By Festus Poquie
United Nations investigators point to people in the military, security forces, former rebel fighters and corrupt politicians in Liberia as partners in the trade of narcotic and other controlled substances. It shows drug trafficking reached its peak by 2010.
Foreign law enforcement agencies mention of Liberian security cooperation in counternarcotic operations is a façade, it said.
Drug proliferation is one of the issues in this year’s elections. There has been blame game in relation to who responsible for trafficking as rival political parties and politicians campaign for votes in the October 10 polls.
The two main parties, the Coalition for Democratic Change and United Party have similarities with respect to roles in controlling, trafficking and spreading of narcotic plaguing the country’s youthful population. It’s $ 100 million and more.
In October 2022, Liberia’s joint security forces aided by American and Brazilian authorities seized a huge consignment of 520-kilograms drugs with a street value of about $100 million United States dollars, which landed through the country’s main seaport – the Freeport of Monrovia.
On this account, former Vice President Joseph Boakai and leader of the main opposition Unity Party that governed the country between 2006 -2018 says it’s incumbent President George Weah and his ruling Coalition for Democratic Change at fault.
“We are fast gaining notoriety as a transshipment country for illicit narcotics, with the country shamefully appearing now as a “narco-state.”
The country’s weak law enforcement capacity, porous borders, and proximity to major drug transit routes help to contribute to trafficking to and through Liberia,” he said.
“Clearly, it is now obvious that the Weah Administration is incapable, unwilling, complicit, and indifferent to this crisis.”
Oracle News Daily Fact-check shows the drug trafficking was prevalent during the Unity Party 12-year-rule.
In 2010 a coalition of multinational counternarcotic operation help to prevent Colombian and Venezuelan drug traffickers from using Liberia as a transit point to move four metric tons of cocaine under the protection of the Colombian rebel group FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), valued at over $100 million.
William Reno provides these account in a May, 2016 article published in the Journal of Complex Operation.
Reno is a Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University where he specializes in the study of the causes of political violence, comparisons of conflict in Africa with warfare elsewhere, the organization and behavior of insurgent groups, and the politics of authoritarian regimes.
UN investigators started to find evidence of a growing problem of cocaine and heroin trafficking through Liberia, he writes.
In 2014, they reported that “a considerable number of those individuals involved in this trafficking as couriers were former combatants and currently serving personnel of the military and police forces.”
Reports that South American traffickers have used Liberia as a transit point and tried to bribe Liberian officials suggest that traffickers view corrupt politicians in Liberia as potential partners.
The scale of resources involved in drug trafficking risks turning a small, poor country into a narco-state and will require a significant international role to compensate for Liberia’s lack of enforcement capacity.
In 2010, for example, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officials, based in U.S. embassies in Monrovia and several other countries, managed a joint undercover operation to prevent Colombian and Venezuelan drug traffickers from using Liberia as a transit point to move four metric tons of cocaine under the protection of the Colombian rebel group FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), valued at over $100 million, to Europe and the United States.
The traffickers attempted to bribe officials in Liberia, promising cash and a portion of the cocaine to traffic in their own operations.
Liberian government cooperation with DEA officials was real, with the president’s stepson and head of Liberia’s National Security Agency, Fombah Teh Sirleaf, playing a key role in the sting operation.
The closely coordinated work of U.S. government agencies played a decisive role in the operation.
Drug traffickers fit well with Liberia’s culture of illicit power, and resources from drug trafficking can be huge.
UN officials estimate that traffickers ship 18 tons of cocaine through West Africa each year.
Just one ton has a value exceeding the military budgets of most countries in the region.
53 This puts some Liberian officials in ideal positions to incorporate drug trafficking in their own patronage networks.
Thus, while high-level officials cooperated with the U.S. antinarcotics effort noted above, UN investigators found that “senior officials of the Government of Liberia have prevented the arrests of heroin couriers on at least two occasions in 2013.”
They concluded that even though the deputy director of Liberia’s Drug Enforcement Agency was fired for violating policies, “networks of higher-level Liberian government officials continue to be influenced by criminal networks smuggling narcotics.”
One danger for international actors in this environment is that counternarcotics efforts that appear to be based on cooperation may, in fact, consist of foreigners and a few Liberians who actually do the work of maintaining the facade of state capacity.
The foreign partners publicly give credit to the Liberian agencies relevant to the effort, but the underlying structure of governance goes merrily on with business as usual.