Beyond trafficking, tackling the challenge of drug consumption in west Africa

West Africa for a very long time has been on the global map as a drug trafficking route from the producing nations of Latin America and recently Asia to the thriving market in Europe and America. It was estimated that about $1 billion worth of cocaine destined to Europe from Latin America passed through the region in 2008. The value of this drug trade is comparable to national budgets and higher than the gross domestic product of many countries in the region. This comes with a whole lot of implications ranging from undermining of rule of law and democratic governance, corruption, money laundering and many more.

However, beyond the trafficking we are today confronted with the stark reality of drug consumption in the region. In 2009, according to UNODC report, out of the 35 metric tons of cocaine known to be trafficked through the region one third of it was consumed locally. The Lancet also in July 2010 reported that evidence from some of the African countries suggest that Africans are increasingly injecting drug and associated spread of HIV is underway. Today at least 32 African countries have reported injecting drug use not excluding many of the west African nations including Nigeria, Cape Verde, Ghana, Benin, Senegal and others.  The perception that Africa is not a consuming nations of hard drugs has for a long time encouraged a repressive approach towards drug control with little or no effort put in place to address the public health concerns and challenges. Successes towards drug control are measured in terms of arrest and seizures and where treatment exist it is under the guidance of law enforcement.
The young are still vulnerable
The population of young people in West Africa is estimated to be about 350 million. This is a significant resource base for development but these youths are daily confronted with a myriad of challenges ranging from unemployment to poverty, from homelessness to ill-health, illiteracy and so on increasing their vulnerability to drug use. Those who have initiated drug use are exposed to a whole lot of injury without access to healthcare services. The criminalization of drug use drives them underground and this possibly breeds an underground epidemic. For instance, one National study on IDU in Nigeria conducted in 2010 showed that HIV prevalence among the population in the Federal Capital territory is as high as 9.3%, a figure that is more than double the National prevalence and most of the IDUs tested were young people.
West Africa Commission on Drugs
It is beyond doubt that there is need for an urgent and holistic intervention to address the current situation. The launch of the West Africa Commission on Drugs in January 2013 by Kofi Annan is a laudable and long awaited intervention. The commission, made up of eminent personalities within the region and chaired by former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo is saddled with the responsibility of determining the impact of drug trafficking on Governance, Security and Development in West Africa. The commission is expected to mobilize public and political commitments to ensure development and implementation of evidence informed drug policy for the region. It is obvious that the commission has a huge task ahead and it need to be courteously bold to promote policies that encourage holistic development of the region rather than that which focus mostly on maintaining international relations undermining human development.