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Liberia a Long Way From Winning War on Drugs

  • Julia Ritchey

Barrels allegedly containing confiscated cocaine is displayed on a French military vessel in the port of Monrovia, Liberia (file photo)

Liberia's Drug Enforcement Agency says it lacks the financial and logistical support to adequately crack down on illegal drug trafficking. Agency officials say the country's weak drug laws are compounding the problem.

According to Liberia's Drug Enforcement Agency, law enforcement officials lack the man power, money and laws to deter drug trafficking.

Colonel James Jaddah is the executive director of the agency. He says there is a need for better logistics within his organization.

"Right now we are operating with only five vehicles, all assigned to headquarters,” Jaddah said. “In the other 15 counties we don't have the capacity to purchase vehicles, so this has been hindering our progress when it comes to operational activities."

He says the DEA also lacks adequate financial support, from the government and from the international community.

Jaddah says Liberia's weak drug laws present another serious problem. He says drug dealers are more typically fined than jailed, with the average penalty costing a dealer about $50.

"We go out there and we make all the arrests,” he added. “The suspect [is] taken to court, the suspect is being given a cash bill, and as soon as the cash bill is paid, that person is out on the street doing the same thing that they were doing before. The penalty is very weak, it's nothing compared to other countries."

Jaddah says a bill based on Nigeria's tougher drug laws was drafted and introduced to Liberia's Legislature. The lower house approved the bill, but it has since stalled in the upper house.

Although marijuana is locally produced, Jaddah says it is mostly foreigners who bring harder controlled substances like cocaine and heroin into Liberia.

Lamin Kollie, 28, a drug user, said he first began taking cocaine during Liberia's civil war years.

"I'm taking cocaine. I've been taking this for more than two years. I can't do without it,” said Kollie. “I've been arrested on many occasions, but I manage to escape."

Kollie said if the government would provide jobs, he would stop doing drugs.

Jaddah says Liberian youths who are expected to one day lead the country are falling victim to drug habits. He says more has to be done to prevent drugs from ruining the younger generation.