Since the WikiLeaks US diplomatic cables began their slow trickle in December last year, only a handful of cables from Accra have been made public. Their content can be summed up as drugs, drugs, drugs and oil. Oh, and more drugs. Much of the content wasn't news to anyone, but they did confirm some long-held suspicions about the current administration's hypocrisy regarding drug smuggling. By BAAFOO AHENKORA.
Among other things, the WikiLeaks US diplomatic cables relating to Ghana gave us more details about how pervasive the drug-smuggling problem actually is. They also gave us more insight into the access relatively low-ranking foreign diplomatic staff have to our president and other high-ranking government officials. However, the revelations about the drug menace were not novel, except for reports of the president's suspicions about members of his own entourage.
For some time now Ghana has been perceived by the US and others in the international community as a safe transit point for drug traffickers. Even though the exact extent of the drug problem has been unclear due to the rampant and unwarranted politicisation of the fight against the menace, there have been major incidents justifying this perception.
In November 2005, New Patriotic Party MP Eric Amoateng was arrested in New York for possessing about $6 million worth of heroin. He was subsequently sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in 2007. Even though the then ruling NPP attempted to distance itself from the incident, their political opponents, the National Democratic Congress took the opportunity to tag them as a party of drug dealers.
Furthermore, in April 2006, 77 parcels of cocaine disappeared from the MV Benjamin, a fishing vessel which docked at the Tema harbour. This may not be entirely surprising given the negligence and corruption at the harbour revealed by investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas, but the circumstances under which the drugs disappeared were rather mysterious. Even though a commission of enquiry was formed to investigate the circumstances of the disappearance, the parcels of cocaine were not found. The 77 parcels were loaded onto the MV Benjamin, by another ship. The cocaine was stolen from the ship after it docked. The question is why the police or customs officials did not take precautions to guard the ship more securely when they had a tip-off it was carrying drugs. Again the NDC, which was in opposition at the time, took the opportunity to speculate as to why the issue could not be resolved, fuelling the perception that the government was intentionally shielding criminals because they were in their own ranks.
In the run-up to the 2008 election, the NDC campaigned on a platform of stemming the purported tide in the narcotics trade in Ghana. The party courted public sympathy by stoking the flames of suspicion among Ghanaians. One of its running claims, albeit unsubstantiated, was that Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, the “flagbearer” of the NPP, was a drug addict. It also alleged that some prominent members of the NPP were drug barons. Even though there wasn't a shred of evidence to back up these claims, they caught on with some Ghanaians and may have contributed to the NPP losing the election.
Upon assuming power, the NDC has had to live up to its promise of ridding the country of the drug menace. It was in this vein that President John Atta-Mills ordered the investigations into the MV Benjamin case to be re-opened in his latest state of the nation address on 17 February. It was also in this vein that he opted to subject himself and his entourage to a humiliating search at the airport just to show the world that he was not a drug peddler. But to what end?
According to US embassy cables obtained by WikiLeaks, the president was suspicious of members of his own entourage, but wanted private scans for them to avoid embarrassment in case they were caught. This revelation confirms the fact that the search of officials was little more than an orchestrated charade, as most Ghanaians had suspected. Even though the public search went ahead, this was only after Atta-Mills had alerted his entourage to the fact it would take place. So the charade appeared to be just another of those antics politicians peddle to deceive the public and gain sympathy – not to mention votes. Given that it was hip for the NDC to blithely and falsely accuse the NPP's candidate of being a drug addict – or worse, a drug baron – during the 2008 elections, it is unconscionable that the party would do this knowing there were drug peddlers in its own ranks.
The leaked documents also implicate former president John Kufuor's administration. Apparently, in 2007, his administration granted diplomatic passports to people who did not merit them. These included some religious leaders, as well as ordinary citizens. Even though it has been customary for governments to accord this privilege to some religious leaders because of their esteemed status in society, it appears that the pool of “men of God” who enjoyed this privilege was liberally widened to accommodate some who were of questionable character. We do not know why they were granted diplomatic passports, but the leaked cables suggest that some of these people were suspected of being drug traffickers, and that the special treatment helped them evade checks at the airport.
Since the leaking of the documents, the ugly noises in Ghana’s media and politics have continued, with the discussions proceeding along party lines. The overall focus has seen media and political players slamming their opponents by recalling the details of what transpired during their rule, rather than looking at the bigger picture of how to clean up drug smuggling. Similarly, since the state of the nation address, debates in parliament have focused on which administration is “cleaner”, rather than concentrating on solving the problem.
It is too early to tell if renewed focus on drug smuggling precipitated by the US diplomatic cable leaks has nudged any journalists to conduct further investigations into the matter, but my guess would be no. This is unfortunate, as even though the leaks may not have given us much new information, it would be worthwhile pursuing the details that were exposed. It is a great pity the will to take systematic measures to curb drug smuggling without political bias coming into play is non-existent. If we are to eradicate the menace of drug smuggling and its associated ills from our society, both politicians and the media must take a more dispassionate approach to handling these - otherwise we will fail miserably to the detriment of our own social fabric. FAM
Baafoo Ahenkora is the pen name of a Ghanaian freelance writer who lives in New York, US. You can read his blog at Ghana Biased.
- Cables relating to Ghana at WikiLeaks
- Ghana MP in US 'heroin' arrest at BBC News
- MV Benjamin case resumes at The Statesman
- Mills: Investigations into MV Benjamin cocaine case to be reopened at Ghana Web
Main Photo: The President of Ghana, John Atta-Mills. Reuters.