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 THE name Pablo Escobar is familiar to many. He is the famous ‘King of Cocaine of Columbia. Prior to his death in December 1993, he is believed to have controlled 80 per cent of America’s cocaine trade and was the seventh-richest person in the world, with around US$30 billion in the bank, according to a September 2015 report by News.co.au.

He would stop at nothing to protect his drugs trade and was behind the murders of thousands of people, offering bounties on police officers and putting hits on journalists and presidential candidates. “Escobar ruled Colombia, and it looks like nothing has changed,” the report said then. Well Escobar is dead, but cocaine production lives on. In fact, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that an estimated 866 tonnes of cocaine were produced at clandestine labs across Columbia alone in 2016, which rose from the 2015 estimate of 649 tonnes.

That’s just Columbia. Coming back home, the past few weeks have brought to light how cocaine dealing is now very much alive in our beautiful kingdom, eSwatini. The large haul of the drug at the country’s borders give indication to the intensity of the trade. The involvement of police also presents a frightening picture of how deep this illicit trade has infiltrated our society.
The multimillion Emalangeni worth of cocaine quantities involved, warrant serious scrutiny, given the threat the drug now poses to national security and the local economy through corruption and money laundering.

We have good reason to suspect that Escobar is being idolised on our shores by an individual or individuals who may soon turn this ‘pulpit of Africa’ into the Columbia of Africa if no serious effort is made to step up security against this emerging threat.

Escobar gave Columbia a tag of being the drug den of the world which is proving hard to shrug off. Swaziland, on the other hand, is famous for being the dagga capital of the world, which has contributed to deterring foreign investment because of the threat drug dealing poses to fair business competition. According to the World Drug Report of 2017, drug money can make countries poorer. It cites studies that suggest how an injection of laundered money, including from illicit drug activities, is associated with reductions in overall annual economic growth rates, particularly in smaller and less developed countries.

One estimate, based on a study of 17 countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, says drug money has the potential to inflate property prices, distort export figures, create unfair competition, reinforce skewed income and wealth distributions, increase corruption and weaken the rule of law.

“In the process, legitimate businesses, without access to illicit funds, may be squeezed out of the market and new legitimate investments may not take place,” states the report. The arrest of two South African police officers who drove into the country to assist the drug barons to smuggle the cocaine out of the country, reflects a seriously compromised national security.

For how long has this been going on? The brevity of others to stash the drug in compartments of their cars and cross the border in broad daylight speaks to a greater involvement of police officers at our security check points. This drug trade is not just corrupting the police, but an entire society. As indicated by the World Drug Report of 2017,  corruption exists all along the drug supply chain.

“At the production level, farmers may bribe eradication teams, producers may bribe judges and manufacturers may exploit workers in chemical companies, in order to get hold of precursor chemicals. Further down the chain, traffickers bribe customs officials and take advantage of weaknesses in transport firms. At the consumer level, users can get drugs through corrupt doctors and pharmacists,” the report states.

This is evidently playing itself out locally. The lessons to be drawn from the Escobar era, is how drug cartels can easily take over governments, destroy the health of a nation, increase murder rates and ruin an economy by turning investors and tourists away. In some countries, drugs are used to fund terrorist activities.

The question is; how deep is Swaziland immersed in the drug trade? More importantly, how well equipped are we to curb this rising phenomenon, particularly given our failures to stop the cultivation and trade of marijuana.

The country has more than enough crises to deal with and we most certainly cannot afford another. With so much of our money going into funding the security forces, surely we deserve to be the best drug-free country in Africa. If not, then somebody should be called to explain why they deserve to keep their jobs!

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