News / Africa

Commission: West Africa Should Change Drug Policies

FILE - Police officers uproot poppy plants discovered on a farm in Njabini Kinangop, about 100 kilometers west of Nairobi, Kenya.
FILE - Police officers uproot poppy plants discovered on a farm in Njabini Kinangop, about 100 kilometers west of Nairobi, Kenya.
Anne Look
— The West Africa Commission on Drugs says the region needs a new approach to tackling drug-related crime. The commission, which released its findings Thursday in Dakar after nearly two years of research, says countries should not criminalize drug use or militarize their approach to traffickers.

Over the past decade, West African countries have made headlines seizing tons of narcotics at their coastlines and airports. Thousands of arrests have been made.

While it looks impressive on paper, it's not enough. Most of those going to prison are addicts or small-time dealers, couriers and middlemen. The trafficking and use of drugs like cocaine and heroin continue to climb. Labs producing amphetamine-type stimulants, like meth, have cropped up in the region.  

In addition, drug money can buy elections and destabilize governments. Organized crime and extremist groups are getting in on the action.

Changing policies

Those are among the findings of the West Africa Commission on Drugs created by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, a native of Ghana.

"Current drug policies are not working. We must now have the courage to change policies that no longer fit the reality," he said.

Nigeria's Drug Law Enforcement Agency says between 1990 and 2013 it seized 178 tons of cocaine. It sounds impressive, but ex-Nigerian president Olesgun Obasanjo put those numbers in perspective.

"Just one ton of cocaine that reaches Europe via West Africa is worth more than the security budget of many of our countries," he said.

Obasanjo led the commission during its investigation, and said all that trafficking also has meant more drug use in the region.

"Our region is simply not ready or adequately equipped to deal with the spread of drug use and dependency. The response all too often is to stigmatize and penalize drug users," he said. "However, pushing them to the fringes of society or locking them up in ever increasing numbers will not solve the problem."

'Evolved thinking'

The commission says countries should decriminalize taking drugs and the possession of small amounts of them for personal use. It says drug use should be treated as a public health problem, and the focus should be on things like opening treatment centers.

That's a stark contrast to the so-called "prohibitionist" approach that has characterized the now decades-long "war on drugs" in the Americas. Some experts say that war has failed. The violence only intensified, and drugs did not become less available.

The commission says West Africa has a chance to avoid those mistakes.

Guatemala's foreign affairs minister, Fernando Carrera, said the commission's recommendations for West Africa are in line with evolving thinking in his region.

"The fact is that prohibition has failed. Regulation is the new word," he said. "We need to work on interdiction but in a different way. Interdiction as usual is not enough, is not doing enough. We need to work on public health. We need to work on better social services. We need to work on economic opportunities for the poor."

Both Carrera and Obasanjo say law enforcement should go after high-level targets, the so-called "big fish."  That takes political will and specialized, coordinated units dealing with narcotics, money laundering and corruption.

You May Like

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid