Counternarcotics Seminar Session Focuses on Rule of Law and Corruption

By Africa Center for Strategic Studies
Updated: 02/27/2012

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Guest speakers discussed the rule of law and anticorruption measures during a session of the four-day Countering Narcotics and the Illicit Commons symposium organized by the Africa Center and three other regional Department of Defense academic centers on Feb. 12-16, 2012, at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.

According to the United Nations, the rule of law is “the principle that everyone – from the individual right up to the state itself – is accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced, and independently adjudicated.”

Ms. Kemi Okenyodo, Deputy Executive Director of Nigeria’s police reform advocacy group CLEEN Foundation, and Dr. John Picarelli, an analyst specializing in transnational threats at the National Institute of Justice, spoke to a full room of participants from the United States and 31 other countries about the challenge of fighting corruption and maintaining the rule of law.

Okenyodo pointed to a raft of problems facing West Africa that hurt societies, including poor governance, inequality in control of natural resources, and a large number of young people who are unemployed. She said the problems become more difficult to overcome because of compounded issues like corrupt officials who have ties to criminal organizations, security agencies wrapped up in the political life of their countries, and cultures that glorify drug traffickers and those who flout the law. When these problems fester, officials and citizens dismiss the rule of law and compromise the electoral process and security apparatus.

“Governments in West Africa refuse to see the nexus of high insecurity lowering overall human security,” she said.

Dr. Picarelli said a government creates and maintains the rule of law through its authority, which is generated through the coercion and consent of citizens.

“Corruption undermines the authority of the state,” he said. “It makes people lose faith and trust, which creates a vicious cycle that accelerates the loss of the government’s authority. Citizens then turn to organized crime.”

He cited the combination of technology and corruption as a tactic that criminal organizations are using to maintain the illicit movement of people and goods across borders. In many cases, like that of Mexican marijuana growers who leveraged technology to move into the global trade in cocaine, the tactic is helping criminals graduate from localized to international models of operation.

Picarelli said three elements must come together to counter increasingly advanced criminal enterprises moving narcotics and contraband internationally: countries must take whole-of-government approaches that bring together assets in intelligence, treasury, law enforcement, and defense; international cooperation must be brought to bear through multiple channels; and the private sector, including the business community, must be brought into the fight as partners.

Four U.S. Department of Defense academic centers—Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, and George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies—co-sponsored the seminar on countering transnational threats and the illegal narcotics trade. Besides the drug trade, speakers discussed threats posed by international terrorism, smuggling, and environmental and health problems within, between, and among the disparate regions dealing with trafficking.