Ghana’s Darker Side

4 billion cedi car

4 billion cedi car

“What do you have to do in Ghana to buy a 4 billion [cedi] car?” asked Frank, a taxi driver.  (Just for clarification, most Ghanaians still refer to the old Ghana cedi when referring to figures so 10,000 old Ghana cedi = 1 new Ghana cedi = US$0.50)  Frank was referring to a Bentley parked in the A and C Shopping Center.

More importantly, Frank was suggesting that the Bentley owner purchased his vehicle with ill-gotten gains from drugs.  He has a point because the per capita income in Ghana is $1,600 or about $5 per day.  I don’t know if this is the right logic but… This guy is driving a car that is equivalent to 0.0005 percent of GDP.  In the US, a car that is 0.0005 percent of GDP would cost $65 million.

While most people invest in Ghana because it maintains a reputation for safety, political stability, and recently, for economic growth, the country also has an illicit side.

Ghana and Nigeria are the most prominent Anglophone (English-speaking) countries in a region dominated by former French colonies.  Do any search on risks associated with Nigeria and you’ll come up a list including:

Boko Haram militants

Boko Haram militants

  • Boko Haram: an Islamic terrorist group that seeks to establish Sharia law, or laws based on strict interpretations of the Kor’an, in Nigeria.  They are responsible for a near-state of war involving the Nigerian armed forces fighting these terrorists.  According to Wikipedia, they are responsible for over 4,000 deaths since 2001.
  • 419: a type of fraud based on a confidence trick whereby the sender implores for the recipient or mark to send money in hopes of releasing greater funds in the future.   The number “419” refers to the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud.  The scams are not exclusive to Nigeria and the practice has spread to other parts of West Africa.
  • Corruption:  According to Nuhu Ribadu, a former anti-corruption official, Nigeria has lost $380 billion since 1960 due to corruption.  The country is notorious for corruption and prompted a book detailing how corruption is rampant in Nigerian culture

When you are standing next to your much larger brother known for kidnapping, terrorism, fraud, and corruption, it’s not difficult to appear as the saint in the family.

Ghana has several major issues including corruption, fraud, and money laundering; however, the one I was least aware of was drugs.

2013 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Report "Transnational Organized Crime in West Africa"

2013 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Report “Transnational Organized Crime in West Africa”

The country has become a transit hub for cocaine traffickers from South America and Asia into Europe and North America.  According to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, “the flow of cocaine through West Africa appears to have declined to about 18 tons, down from a peak of 47 tons in 2007.  Drugs are smuggled into the US and Europe either by ship or through drug mules.

The US has taken a keen interest in the problem because drugs have been associated with financing terrorism.  The US Drug Enforcement Agency opened an office in Accra in 2008 to focus on the problem.

Major Cocaine Seizures

Major Cocaine Seizures

According to a 2007 UN report titled “Cocaine Trafficking in Western Africa”, there are three reasons why West Africa has become an increasingly important transit point for cocaine.  First, law enforcement successes in halting the flow of drugs into Spain and the Netherlands may have “prompted some traffickers to find different channels, notably through Africa.”

Second, the physical distance between South America and West Africa is the shortest and are separated by only “10 degrees of latitude”.  The report states, “So many cocaine seizures destined to Africa have been made in this Atlantic band that the European law enforcement agencies now refer to it as “highway 10’ ”

Third, the culture of corruption endemic to Western African countries make these countries vulnerable to the criminal element.

I had always heard rumors of the drug money flowing into the country.  For instance, Ghana has the last deep water port as you travel west in the region; thus, Ghana is a good place for smugglers to transit through.   Or, I also heard that one of the big hotels in Accra was built with cocaine profits.

Though this report sheds light on the cocaine problem, I think it’s promising that the amount of cocaine trafficked through West Africa has fell by nearly two thirds since 2007.  I’m convinced that there are plenty of other honest — and dishonest — ways to make a buck in Ghana.



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