Africa drugs Mujahid Safodien/Stringer/Getty Images

Rethinking West Africa’s War On Drugs

The war on drugs has failed, devastating communities and doing little to curb trafficking and abuse. At the upcoming UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem, West Africa must advocate for a more sensible approach, one based on public health and respect for human rights.

DAKAR – By now, it has become almost a cliché to say that the war on drugs has failed. The prohibitionist approach, most fully articulated by former US President Richard Nixon, has done little to curb drug use, but it has had devastating consequences for individuals and societies worldwide. In Latin America, to cite one example, it has led to repressive state policies and the militarization of interdiction efforts at the expense of policies addressing the detrimental effects of drug use on health and social welfare.

This approach risks causing similar damage in West Africa, as the region’s own war on drugs drives an increase in state repression and human-rights abuses. In 2014, the West Africa Commission on Drugs noted that criminalizing every aspect of drug-related activity, including possession for personal use, has resulted in a host of negative consequences. Drug use has been driven underground, corruption has grown, and prisons have become massively overcrowded. And it is overwhelmingly the poor – many of whom should be helped rather than punished – who are thrown in jail, while wealthy drug users buy their way out of criminal sanctions.

But repression has not prevented West Africa from becoming a major transit hub for cocaine, heroin, and cannabis. In March, Nigerian authorities discovered and dismantled the country’s first industrial-scale crystal-meth lab, indicating that the production, distribution, and consumption of synthetic drugs could be rapidly rising in the region. West Africa lacks reliable trend data regarding drug consumption, but there are signs that it is on the rise.

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