Opinions Sat, 19 Jan 2013
Terrorism: Ghana Must Change Its Attitude Towards Smuggling & SmugglersBy Kofi Thompson
Now that it has been confirmed that Ghana will be contributing troops to the Economic Community of West African States' (ECOWAS) military mission to help Mali rid itself of Islamic rebels in the north, and enable the government in Bomako regain the northern region seized by those rebels, the Ghanaian authorities and all Ghanaian citizens must change their attitude towards the nation-wrecking crime of smuggling.
We must make it next to impossible for those who engage in smuggling to continue with their unlawful activities.
One of the ways we can do so is by making the arrest of smugglers and the seizure of smuggled goods financially rewarding - both for public officials and private individuals who help arrest smugglers.
Parliament must quickly pass laws making smuggling and its abetting (which neatly ropes in those who drive vehicles involved in smuggling and their helper-assistants) a crime punishable by a mandatory prison term of not less than 10 years.
The judiciary must be made to understand the new threat smugglers pose to the security of our nation and its people.
Islamic extremists looking to harm our country will doubtless form alliances with smugglers - and exploit their network of contacts in Ghana.
Most Ghanaians are aware of the harm caused by Islamic extremists in places like northern Nigeria and Somalia.
The time has come for those corrupt Ghanaian state officials who aid smugglers to understand that now that Ghana is a potential target for retaliation by Islamic extremists, they endanger the security of the Ghanaian nation-state and the safety of ordinary people in Ghana, when they close their eyes to the activities of smugglers for private financial gain.
All those charged with protecting our borders must undergo re-orientation - one that makes them aware of their role as Ghana's first line of defence against terrorists from extremist Islamic organisations like Al Qaeda.
It is time those who constitute the government of the day and the relevant Parliamentary committees (and civil society groups) came together to find an effective means of combating smuggling.
Perhaps the Ghana Armed Forces (GAF) should be given the task of planning and coordinating the combating of smuggling by the Ghanaian nation-state - a role from which the military (as well as Customs, Excise and Preventative Service of the Ghana Revenue Authority; the Ghana Immigration Service; and the Ghana Police Service) could also derive income, which they can devote to the welfare of their officers and the rank and file.
Surely, in a nation with a high unemployment rate, private bounty-hunters too ought to be allowed to foil smuggling - and be paid a percentage of auctioned smuggled goods they enable the authorities seize?
If a law is passed making it mandatory for the state to seize and sell all vehicles and shipping containers involved in smuggling, could the proceeds not be paid into a special fund - from which a percentage of the money realised will be paid those who help catch the smugglers who use those vehicles and containers to smuggle goods into and out of Ghana?
In rightly electing to help our sister nation of Mali defend herself from Islamic extremists, all of West Africa faces a real threat from Al Qaeda's surrogates in the sub-region.
The global war against terrorism has finally come to West Africa - and Ghana is located in that particular theatre of the war.
To stay relatively safe in this new era of terrorists and terrorism not too far from our doorstep - literally - the authorities in Ghana and the citizenry must change attitudes to smuggling and smugglers. A word to the wise...
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Columnist: Thompson, Kofi