Ali’s blog

Mostly quant stuff with occasional digressions

Free enterprise at its best

Posted by alifinmath on March 9, 2008

From an article in The Guardian:

The roads outside the X Club nightspot in Bissau, capital of the world’s fifth poorest country, are cracked and pot-holed. They have not been repaired since they were torn up by the tracks of military vehicles during Guinea-Bissau’s civil war of the late 1990s. But the cars that are parked outside – Porsche and Audi four-wheel drives – wouldn’t look out of place in the wealthiest quarters of London.

Among the destitute locals are scores of wealthy, gaudy Colombian drug barons in their immodest cars, flaunting their hi-tech luxury lifestyle, with beautiful women on their arms. Outside Bissau city are exclusive Hispanic-style haciendas with wide verandahs, turquoise swimming pools and gates patrolled by armed guards.

By day, Guinea-Bissau looks like the impoverished country it is. Most people cannot afford a bus fare, never mind a four-wheel drive. There is no mains electricity. Water supplies are restricted to the wealthy few, and landmark buildings such as the presidential palace remain wrecked nine years after the end of the war. But this wreck of a country is what the UN – which declared war last week on celebrity cocaine culture – calls the continent’s ‘first narco-state’. West Africa has become the hub of a flow of cocaine from South America into Europe, now that other routes have become tough for the traffickers.

‘A place like Guinea Bissau is a failed state anyway, so it’s like moving into an empty house.’ There is no prison in Guinea-Bissau, he says. One rusty ship patrols a coastline of 350km, and an archipelago of 82 islands. The airspace is un-patrolled. The police have few cars, no petrol, no radios, handcuffs or phones.

‘You walk in, buy the services you need from the government, army and people, and take over. The cocaine can then be stored safely and shipped to Europe, either by ship to Spain or Portugal, across land via Morocco on the old cannabis trail, or directly by air using “mules”.’ One single flight into Amsterdam in December 2006 was carrying 32 mules carrying cocaine from Guinea-Bissau.

The CIA Factbook stats on Guinea-Bissau can be found here. Speaking now as someone who originally comes from a failed state himself, I know that without police, military, and politicial complicity, none of this is possible. All failed states — without exception and almost by definition — are in the hands of predatory gangs, the largest of whom typically constitutes the government.

I’m not sure the USA is any different except the size and scale of operation, and we use tactful euphemisms like “military-industrial complex.” In fact, I’ve consistently argued that all capitalism is mafia capitalism, having its roots in coercion and violence. In the old days, there was no distinction between trade and piracy and piracy and war. The hegemony of the West has been based from the beginning on plunder, conquest, and war. The only difference is that velvet gloves have now been donned (i.e., a favorable UN resolution comes in handy these days, but can be dispensed with if not immediately forthcoming). But the language has remained the same — one of universalism: the European states were always going on sanctimoniously about spreading the word of God, bringing civilisation to the savages, and so on (see Wallerstein’s European Universalism for more on this), and this language has been picked up by the US (invading Iraq because of WMD…er, Saddam was a brutal dictator…er, to restore democracy). But this is a lengthy digression.

The number of failed states will continue to increase. Criminal organisations and the state will increasingly morph into one. Indeed, many of the civil wars in Africa have really been about rival gangs duking it out for control of mineral resources: diamonds, oil, gold. They’re often backed surreptitiously by various MNCs.

Postscript: I wonder if anyone here has read John Le Carre’s The Night Manager, which involves a barter deal of cocaine for high-tech military toys, with the connivance of US and British politicians and administrators.

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