drugs trade in Ghana, believes that it is the main reason why the banking and real estate sectors are thriving so much. “How many Ghanaians can buy a two-bedroom apartment for 150,000 euros?” he asks. “And why are all of these banks opening up branches here?” I don’t have the answers but not all of it can be put down to Ghana becoming a preferred investment destination.

With so many people taking advantage of the drugs boom, I really feel tempted to get in there and get rich quickly. It’s too hard holding down four jobs. And I hate to wake up at dawn to go to work. But I’m scared I will be caught and sent to Nsawam to share a small cell with 16 other prisoners. I like my chamber and hall better. So I have vowed that I’d rather feed on my mother’s ‘bofrote’ morning, noon and night and die than get rich by making others get high. I hope that in the face of all the temptations, I will not break my vow.