Copy of #TheSafeSpace column published in the Times of Swaziland, 10 February 2016:
There is really is no easy way to say this so let me just dish it out straight: Africa has a drug problem. This might come as a surprise to many but the reality is that our continent is increasingly becoming involved in the drug trade and subsequently destroying lives. Unfortunately this devastating rise has received little to no attention whilst the focus remains on South American cartels and Breaking Bad. I can only speculate that in many ways, the issue of substance abuse is not effectively tackled due to the other issues in Africa that are given priority.
Whether my speculation is right or wrong, sooner or later we will need to stand up and comprehensively address this across the continent because at this rate, the situation will continue to deteriorate. In recent years, Africa has evolved into a key transit point for drug shipments (mainly from Latin America) to satisfy the demand in Europe and other parts of the world. The devastating thing about narcotics is that when they arrive, even in transit, a local market is quickly created. When markets are created, certain groups or individuals aspire for financial control while others opt to chase the high. This desire to get paid or get high sweeps through entire regions paying little respect to the borders that exist and the lives that stand in the way.
Nowadays, Africa has scores of mainly young people from all the five regions that smoke, snort, inject or swallow a wide array of drugs. Although experts tend to point at the environment or unemployment as leading factors for drug abuse, the problem is not really that simple to assess. We have young professionals doing cocaine, young people from good homes doing Meth, university freshmen are trying out nyaope. It is very difficult to compile the profile of a typical drug user and that makes the job of dealing with the problem all the more difficult.
In the response to substance abuse, those that want to tackle the problem seem to be at the losing end. All the tools that could be used to curb drug sale or intake through of sharing information and testimonies are constantly flooded with messages that encourage drug use. Our television, music and social media content is telling us that drugs are the coolest way to be relevant. Not so long ago Hip Hop artists were encouraging the consumption of Sizzurp which is codeine mixed with soda. Then the Internet told us that if we cannot afford cocaine, we can make easily make Methcathinone, known as Cat on the streets. Unlike other narcotics which are made in labs by evil geniuses with incredible IQs, Cat seems simpler to create.
As we can see, the objective of the drug trade is clear; total takeover. In light of this, what is our response? In my opinion, Africa can choose to ignore substance abuse at its own peril. We can choose to not invest in relevant educational programmes. We can choose to not set up rehabilitation centres for recovering addicts. We can choose to not enforce policies and legislation. We can choose to not need deal with the contributing factors such as unemployment. We can choose to not learn from states on addressing drugs. We can choose to act like the problem is on TV instead of our homes. Go ahead, choose.