Assisting Guinea-Bissau

[Related information]

This address was made by Mr. Costa today in Lisbon at a pledging conference for Guinea-Buissau. It draws heavily on a statement that he made at the UN Security Council on 12 December

International Conference on Drug Trafficking in Guinea-Bissau

Lisbon, 19 December 2007

Mr. Chairman, Excellencies,

Guinea-Bissau, long neglected by the international community, is starting to get some attention. One week ago, the situation in Guinea-Bissau was discussed in the Security Council. There was strong support for Prime Minister Cabi's request that Guinea-Bissau be placed on the agenda of the Peacebuilding Commission. There was also a unanimous call on the international community to provide financial and technical assistance to tackle drugs and crime in Guinea-Bissau. This meeting is your chance to answer that call.     

Under Siege

Ladies and Gentlemen, Guinea-Bissau is under siege. The threat posed by drug traffickers is so great that the state is on the verge of collapse. Why? Because it has become the hub of a new cocaine trafficking route from South America via West Africa to supply growing demand in Europe.

What are the reasons?

Guinea-Bissau is one of the poorest countries in one of the poorest regions of the world - at the bottom of the Human Development Index. Its infrastructure is primitive - pot-holed roads, often no electricity, public officials badly paid, if at all. This is not only a development issue: it is a security issue because this poverty and vulnerability is being exploited by South American drug traffickers.

Evidence of Drug Trafficking

Evidence is provided in a report prepared by UNODC on Cocaine Trafficking in West Africa: the threat to stability and development. It states that 33 tons of cocaine were seized in West Africa in the past 30 months alone. Prior to that time, the entire continent rarely seized a single ton. Most of the cocaine was intercepted in a few (23) large seizures, often accidental or carried out by EU vessels. Forensic experts see this as evidence of the tip of a huge iceberg.

How big? We estimate that around 40 tons of cocaine that were consumed in Europe were trafficked through West Africa this year alone. By the end of the month, just over one quarter of all cocaine consumed in Europe this year (more than 140 tons on the aggregate) will have transited through the region, for a wholesale value (in West Africa) of about $1.8 billion, and a retail value (on the streets of Madrid, London or Rome) 10 times that much ($18 billion).

In Guinea-Bissau alone, the value of the drugs trade is much greater than its national income [US$304 million according to the World Bank]. So much drug money flowing in so easily, is a true curse: it is perverting the economy and rotting society. Using threats and bribes, drug traffickers infiltrate state structures and operate with impunity. Inevitably, officials in the administration and in the security sector are suspected of collaboration, even to be involved in the drugs trade. This is deepening fear and mistrust among, and between, senior officials and the public. Any attempt to stand up to the traffickers, any effort to show integrity in the face of arrogance, any challenge by media to report about these facts -- can be life threatening. Among the Guinean youth, some of them operating as the traffickers' foot soldiers, there are already signs of drug addiction.

Preventing Another Tragedy

West Africa does not deserve another tragedy, added to its history of poverty, pandemics and conflicts. Guinea-Bissau should not suffer because of Europe's cocaine addiction. Yet, during a visit three weeks ago, I had the distinct impression that the country has been abandoned by the international community, and the whole region could be affected. Particularly worrisome is the fact that large sums of money mobilized by drug traffickers could have an impact on democratic processes, specifically on the parliamentary elections scheduled for next year. 

Guinea-Bissau cannot cope with the drug threat on its own. In meetings with the President, the Prime Minister and Cabinet members, I learned - and witnessed personally - that the state has lost control of its territory nor it can administer justice. There is one rusty ship to patrol a rugged coastline, with 100 islands. There is no control of the airspace. The police lack not only computers, but even radios and phones. Even if these were available, there is no electricity to power them.

