Civil Society consultation forum on drugs opens
The Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) is holding a two-day consultative meeting with members of West African Civil Society (WACS) on the increasing drug trade and drug usage in the Sub-Region.
The meeting which was titled “Civil Society Consultation Forum on Drugs in West Africa: Towards an innovative Strategy for Drug Policy Reforms in West Africa”, seeks among other objectives to establish a Civil Society working group to interact and engage with the West African Commission on Drug Trafficking and develop a plan of action centered on elements of drug policy reforms.
It was organized in collaboration with the Open Society foundations’ Global Drug Policy Programme (GDPP) also aims at supporting innovative thinking and strategic planning for Civil Society Organisations’s involvement in drug policy reforms in West Africa.
Participating countries include Ghana, Cote d’Iviore, Nigeria, Serra Leone, Liberia, Equitorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau and Tanzania.
Ms Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei, OSIWA Programme Manager in Charge of Law, Justice and Human Rights, in an address at the opening, said the new West Africa Commission on Drugs has set as one of its key objectives to mobilize public opinion and catalyze political support for further action at national, regional and international levels before drug-fuelled problems become totally unmanageable.
She said in other parts of the world, civil society-led efforts had helped overturn social norms and therefore it could be done in West Africa too.
According to her although drug trafficking was not a new phenomenon in West Africa most civil society groups currently lacked the necessary expertise to make a meaningful contribution to this fight.
Ms Asare-Kyei said there was an ardent need to strengthen the capacity of civil society to monitor and report on drug trafficking and other related crimes as well as help in the implementation the various regional and national action plans.
She said civil society groups could also engage the public – including influential religious and traditional leaders – and help facilitate public debate. Both steps can make a huge difference in educating people about the impact of drugs.
In most instances, policies have been driven by external considerations however Civil Society could help to reverse this trend and ensure that local perspectives were heard and that initiatives are locally owned.
She expressed worry about the rise of wealthy organized crime syndicates, now illicitly trafficking narcotic across West Africa and indicated that phenomenon although not new, presents a serious threat to governance and security in the Sub-region and threatens the peace of the continent.
She indicated that the rise in drug trafficking, including increases in local drug production and consumption, was fast becoming a mighty adversary to overcome in the pursuit of peace, stability and security in West African Sub-region.
According to estimates, about 1.25 billion dollar worth of illicit trade had been channeled through the Region annually in the past 10 years.
The challenges presented by the drug trade and their usage poses a huge threat to the continent’s young democracy and security and must be addressed immediately to cut all links with these drug cartels to the Sub-region.
Ms Asare-Kyei however indicated that the drug issue was a challenge that required a coordinated and multi-pronged solution and also requires the active involvement of civil society actors across the region.
Ms Joanne Csete, a Senior Programme Officer for Open Society Global Drug Policy, in a presentation on the drug problem in West Africa, indicated that the Sub-region’s geographical proximity to European markets made it strategically located for drug-smuggling purposes and was not only a trans-shipment zone, local production but also consumption was also on the rise especially among its burgeoning youth population.
She indicated that over 70 per cent of the sub-region’s estimated 300 million people were under the age of 35 and vast majority have limited education and were unemployed or working in the informal sector.
Lack of employment opportunities or reliable income put youth in precarious positions where they may be vulnerable to involvement in the drug-trade and drug use itself.