By Haile-Gebriel Endeshaw
What we have been hearing these days about the seizure of a huge amount of illegal drug is very disturbing. Various parts of the country were reported to be the major hubs for illegal drug trafficking. The alarming news circulated last week indicates that some 40 quintals of illegal drug (substance available through illegal means) was seized in Assela town, Arsi Zone of Oromia State. This is unprecedented.
Last January 2019 I read a news release that states about 56 foreigners who had been detained by the local police while trafficking cocaine and cannabis. That time the foreigners were arrested with 141. 7 kilograms of cocaine and close to 96 kilograms of cannabis. But now only five months later the content of the illegal drugs seized locally has become 4,000 kilograms.
These days many people including government officials in various parts of the country have taken the transitional period as a good opportunity for their dirty works. The seizure of the illegal drugs in towns indicates how poorly our checkpoints, boarder inlets and zonal administrations have been managed by change-resistant officials and law enforcement officers.
We are in a situation in which irresponsible individuals who wrote books on the importance of khat were heard openly preaching about the enjoyable effects and holiness of this substance which is widely classified as drug. A review note written on Ezekiel Gebissa’s book, Leaf of Allah, states the importance of khat which goes far beyond the national sphere. The review notes describe the dramatic development of khat from a local “holy” plant to the basic cash-crop of the majority of farmers in Hararge and to a catalyst of socio-economic developments. There are many young citizens who have been pushed by such hotchpotches into the pitfall of khat addiction. Chewing khat usually associated with the use of other substances like tobacco (this time in the form of shisha) and alcoholic beverages. As many of them are addicted to these drugs, it has become a problem for them to detach themselves from the trap. This addiction (of khat) gradually lulls some of them to start consuming other strong drugs like cannabis and cocaine.
An article written on May 26/2019 quoted a study as stating that the number of cannabis consumers in Ethiopia is exceeding seven million. “…there are estimated 263 million cannabis consumers globally among which a third or 83 million are located in Africa. Ethiopia’s share stands at 7.1 million consumers, standing second to Nigeria’s 20.1 million consumers…”
What is disturbing most is the involvement of government officials (particularly in boarder areas and localities where check points are located) in the illegal drug trafficking process in various parts of the country. Drug trading has been taken as a business (a hot cake) by many people. This business enabled the reckless individuals to amass huge amount of financial resources. They use illegally secured currency (in the form of hush money) to trap officials. This is a common trend observed in many countries that have been victimized by drug trafficking.
“Corruption in Mexico has contributed to the domination of Mexican cartels in the illicit drug trade. Since the beginning of the 20th century, Mexico’s political environment allowed the growth of drug related activity. The loose regulation over the transportation of illegal drugs and the failure to prosecute known drug traffickers and gangs increased the growth of the drug industry. Toleration of drug trafficking has undermined the authority of the Mexican government and has decreased the power of law enforcement officers in regulation over such activities. These policies of tolerance fostered the growing power of drug cartels in the Mexican economy and have made drug traders wealthier. Many states in Mexico lack policies that establish stability in governance. There also is a lack of local stability, as mayors cannot be reelected. This requires electing a new mayor each term. Drug gangs have manipulated this, using vacuums in local leadership to their own advantages…”
In this way the drug traffickers use their financial muscles to purchase everything or to do whatever they want. They can obscure justice. They can pay judges and officials as much money as they need to manipulate policies, rules, regulations and justice system in general. The unpleasant situation in this country has become a fertile ground for the manifestation of such lawlessness. There are no any rational arguments that can be raised against this conclusion. The weapons being smuggled in the center of the country can be aggravated by drug trading. This means the money secured through illegal drug trading can be utilized to purchase the weapons.
This is the time the government should take decisive measures against illicit drug trafficking. History recorded what opium did to China and its citizens in early 19th century. That time the Chinese authorities “issued edicts [proclamations] against opium smoking in 1729, 1796 and 1800”. Sources indicate that the Western (developed) countries prohibited addictive drugs throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Chinese government took the measure after the opium-addicts had grown to between four and twelve million. One can think of the devastating chaos the drug would have brought about if the Chinese government had not taken this timely and serious measure. Look how serious the Chinese government is concerning illegal drug trafficking within the country!
Many are concerned that our country is slipping into chaos through illegal drug trading, drug addiction and drug-related crimes. We are losing many young workforces of the country because of drug addiction. Many young people in this country have been sacked from their jobs in connection to drug addiction or illicit drug-related cases. Moreover, the illegal drug trade has become a major cause of crimes. In many countries worldwide, the illegal drug trade is said to directly link to violent crimes such as murder. “…in the late 1990s in the United States the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimated that 5% of murders were drug-related. In Colombia, drug violence can be caused by factors such as, the economy, poor governments, and no authority within the law enforcement… A report by the UK government’s Drug Strategy Unit that was leaked to the press, stated that due to the expensive price of highly addictive drugs heroin and cocaine, drug use was responsible for the great majority of crime, including 85% of shoplifting, 70-80% of burglaries and 54% of robberies.”
Unclassified document dispatched to CIA in October 2009 recorded the following regarding drug trafficking in Ethiopia. “Ethiopia has become increasingly popular as a transit point along narco-trafficking routes as a result of convenient air service, limited law enforcement, and minimal criminal penalties. Heroin is the most commonly trafficked substance, followed by cannabis and cocaine. Most international traffickers convicted in 2009 were of east African origin… cannabis has traditionally been grown in Ethiopia and is commonly sent via the postal service to the UK and, to lesser extent, other countries.” The source attributed the problem to “the combination of convenient and affordable air service on Ethiopian Airlines, limited police capacity to combat narco-trafficking and minimal prison sentences for convicted drug traffickers”.
The Ethiopian government will have to choose between healthy young people and drug-emaciated or unproductive frail citizens of this country. If the government needs to roll back the aggravating problem, it will have to make concerted efforts to accomplish big tasks. Revising the criminal code and improving terms of imprisonment are the least of the tasks that should be done right away. The Ethiopian government has officially been criticized for failing to improve the drug enforcement efforts and to update the criminal code which provides the minimum of five years prison time and up to 100, 00 Birr (USD 3,600) penalty for narcotic convictions. That’s why the country has been used as a major drug trafficking corridor for many illegal traffickers moving from Nigeria to India and Pakistan via Kenya and Tanzania.
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