EditorialAs the world gathers for the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem(UNGASS 2016), the focus will be on a new approach to spur change in the war against drugs, since most of current policies adopted at and after the 1998 UNGASS session’s calling for the total elimination of drugs from the world have not succeeded to effectively combat the drugs scourge.
In fact, these policies have mainly led to serious public health crises, namely the explosion of the HIV/AIDS epidemic among drug injecting users (DIU), the proliferation of criminal gangs and networks, corruption, overcrowded prisons, etc. It is this situation, amongst other factors, that is influencing a drive for a shift in policy, with emphasis on harm reduction, decriminalisation and rights-based approaches to drug policies etc.
This is reinforced by the involvement of other non-state actors in the process, in particular civil society organisations and academia. While drug related challenges around the world are in no way different from West Africa’s, new prevailing factors have made these challenges more accentuated in West Africa. At the top of the list is the incursion of criminal networks into the region, West Africa’s popularity as the route favoured by traffickers to penetrate the drug market in Europe, terrorism and drug/criminalnetworks for terrorism financing, not to mention the fundamental issue of the heavy abuse of psychotropic drugs in the region.
Yet, the approach across member states and the current regional has been more of total elimination of the scourge, with the exception of Senegal and its commendable harm reduction policy. Little or nothing in terms of alternative means to ending the drug scourge, dealing with the users is present. Actually, in several West African countries, there are very few doctors or rehab centres, in its stead are traditional mental homes and religious institutions. On the regional level, the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS) has put inplace a regional plan of action on drugs, which is further complemented by the AU Plan ofAction on Drug Control and Crime and the commendable work of the West Africa Drug PolicyNetwork.
Ahead of UNGASS 2016, these entities have adopted a common position for Africa, in recognition of the universality of the problem to the continent. We remain hopeful that this will be reflected in the final strategy adopted on drugs. To generate discussion ahead of the UNGASS, this edition of the West Africa Insight takes a look at the some salient issues on drugs in the region. Adeolu Ogunrumbi of the West Africa Commission on Drugs (WACD) argues for a drug policy reform in West Africa against the background of visible governance, security, and human development challenges the region is currently confronted with.
His stance is also reinforced by Aishatu Yushua’s article: Drug Abuse and Crime in West Africa, which examined the new trends in drug use and the unfolding impacts on the region. In his contribution, Professor Isidore Obot takes a historical perspective of the drug issue in West Africa and examines the different kind of drugs available across the region, with a focus on methamphetamines, which he considers as a clear danger the region has to promptly grapple with. Professor Idrissa Ba’s contributed a piece on the Senegalese experience and how the country is paving the way for Harm Reduction initiatives in West Africa, this edition concluded with the West African Common Position towards UNGASS 2016, a product of a fruitful collaboration between the region’s different stakeholders in the area of drug policy.