Illegal drugs problem in Africa

Posted on March 7, 2017 12:00 am

Africa is world’s second largest illegal drugs trafficking route and fastest growing consumption rate which is less monitored and less documented compared to other parts of the world. Drugs researchers have identified Africa as a new frontier in narcotics smuggling. Becoming a route for drug trafficking is a big enough problem in itself, but drug trafficking and drug use usually go hand in hand and drug use in Africa is on the rise.In the past, I have shared how methamphetamine users in the Nigeria are wasting their lives and in South Africa I once met youths who stopped using the drug when they managed to get jobs. It was heartbreaking to see their conditions and sadly, many were unable to help themselves, lacking education or the social connections through which to seek assistance thanks to Nyaope drug that is destroying lives of hundreds of thousands of youths in the country.What’s more, the very stigma associated with drug-use prevents them from being offered opportunities. There is need to look at risk environment, that is the social and economic contexts in which drug use occurs as well as considering community based solutions. Severity of drugs problem in Africa reduction approaches can only work if governments and policymakers alike recognise the complexity. No single solution exists for all kinds of drug users, or all kinds of drug use. In what people see as a silver lining, politicians are beginning to pay more attention to drug issues in their countries. Even in the Tanzania, government officials are opening up to alternative approaches treating it as public health emergency and a mental health problem.

Drug policy advocates can use this common ground as a starting point for engaging with Tanzanian government. While the evidence is overwhelming that a zero tolerance approach to drugs doesn’t work, it’s also important to steer the conversation towards what does, and nudge leaders in that direction, even if the road is paved with incremental, localised changes.The example from Kenya of a pilot study leading to a scaled-up response is a promising sign of how research and evidence can change public perception and policies.The stakes can’t be higher as suspected drug users are being extra-judicially killed and legally executed in the country, even as the drug use continues to rise. What Kenyan reduction advocates can achieve could form the wedge that may finally crack the iron-fisted approach toward drug users. And it may ultimately solve Africa’s drug problem.In some countries, government officials and law enforcers have quietly admitted that the war on drugs has a long way to go before it achieves the desired results, that is, a significant drop in narcotic-related crimes and a more effective rehabilitation program.The daily drug-related deaths in East Africa alone are well over 200 and the number of abusers at about 12 million, a figure that has not changed for many, many years. Researchers have warned that the figure may shoot up in coming years unless the problem is properly addressed.There are more than 120 active illicit drug networks in East Africa and the lucrative illegal business is estimated to cause US$1.9 billion in losses every year, mostly in the form of rehabilitation, law enforcement and medical treatment costs.

Law enforcers have blamed the slow progress in the war on drugs on inadequate human resources in law enforcement agencies. In Kenya, the agency handling narcotics claims it has only 25% of what it needs, far below the ideal number required to tackle the problem. The agency is struggling with a shortage not only in staff but also in technology, rehabilitation facilities and funding while new types of drugs keep pouring into the country.This is not to mention the chronically poor coordination among relevant state institutions. The lack of standard procedures at Kenya’s rehabilitation centres, some of which are state run, is also another headache the government is trying to address.Last year, Kenyan government missed its target of rehabilitating drug abusers. Due to various constraints, it could accommodate only few people with various degrees of success especially in the coastal region. On the downside, African countries uses faulty statistics to justify rights violations in drug crimes. The data in question is related to the prevalence of drug use in Africa, which resulted from an unrepresentative samples. Besides, the definition of addiction is incompatible with the accepted criteria for substance use and does not distinguish between different drugs, frequency and use patterns, resulting in an overestimation of problematic drug use. For example, how can Mombasa City in Kenya be said to have 800,000 drug users yet its population is slightly over on million? How can some claim that Dar Es Salaam has 2 million drug users with over 6 million people, does it mean 2 in every six people in East Africa’s largest city are drug addicts? As someone familiar with the city, I call that pure lies falsified by fools.

The defective data could have devastating consequences. The governments of Kenya and Tanzania have declared a drug emergency that justifies punitive approaches to handling drug crimes, including detention, compulsive treatment and the death penalty. Criminalising the consumption of even small amounts of drugs has led to a massive increase in the number of prison inmates. Since most African prisons provide no health services, inmates are forced to engage in practices that carry a high risk of HIV transmission. The going rate for a used needle in a South African prison is said to be less than 20 US cents per shot. Africa’s war on drugs€ is therefore directly responsible for an explosion of HIV/AIDS cases. Official statistics show that around 35 percent of prison deaths recorded were due to HIV/ AIDS. Many of Africa’€™s drug laws are inspired by the western world approach to drugs, which has seeped into Africa through conservative narcotics policies. Furthermore, a surge in funding for law enforcement in recent years, partially paid for by external donor agencies promoting good governance€ has provided African countries with the financial means to enforce laws that take a hard-line approach to drugs.In my view, African countries have a serious problem. Illicit drug use and trafficking may be relatively new problems, but drug use can no longer be seen as Western world problem. Compared to other parts of the world, Africa joined the party late but has the world to learn from. I know from Western world’s war on drugs, for instance, that criminalising citizens and filling prisons is not the solution. At least African countries know what to expect as drug use continues to rise and drug smuggling gets out of hand. The challenges is whether African countries have the will to do anything about drugs like Tanzania and Kenya are doing.To me, its simply a devastating trend that need to be addressed before its too late.

Contador Harrison