DTOs and Narco-Trafficking: A Threat to Governance and the Democratic Transition of Guinea

The West African country of Guinea has recently become a narco-trafficking hot-spot, attracted drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) by maintaining a setting for these organizations to function, with its domestic environment characterized by underdevelopment, poor governance, weak security, and its geographic position at the center of a transshipment route from the Caribbean and Central America to Europe. DTOs have exploited these weaknesses by establishing distribution operations, wholesale marketing, and even domestic production of illicit drugs in the country.

Large-scale trafficking by way of West Africa was first detected in 2004 and most-likely the result of increased U.S. and European drug interdiction operations on the northern routes going to Europe via the Azores and Canary Islands. While neighboring Guinea-Bissau is the first so-called African “narco-state,” U.S. operations against the country’s military chief prompted DTOs to shift operations to Guinea. These displaced operations promise to foster a second “narco-state;” increasing government corruption and breaking down existing law and order in Guinea. With an existential threat to national governance in Guinea’s political transition, the country’s existent anti-narcotics units are ill equipped to combat these governance threats—as they lack the force structure, arms, and equipment to interdict DTO operations.

History has demonstrated DTOs direct effects on African host countries’ governance—staging coups d’état, capturing elections, and purchasing political power—and indirect effects to include increasing violence and crime in the country as well as threatening a break-down of corporate governance, public health and societal structures of the nation.  In the case of Guinea, DTOs have spawned rampant narco-corruption, penetrating the highest levels of government offices, including political and military elites and the son of late President Lansana Ousmane Conte. This penetration has not changed with the first democratically elected president, as DTOs purportedly maintain “high-level protection from within Conde’s administration”—including protection by senior civilian, military and police personnel.

The first democratically elected president since its independence from France in 1958, President Alpha Conde was elected in 2010 to lead one of the most corrupt, poor and mineral-rich countries in the world.  With the second largest mining reserves in Africa, natural resource extraction promises to attract billions of dollars in foreign direct investment—critical to the country’s economic growth. With the prospects of democracy and moves towards political stability, international corporations are now attempting to gain access to the country’s natural resources which include bauxite, iron ore, diamonds, gold and uranium. The president is trying to use these assets to bolster economic growth in the country to match the region’s high level gains. And to better support economic and financial governance and institutional capacity, the president is working to reverse the predatory business trends established by former corrupt dictators through sector reform, including the revision of Guinea’s national mining laws to increase government shares of domestic resources, raising national equity to 35% of the mining revenues.

The problem is that it appears the government intends to exploit both the country’s licit and illicit assets—foreign interest in national resource exploitation and DTO maintenance of a European drug transshipment route. While cocaine transshipment profits benefit Guinea citizens in the short-term, it will be detrimental to the nation’s long-term success, as the illicit trade undermines governance and stability in the country. These activities affect the country’s economic development, rule of law and human security—as narco-trafficking and DTO operations deter corporate governance, encourage corruption, reduce transparency, discourage direct foreign investment, hinder tax reform, and remove resources for the provision of citizen social safety nets. The pervasiveness of these illicit activities also risks the country’s international development assistance, including the recently released European assistance totaling over 200 million Euro.

International efforts are underway to encourage West African actions to combat drugs—the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional action plan of 2008, supporting UN 2010-14 Regional Programme for West Africa, and a 2011 United States West Africa Cooperative Security Initiative. Guinea greatly needs this support as its national government currently lacks the political will to remove illicit revenue streams and its law enforcement capabilities and judiciary lack the capacity—personnel, equipment and training—to stem DTO illicit activities. While this country has advanced social and economic reforms for its citizenry; Guinea’s ability to effectively govern—through the provision of sustainable human security and economic and social development—in this environment is at risk.

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One Response to DTOs and Narco-Trafficking: A Threat to Governance and the Democratic Transition of Guinea

  1. While, in class, we have largely relied on social, economic and political theories to explain why Sub-Saharan countries have failed to achieve democratic entities, this piece completely shifts the conversation over to the security side by suggesting that illicit trade through DTO’s and instability in more general terms, undermines governance, political transitions and economic growth.

    Therefore, in an effort to move the conversation forward, have international efforts such as the ECOWAS and the West Africa Cooperative Security Initiative had any effects on DTO’s intent and/or capabilities? Additionally, has Guinea’s government, which has been protecting the illicit trade market, been cooperative through multilateral engagements?

    Even though these international initiatives are significant steps in combating DTO’s, as stated by the author, they also provide Guinea with an opportunity to develop a long-term strategic approach through the use of international bi-lateral and multi-lateral channels. Therefore, on par with the Bienen and Herbst’s general contention last week, if Guinea is to develop some democratic sustainability and enhance their overall governance practices, they must forgo their habitual clientist short-term strategies.

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