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A seized cocaine haul/AFP

Africa

West Africa’s rising star dimmed by illegal drug trade

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A seized cocaine haul/AFP

A seized cocaine haul/AFP

ACCRA, Sep 28 – The security chief at the country’s main airport is accused of ensuring drug dealers can ship cocaine and heroin without worry. A former president voices fears his own entourage may be carrying drugs.

These are not scenes out of 1980s Colombia. This is Ghana, considered one of Africa’s brightest success stories, but where drug traffickers have still managed to use cash, cunning and corruption to turn the country into a key transhipment point.

The authorities have been working with some success to get a handle on the problem, which has threatened to damage Ghana’s reputation.

“Until now, successive Ghanaian governments, and Ghanaian society at large, have underestimated the impact of the trade,” said Stephen Ellis, a professor of African history at the Free University of Amsterdam, who studies the drug trade in the region.

Drug trafficking is nothing new in often volatile west Africa. Traffickers have been accused of infiltrating the government and military of Guinea-Bissau, while Al-Qaeda groups in Mali are suspected of using drug money to finance their operations.

However, Ghana is considered west Africa’s rising star, having carried out six successful presidential elections since 1992. Its gold, cocoa and oil dominated economy is the second largest in the region.

At the same time, the arrest of an airport security boss earlier this year in a sting organised by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) showed the reach and methods of the traffickers.

Prosecutors in the United States allege that Solomon Adelaquaye, who ran a private company that handled security at Kotoka International Airport in the capital Accra, conspired with two Nigerians and a Colombian to move cocaine and heroin onto international flights undetected.

Prosecutors say Adelaquaye got a laptop computer stuffed with a kilogramme of heroin through airport security in exchange for $10,000 (7,400 euros) from the DEA agents.

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Adelaquaye and his three counterparts were arrested in May in the United States as they planned to move 3,000 kilogrammes of cocaine in 25 kilogramme instalments through the airport.

The high profile bust made headlines in Ghana, and sparked bouts of finger-pointing by political rivals eager to capitalise on the allegations.

But the DEA operation tracked just a fraction of what the UN Office on Drugs and Crime says has moved through Ghana in recent years.

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