Africa drug cartels are protected by police

December 22, 2016

When a friend of mine told me earlier this year that corruption is Africa’s existence biggest threat, I didn’t disagree although not all his observations were accurate. Some of the corruption examples he gave at that point, were how security agencies are aiding drugs trafficking in the continent. His words have come to pass as a new report on illicit drugs draws much-needed attention to many serious issues, including the major role played by corrupt police in drug distribution networks in Sub Saharan Africa. No doubt the role played by drugs in police corruption is complex, and bears consideration when evaluating the report and arguments for a change in policy. The connection between the illegal drugs markets and police corruption is well known. Booms in illegal drug markets in the continent correspond with a rise in police corruption and violent misconduct. Also connections between drugs and police corruption are found in many parts of the world, and Africa is no exception.There are two common situations in which officers in African countries abuse or choose not to use their power in such a way as to benefit from the drug trade, each of which is often rationalised as an attempt to at least do something about the problem of illicit drugs, a form of illegal regulation.The first of these is the theft of drugs or money from drug dealers. When police officers are tasked with policing the prohibition of illicit drugs, first-hand experience leads many to believe they are unable to eliminate the industry, or that the people they steal from are unlikely to be arrested or convicted.In this context, police officers in the Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana and Kenya have justified stealing from drug dealers as a kind of tax or charge, an attempt to try and make it harder for dealers to do business.The other common kind of police corruption is known as green-lighting, whereby police agree to turn a blind eye to dealers or groups that adhere to certain rules and this often used with the professed intention of creating a level of control over the drugs trade.

Apart from any rationalisation for their behaviour as having some kind of ideal cause, officers in these situations also face substantial material incentives like the study shows about Nigeria and Ghana.In the two countries, market for drugs the high levels of inelastic demand particularly in the case of highly addictive substances and high prices create an very lucrative industry, and officers involved in extorting or protecting dealers can make substantial sums doing so.One Nigerian police officer made twenty times his annual salary in protection money from drug dealers, so much that he often forgot to collect his legitimate pay. Tackling these problems requires considering the incentives that officers face to engage in corruption, not just weeding out the odd bad cop. Despite the persistence of bad apple explanations of police corruption, many officers who are found to be corrupt often began as officers with a good, clean record of successful work.While there may, of course, be bad individuals, of greater concern is that all officers are working in a bad orchard which is itself a corrupting influence.The fact, then, that more officers do not become entangled in such activity is a credit to their integrity. Any policy response to the issues raised in the research should take care to ensure it has a real effect on the market for drugs and that it makes it easier for such officers to maintain that integrity by considering the ramifications for police corruption.Police as state apparatus are far from being a respectable institution and the public knows it too well. If the law gives them the right to take African’s lives, they must become exemplary models of legal obedience in all areas.Therefore, any breach of this principle must also be punishable by death, for fairness’ sake.Any police officer caught consuming drugs must also be sentenced to jail, simply because unlike ordinary people, the police are the exemplary models of legal obedience and in fact are law enforcers.

In other words, because they are law enforcers, punishment against them must be harsher than against ordinary people whenever they violate the law they are supposed to uphold. Over the past few years, the police have become the target of severe public criticism in African countries for their officers’ consumption of narcotics. The mainstream and social media outlets are full of reports about police officers using drugs and it is no secret that in cracking down on drugs trafficking, as some assume it, often the officers take the confiscated drugs for their own purposes. Long jail sentences and death penalty that have been imposed on the dealers so far has failed to stop the menace of narcotics trafficking in African countries especially Nigeria and Ghana because the therapy has only been repressive in nature while preventive efforts have been too weak to educate society.Drug dealers exist because there is a large, lucrative demand in our society, meaning there are many drug users to buy their products. So killing drug dealers without eliminating consumption in society is a useless attempt that would only demonstrate our lack of comprehension of the issue. African countries need to eliminate the demand first and there will be no supply and if countries only eliminate the supply without eliminating the demand, there will always be suppliers to meet the demand. And the so called death penalty would remain to be useless because it would be outgrown by rising demand to the extent that the purpose of creating a repentance therapy through death sentences would not become effective.In other words, the death penalty is too small a therapy to stop the rising demand for illegal use of drugs if the demand itself is not stopped through other more effective avenues.However, African countries must be careful not to simplify the problem. Drug users in Africa are often people with problems who consume drugs as an escape from their problems. In drugs they trust to get a temporary solution for their problems. The trouble here is that even when the problems are settled, the addiction won’t go away.This is an area that falls into nobody’s responsibility. There is no government institution that is in charge of solving the frustration of people who seek treatment. This tragic absence is being exacerbated by the fact that response toward drugs addiction has only been repressive rather than educative while law enforcers are ruining law enforcement image.Many more drug dealers in Africa will be jailed in the future, but their incarceration will not stop rising demand for narcotics in African countries, because the battle has only happened in the supply side, but not in the demand.

Contador Harrison