At the main police station in Bissau, on door frames there are hand written signs - "narcotic squad", "homicide squad" etc. Inside I only saw old desks, a broken chair and an old manual typewriter, without a ribbon. Officers have even no paper or pencils to take notes. A burned out car sits in the middle of the court-yard, cops forced to reach a crime scene by taxis. In a recent, widely publicized chase, a police car ran out of gas.

Now compare this evidence of poverty and despair with the wealth of foreign criminals. A couple of hundred operatives have been noted in the country, feeling at home in fine Latino villas. They have taken over and refurbished old colonial hotels. Self-confident, they drive around with James Bond-type bimbos, in sleek black SUVs. 

If and when police catch criminals, there are no prisons to lock them in, as these were all destroyed during the conflict. In Bissau I visited the only detention facility: a private home with no toilets, an open fire in the front-yard as a kitchen, and improvised rusty bars on the windows. About 100 inmates, all nationals, sleep on floors with water seeping through walls and ceilings. So Guinea-Bissau needs your help.

What can be done?

What can be done? Obviously, Guinea-Bissau needs long-term development assistance - and lots of it. Like elsewhere in the developing world, crime can best be fought with the instruments of social development and economic progress.

For the short term, enhancing security is imperative. The government needs urgent help to restore sovereignty and regain control of its borders. My Office has carried out a needs assessment and, together with the government of Guinea-Bissau, has drawn up an Operational Plan to combat drug trafficking into the region. It has been shared with you ahead of this meeting and I urge you to provide the necessary support.

As Antonio Mazzitelli, the Regional Representative of UNODC for Western and Central Africa, will describe to you in greater detail this afternoon, the plan calls for international assistance in the form of expertise, equipment and training to help Guinea-Bissau patrol its borders, destroy drug consignments, block money laundering, and arrest traffickers. The strategic objectives are to tackle organized crime - in the broader context of security sector reform - and to strengthen administration of justice and the rule of law.

To that end, my Office has already placed advisers on the ground and is exploring further steps with DPKO, the European Commission, and UNDP - looking at ways to reinforce the Judiciary Police and the Ministry of Justice. A few basic measures, like a financial intelligence unit, an anti-corruption agency, a modern prison and better trained (and paid) judges could have a major impact. Counter-narcotics measures should be dove-tailed into broader efforts to strengthen democracy, security, and justice.

Working closely with the government of Guinea-Bissau, the UNSG Representative for Guinea-Bissau, and all international partners, UNODC will coordinate bilateral assistance within a multi-lateral framework that responds to needs identified by the Republic of Guinea-Bissau.

For the implementation of the Operational Plan we are seeking $19 million. This modest investment (equivalent to 1 percent of the wholesale value of cocaine trafficked this year via West Africa) is a critical first step to save Guinea-Bissau from a fate of drugs and crime, with its destabilizing effect on the entire region. I thank all of those, like the Government of Portugal and the European Union, which have already given strong indications of support, and for Italy's offer of a patrol boat and two reconnaissance aircraft. I also commend ECOWAS for its continued support to Guinea-Bissau, and its recent initiative to address the drug trafficking problem at a regional level.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please give generously. We can not abandon Guinea-Bissau.

Related Information

Speaking at the Security Council on 12 December, UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said that "Guinea-Bissau has lost control of its territory and can not administer justice". The police and justice system are completely overwhelmed and ill-equipped to deal with the threat posed by foreign criminal groups colluding with powerful local allies. [Full Text of the Press Release]

A report issued this week by UNODC titled: Cocaine Trafficking in West Africa: the threat to stability and development warns that West Africa has become a hub for cocaine trafficking from South America to Europe. [Full Report] (PDF)

In April 2007, UNODC staff along with Goodwill Ambassador Alessandro Scotti witnessed a seizure of more than 600 kilos of cocaine that had been trafficked through Guinea-Bissau. The slide show below, accompanied by an interview with the Chief of the UNODC Anti-Trafficking Section, Brian Taylor, clearly illustrates the situation in West Africa.