By: David Yusuf Kabia, Public Relations Assistant, ACC.
The recent outburst of the abuse of narcotic drugs (Kush) in Sierra Leone goes beyond its negative effects on abusers, most of whom are young people on whose shoulders the hopes for a better country rest. The procurement of and sale of such substances belong to an activity known as ‘the Underground Economy’. What then is an underground economy?
Kush and the Underground Economy
The term underground economy refers to those tax-evading economic activities that normally are beyond the formal reporting-knowledge of the Government of Sierra Leone. Bankole Thompson and Gary Potter (1997) “Governmental Corruption in Africa: Sierra Leone as a case study” captured the existence of these transactions during and after the decade long civil war. During the war, it is believed these harmful substances made more inroads to Sierra Leone to maintain the jungle mental morale of fighting factions especially rebels who relied on these drugs to better strengthen their fortitude during at the war front. This may explain why young people captured and conscripted into the rebel force could kill and do many hurtful things to people without sympathy. After the war, these underground economic activities especially the sale and use of harmful drugs continued because society through the many government-led rehabilitation and resettlement programmes had reintegrated these surrendered fighters who are users of these substances into families. But was the sale and intake of these narcotics abandoned? Given the lucrative nature of these illegal economic activities, it is likely that such could not have been abandoned and therefore continued unwatched.
Business transactions can either be legal or illegal. Those belonging to the latter must be investigated by decency by the police and other law enforcement institutions and their perpetrators prosecuted where need be to maintaining society’s sanity and decency. But, the influx of these drugs in the market, which can be easily accessed by young people raises ‘eye brows’ on the effectiveness of the Police and other law enforcement bodies to putting an end to this sort of economy that seeks nothing but the destruction of a country’s best and most cherished resource-the human resource. Where do these harmful substances come from? Who is charged with the legal duty to control its prevalence? Is that legal duty being executed? If no, why?
While many people recently have expressed disapproval over the sad-state-of-affairs on the prevalence of these drugs especially Kush, which has shown evidence of affecting members of the very institutions by law meant to regulate it, the real question is what has been done by the authorities to control this activity? The outburst of footages on social media showing the abysmal public ignominy by partakers of Kush around the country was followed by a strong public indictment of the security sector, which many believe could have provided the safe haven for the importation, transportation and distribution of these substances around the country hence nothing enters the country’s borders without awareness of those in the security sector especially those at all border crossing points. This indictment is premised on the fact that the security agencies can save the lives of many young people from the damaging effects of Kush when strict action against the importation and sale of such narcotic substances is enforced.
Accordingly, members of the public have attempted proffering solutions to controlling this menace through engagements on both traditional (print and electronics) and social media in a bid to save the country’s future generation. Many have called on Government to legalize these economic activities in order to be taxed and reported which could correct the country’s export and import data and as well reduce its use, given that their illegal nature creates the urge for more involvement either for the money or the ‘highness’ feeling. Others have called on the Government of Sierra Leone to strengthen border entry points with strict rules on the possession of such substances. These requests, other members of the public have rejected noting that without the robust posture and action of the relevant security sector institutions to bringing these illegal economic activities to an end, the lives of our young people and that of Sierra Leone remains threatened because those involved in these trades allegedly enjoy the protection of the security forces. Whether the security forces are providing safe haven for these transactions for the purpose of making money or otherwise, the truth is that economic activities in an underground economy are not carried on by the poor and powerless. They have to be the business of the rich and powerful in society who can unlock all doors either with power or money.
The fight against corruption covers the prevention of the use and transaction of harmful drugs hence such activities are usually outside taxation. Whether the underground activity is illegal (which include activities like drug trafficking and other smuggling business being carried on outside public records) or legal (which involves legal activities being carried out unrecorded), corruption makes it fertile and hence an opportunity for quick wealth, which is usually the case for unexplained wealth contrary to Section 27 of the Anti-Corruption Act, 2008 (as amended in 2019) and Article 20 of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC).
With those in these trade allegedly rubbing shoulders with the rich and powerful in society, the commitment to solving Sierra Leone’s Kush problem is both personal and institutional should the need to save her future generation is well meant.
We must as individuals commit ourselves against the ingestion of and trading in harmful drugs and law enforcement institution must enforce the law against narcotics regardless of those involved otherwise, the prevalence and abuse of narcotic drugs remains the corruption of an effective underground economy capable of destroying all that we ever worked for.