Region unites to combat drug trafickers

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Staff Writer

Harare – Governments in Southern Africa are collaborating with the United States’ Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) to combat transnational drug trafficking.

This comes after a recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) raised concerns over the proliferation of drug trafficking in the SADC region.

The UNODC report released on June 26, 2020 – the day set aside by the UN to commemorate the fight against drug trafficking – said Southern Africa had become a target for transnational organised criminals trading in narcotics because of porous border posts and under-patrolled coastlines.

SADC Executive Secretary Dr Stergomena Tax said the region needed an “effective response to the world drug problem involving institutions of criminal justice, health and social services working together to provide integrated solutions to the challenge”.

In a telephonic media briefing with African journalists on Tuesday, INL Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Heather Merritt said the US, working within the UNODC framework, was instituting collaborative efforts to combat the crime.

She said traffickers were mainly exploiting the expansive coastline from southern Somalia through Tanzania and Mozambique to South Africa to move drugs into the region.

“Porous borders, poorly patrolled coastlines, weak institutions and enforcement regimes make Africa an attractive location for traffickers, and it’s something that we all need to work together to fight this transnational crime because it endangers us all,” Merritt said.

“Africa’s coastline on the east, from southern Somalia to South Africa, has become a primary transshipment location for Afghan-produced heroin – also sometimes Pakistan or Iranian heroin – en route to markets in Africa, Europe, and the United States.

“Heroin is trafficked along what’s referred to as the ‘southern’ or the ‘maritime’ route from the southern coasts of Pakistan and Iran by boat through the Indian Ocean.

“The product can be offloaded, primarily along the coast of Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique, sometimes in the island states like Madagascar, and repackaged then for onward shipment to markets, often via South Africa,” she said.

“INL works around the world to counter international crime, illegal drugs, and instability and we do this by helping countries improve their civilian security and justice sector institutions.

“We want to help strengthen the capacity of police, courts systems, prosecutors and we do this through diplomatic engagement and through on-the-ground foreign assistance programmes.

“We’re trying to encourage reform, promote more effective governance, improve the rule of law, and develop more effective institutions.

“And through our US embassies on the continent, INL works with countries across Africa, partnering with governments to develop the capacity of their criminal justice sector entities, and we want to really work on civilian security and rule of law in order to prevent and address non-state, criminal, and terrorist threats.

“One issue that we also work on is cross-border or regional co-ordination, not just between individual states but amongst our partners,” she added.

According to a Global Financial Integrity report published on March 27, 2020 (“Transnational Crime and the Developing World”), the annual drug trafficking market has an estimated value of between US$426 billion and US$652 billion.

It is the second most lucrative recorded illicit market after the trade in counterfeit and pirated goods, which is estimated to generate as much as US$1,13 trillion annually.

SADC in 1996 developed the Protocol on Combating Illicit Drug Trafficking, which covers international conventions to which member states should accede to, guidelines for domestic legislation, and co-operation through mutual legal assistance and effective law enforcement.

The protocol also encourages member states to establish drug demand reduction institutional programmes and effective measures between enforcement agencies.

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