Drugs trade threatens to corrode Ghana's image

Tue Dec 23, 2008 9:14am EST
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By Alistair Thomson

DAKAR (Reuters) - Hopes of future oil prosperity have given a lift to Ghana's presidential election race, but drug trafficking threatens to spoil the West African country's image with the stain of corruption.

During the heated election contest, to be decided in a December 28 run-off, lurid headlines in the partisan press accused both main rival parties of collusion in trafficking or of using drug dollars to win votes.

Hard evidence was lacking, but the allegations are indicative of Ghana's failure to tackle an illicit trade experts fear is turning West Africa into a "Coke Coast" and of corruption that threatens to cloud a bright future.

After years of military rule and economic instability, Ghana has been seen as a success story since President John Kufor was elected in 2000, attracting foreign donors and investors eager for a safe haven in a restive region.

Yet tonnes of cocaine vanishing from police surveillance, a parliamentarian jailed in the United States for trafficking heroin, and the sabotage of efforts to combat smuggling or graft are more reminiscent of the region's failed or failing states.

"I think it's an extremely serious threat," said Patrick Smith, editor of newsletter Africa Confidential.

"It's not just the transhipment, it's the criminalization of the economy and of institutions. There is growing hard drug use among Ghanaians. They are all mutually reinforcing factors, and yet the government has not come down hard on them," Smith said.

Yao Gede, a lecturer in international relations at the University of Ghana, said the record of Kufuor's administration in attracting investment and extending health and education services was undermined by widespread suspicions of graft.   Continued...