In November 2017, Ugandan police uncovered a narcotics syndicate involving nine of its senior officers. On one hand, this demonstrates the close links that can develop between organised crime groups and state institutions in Africa. On the other, it shows a willingness within these institutions to confront such corruption.
‘The suspected police officers have been selling drugs recovered from suspects,’ report police sources. The officers are accused of tampering with narcotics exhibits and theft from police stores of 85kg of narcotics, with an estimated street value of UGX13 billion, about US$3.6 million.
The officers reportedly conspired with drug traffickers to switch drugs with maize flour and secretly sell the drugs to businessmen in Kampala. Although an investigation was conducted on these activities in 2015, according to a police spokesperson, it was unsuccessful. As a result, ‘the case was handed over to the Flying Squad Unit that completed it and arrested the suspects.’ These arrests occurred in November 2017.
After the arrests, a number of policemen who were or had previously been deployed at the Entebbe airport came forward to offer information about high-ranking officers who have ‘for decades run a smuggling cartel that deals in drugs and other contraband.’ They describe an organised group of senior officers and commanders who wield power and control over subordinates, even though many of them no longer command airport operations. The group is allegedly involved in smuggling narcotics in and out of Uganda, trafficking people, selling ivory and rhino horn, aiding and abetting tax evasion and extorting money from airport users.
These reports point to a growing malaise in African states, referred to by experts as a protection economy. In this case, corrupt members of the police have taken advantage of weaknesses in state institutional capacity to secure the movement of contraband. They engage in corruption and involve key government officials and junior officers to ensure illicit private business operates smoothly.
Other countries in Africa facing similar challenges include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Mozambique and South Africa. As the distinction between state institutions and criminal groups are blurred, good governance and development are jeopardised.
However, this recent development is an encouraging step. Media reports highlight such arrests that demonstrate the leadership’s political will to fight organised crime within its rank and file. Such actions set the bar for other countries in the region facing similar challenges.
Deo Gumba, ENACT Regional organised crime observatory coordinator – East and Horn of Africa, ISS