|Cocaine bust, estimated to worth $1 billion, June 2010, Banjul.|
Drug Agency says that’s not the case in The Gambia
In a controversial report on June 2, the Global Commission on Drug Policy argued the war on drugs has failed and suggested that the decriminalization of narcotics like marijuana could help weaken organized gangs.
However, the Deputy Director of National Drug Enforcement Agency (NDEA) in Banjul, Mr. Kalilu Njie has told The Voice that the war on illicit drug trafficking has not failed in The Gambia, as they have witnessed an increasing trend of arrests of suspected drug traffickers and drug-related offenders.
“The numbers of drug trails in courts serves as a clear manifestation to this fact. Statistic shows that the trend in drug trafficking has been reduced drastically. May be it has fail in those countries,” he argued in an interview during celebrations marking “International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking, June 26, 2011.
The report came at a time when the Gambia Government has step-up efforts to break the country’s drug habit by tightening up security at borders, sea and airport. “We are trying to ensure a demand and supply reduction and we have reinforced our positions in the seaport, airport and at the borders to arrest anyone dealing in hard drugs,” Mr. Njie said.
Nonetheless, 50 years after the launch of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the Global Commission on Drug Policy exhorts world leaders to replace the adoption of punitive measures which calls for a strict criminalising of drugs and imprisoning drug users.
They said countries that use a “law enforcement” approach to drug crime should instead focus their efforts on “violent” organised crime and drug traffickers.
In May 2010, the Public Relations Officer of the NDEA, Mr. Abdoulie Ceesay admitted that the Narcotic Court is overburdened with a backlog of drug cases, while the prison is filled-up with drug inmates and trial prisoners.
One of the main objectives of imprisonment is to reform and rehabilitate offenders to become better persons in society after serving their jail terms, however, Mr. Ceesay admitted that most of the time, this objective may be defeated.
In The Gambia, punishment for convicts on drug initially carry a death sentence, but has been substituted for a life sentence and long prison terms though the Executive Director of the African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies, Madam Hannah Foster saw a need to entirely abolish the death penalty.
Foster, a human rights activist said the right to life is sacred and “since we do not give life it is agreed that we cannot take away what we do not give.”
“I think alternative ways of punishment should be put in place. The death penalty is a severe punishment and though it is supposed to serve as a deterrent, it is not because it does not stop people from committing the same crime. So we should look at other alternatives,” she said in April 2011 in reaction to the substitution of the “death sentence” for drugs to a “life sentence” by the National Assembly. “I think the judiciary should find an equitable punishment for perpetrators of crimes of drugs and drug related offences. They have a justice system that is independent enough to ensure that this is implemented.”
The 19-member panel of the Global Commission on Drug Policy includes businessman Sir Richard Branson, ex-UN Chief Kofi Annan, former Brazil president Fernando Cardoso, former Colombia president Cesar Gaviria and Mexico's former president Ernesto Zedillo as well as writers such as Mexico's Carlos Fuentes and Peruvian Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa.
The Commission said it wanted to encourage governments to legalise drugs like “marijuana” as a way of undermining the power of organised gangs, citing policies in Australia, Holland and Portugal.
Gambia drug seizure
The statistics on drug seizures in The Gambia show 323 cases of Cannabis Sativa from January – December 2010 which forms 90 percent of the overall seizure of drugs registered for the year.
Speaking during a-May 26 training for 30 participants on “peace building and crime prevention”, the NDEA Spokesperson Mr. Abdoulie Ceesay said out of the 323 cases, 36 percent involves youths between the ages of 13-25 years.
Thus, Mr. Ceesay note that the number of young people arrested in connection with cannabis abuse is increasing at an “alarming rate” which raises grave concerns.
The NDEA in Banjul revealed that 371 people were arrested in 2010 in connection to dealing in cannabis, 352 of them are Gambians, while 37, including 9 Gambians were arrested for allegedly dealing in Cocaine, others include Nigerians, a Cameroonian, an Estonian, a Bissau Guinean, a Ghanaian, Deutsch nationals, a Mexican, a Swedish, and Venezuelans.
On June 4, 2010 the Drug Agency registered its biggest drug seizure of 2 tonnes of cocaine estimated to worth more than 1 billion dollars from a warehouse at Bonto village in the West Coast Region of The Gambia for which seven South Americans, a European and an African were arrested. The Government of The Gambia has since brought criminal charges against them.
Another significant seizure of more than one Ton of Cannabis Sativa was seized at Seewol Village, West Coast Region near the boarder with the Southern Region of Senegal (Cassamance) on 25th August 2010.
“The cannabis was destined to the most densely populated area in the country, the Greater Banjul, and the seizure drastically reduced the supply trend in this region, automatically reducing the demand in the market for both whole sale and retail,” the spokesperson of Gambia’s Drug Agency Mr. Ceesay argued.
Over the past decades, the fight against drugs has witnessed the disbursement of millions of dollars but has clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption. Thus, the report by the Global Commission concluded that: “The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.”
A clear indication is Mexico’s war on drugs, in which more that 34, 000 people have been killed since 2006. The heavily armed drug cartels showed no sign of letting up until this day, and the war has been regarded as failing.
- Author: Modou S. Joof