This blog was written by Lugard Abila, campaign manager of Anyone’s Child Kenya
“The global war on drugs has been fought for more than 50 years without preventing the long term trend of increasing drug supply and use. Beyond this failure, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has identified many serious negative “unintended consequences of the drug war …” Count the Cost
Why Kenya shouldn’t follow a militarized approach to drugs:
It fuels crime, conflict, corruption and human rights abuses.
In my personal life I have always know that, ultimately, life is all about choices. One’s destiny unfolds according to the choices one makes, and I’ve always felt certain that the choices people make are the right ones, and our role as mankind is to ensure that those choices do not violate other people’s rights.
So often, people who use drugs are victims of stigmatization and discrimination, and are seen as unholy or unworthy in society. But their drug use is as a result of unknown factors which they may have faced in life. And anyway, is it right for people to claim that role of ‘purifying’ others? No, the purification role can only be done by a power greater than us.
For decades, world governments have criminalized the use of drugs, as well as their possession, production, and distribution; billions of dollars have been used into extraditing, pursuing, killing, prosecuting, and imprisoning the drug barons, dealers and ordinary people who use drugs.
At one point in history, Mexico, Colombia, USA, Guinea Bissau, Philippines – all have been rocked with bloody responses from organized crime and drug cartels, as a result of pursuing an offensive militarized war on drugs. This has affected whole countries’ social and human security, public health, and economic growth and caused many to despair.
Mr. Cesar Gaviria – former President of Colombia – has recently told President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines not to repeat his mistake of thinking he can win a war on drugs. A mistake through which much life was lost in Colombia. It also resulted in the West African state Guinea Bissau becoming a narco state due to the expansion of the Colombian cartel operations in this region, and the problem moving to Mexico where 100,000 have died as a result.
The Kenyan Government should also not repeat President Duterte and Gaviria’s mistakes, but look for a Kenyan solution – one of evidence based harm reduction programming and regulation where drugs are brought under control. We may also borrow some facts and activities from the African Union’s plan of action on Drug Control 2013 -2017, that calls for implementation of evidence-based services scaled up to address the health and social impact of drug use in member state.
Today the costs of the drug war are evident: we have parentless homes, bereaved families, the heartbreaking struggles with addiction, socio- economic desperation, fear of access to health services, fueling the HIV/AIDS pandemic among people who inject drugs and fostering a feeling that systems were built to hurt, not help.
This war is also fueling organized criminal groups that commit abuses, corrupt authorities and undermine the rule of law. All of the combined delivers an unforgivable plight for families that have lost their children and loves ones.
Kenyan senator, Kennedy Mongare, who called for legalizing and controlling the cultivation of bhang (cannabis) recently commented; “Strict regulations don’t help. It is abused because of laws criminalizing it. The problem with Kenyans is living in denial.” He advocates for a holistic programmatic approach and to review all policy options.
Hence as a country we need to admit that, drug abstinence in many quarters will never be realized and a drug free world will never be achieved. We have to address not just crime, but also public health, human rights and social economic development.
With all the recent happenings in Kenya, on the war on drugs, the government ought to be aware of the devastating consequences of human rights violations and the deprivation of the right to health and life.
Thus, we need to uphold the Constitution in reviewing the current Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Act of 1994. Furthermore, as we continue with the conversation around full decriminalization and legal medical cannabis, we need to extend this debate to include making safer drug control laws, and learn from Ghana’s enactment law on Narcotic Substance use which will decriminalize drug use.
Continuation with a militarized war on drugs will mean continuing to rage at and attack mentally and physically ill individuals, with families paying the price. Let’s learn from the mistakes of history, not repeat them – it’s time for a Kenyan solution to the world’s drug problem.