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Changing Drug Policy

West Africa Commission on Drugs

In West Africa, drug trafficking is threatening peace and stability of the new and fragile economies and democracies which emerged after years of civil wars in the region. Globalization has opened routes from drug producing countries in South America and Asia to Europe with one hub in West Africa.

With an elevated presence of drugs, their use in the region has increased also. Widely held policies that criminalize the possession and use of drugs have put many in jail for relatively minor non-violent offences, overburdening local criminal justice systems and worsening police corruption. The laws are applied disproportionately to the poor, leaving the high-level enablers of the drug trade unpunished.

The criminalization of drug use has stopped drug users from seeking help and accessing health service, which has led to other serious health challenges such as the spread of HIV and other infectious diseases linked to injecting drug use.

Concerned about these threats, in January 2013, Kofi Annan convened the West Africa Commission on Drugs (WACD) to study the issue, develop evidence-based policy recommendations, raise public awareness and put the issue on the political agenda. The Commission includes 11 regional leaders from the political world, civil society, the health sector, security and law enforcement, and the judiciary. The Kofi Annan Foundation provides the secretariat to the WACD.

The WACD members are:

  • President Olusegun Obasanjo (Chair)
  • President Pedro Pires
  • Idrissa Ba
  • Justice Bankole-Thompson
  • Mary Chinery-Hesse
  • Alpha Abdoulaye Diallo
  • Christine Kafando
  • Edem Kodjo
  • Adeolu Ogunrombi
  • Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou
  • Oumou Sangaré

The report “Not Just in Transit: Drugs, the State and Society in West Africa” was launched on 12 June 2014 in Dakar and received broad media attention.

Its main conclusion are:

  • West Africa is no longer only a transit zone for drugs. Drugs are having a profound and disturbing effect on the stability of countries in the region and their development prospects;
  • West Africa is ill prepared for this assault on its societies. Institutions of governance and justice are still quite fragile and vulnerable to penetration by organized crime and drug money;
  • Health systems in the region do not have the means or capacity to offer adequate prevention, treatment or harm reduction services to drug users;
  • Illicit drugs are an international problem that cannot be solved by West Africa alone.

The report sets forth several policy recommendations that seek to address these urgent political, social and economic challenges for West Africa. Among them:

  • Treat drug use as a public health issue, rather than as a criminal justice matter;
  • Confront openly the political and governance weaknesses, which traffickers exploit;
  • Reform drug laws on the basis of existing and emerging minimum health standards and pursue decriminalization of drug use and low-level, non-violent drug offences;
  • Strengthen law enforcement for more selective deterrence, focusing on high-level targets;
  • Avoid militarisation of drug policy and related counter-trafficking measures of the kind that some countries have applied at great cost without reducing drug supply;
  • Intensify cooperation between producing, transit and consuming countries not only on interdiction but also on prevention, treatment and harm reduction.

Tackling West Africa’s drug problems in an effective and timely manner will require the active engagement and strong commitment of leaders and civil society in West Africa and in major producer and consumer countries to ensure that societies everywhere are adequately informed and protected. The report serves as a step towards greater public awareness needed for this to happen, as well as opening the public debate. The WACD is now working on an advocacy and outreach campaign.

Advocacy and Outreach: Disseminating the Recommendations of the West Africa Commission on Drugs

To visit the West Africa Commission on Drugs website, click here.