Category Archives: metrics that matter

Preparing for 2019: Drug Policy Objectives and Indicators, System-wide Coherence and the Sustainable Development Agenda

Preparing for 2019: Drug Policy Objectives and Indicators, System-wide Coherence and the Sustainable Development Agenda

Side event held at the 60th Commission on Narcotic Drugs offers insights into how drug policy indicators could aid in achieving the sustainable development agenda.

Nazlee Maghsoudi, Knowledge Translation Manager at the ICSDP

Click here to visit the CND Blog’s live reporting from this side event.

With the UNGASS on the World Drug Problem now a year behind us, member states are looking towards the next international drug policy milestone, a High Level Ministerial Meeting in 2019. Simultaneously, member states are over a year into efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of global targets to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity by 2030. Given increasing recognition that the impacts of global drug policy are intrinsically linked to a number of SDGs, the Government of Switzerland, Health Poverty Action (HPA), International Drug Policy Consortium, Centro De Estudios Legales Y Sociales (CELS), Social Science Research Council, Global Drug Policy Observatory (GDPO), and the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP) came together at the 60th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) to explore how drug policy indicators could aid member states in more effectively achieving the sustainable development agenda.

Natasha Horsfield, Policy & Advocacy Officer from HPA, outlined crucial ways in which drugs and drug policy interact with several of the SDGs, and suggested that metrics for measuring how drug policies are contributing to the SDGs should be prioritized in preparations for 2019. Speaking about goal 1 on poverty, goal 2 on food security, and goal 5 on gender equality, Ms. Horsfield explained that marginalization and inequality are important elements in the drug trade, with poverty and food insecurity a frequent factor in involvement in illicit drug markets, and women particularly becoming involved as drug couriers because of their gendered social and economic vulnerabilities. Gender inequality is reflected in the disproportionate and alarming increase in the incarceration of women for minor drugs offences. Given these and other intersections between drug policy and the SDGs, the clear, measurable, and internationally agreed framework of targets and indicators contained within the sustainable development agenda could be adapted to measure drug policy outcomes. For example, new indicators could be adopted at national level under goal 5 to measure women and girls involved in the drug trade or incarcerated for drug crimes. Ms. Horsfield also stressed that the High Level Ministerial Meeting in 2019 presents an opportune moment to align the timeline for the next drug policy framework with the 2030 deadline for implementing the SDGs.

Elaborating on Ms. Horsfield’s remarks, Luciana Pol, Senior Fellow in Security Policy & Human Rights from CELS, pointed to improvements that could be made to drug policy indicators to support the achievement of SDG 5 on gender equality. Ms. Pol noted that the Special Rapporteur on violence against women has identified anti-drug policies specifically as a leading cause of the rising rates of incarceration of women globally, and data demonstrates that a portion of women incarcerated for drug offences are coerced into trafficking and others engage as a result of lacking viable economic opportunities. Ms. Pol described concrete ways to improve the quality of data on how drug policies impact women. First, prison data should have a gender perspective by including, for example, information on the amount of pregnant women, of children incarcerated with their mothers, and access to health services for these groups. Second, since laws in many countries don’t distinguish between different types of drug offences, small and large scale trafficking are categorized together. Differentiating between the conduct for which they are incarcerated and the roles women play will improve our understanding of incarcerated populations. Ms. Pol reminded the audience that improving our understanding of how drug policies impact women is not only essential to ensuring the achievement of SDG 5, but is also a central component of last year’s CND resolution 59/5. Ms. Pol therefore called on member states to take these and other concrete steps to mainstream a gender perspective in their collection of data relevant to drugs and drug policy, and urged UN agencies to guide member states in this process of broadening and expanding their drug policy metrics.
As a contributor on law enforcement indicators to the World Drug Report, Christian Schneider, Strategic Analyst at the Federal Office of Police in Bern, Switzerland, shared his firsthand knowledge that the incomplete nature of data on drug markets can prohibit efforts to derive meaningful policy recommendations. In addition to communicating uncertainties, Mr. Schneider proposed that gaps in the data could be addressed by adopting a more comprehensive set of indicators. Sharing technical recommendations for implementing Mr. Schneider’s suggestion, Dave Bewley-Taylor, Director of GDPO, focused on how a review of the Annual Report Questionnaires (ARQs) could support the achievement of the SDGs by aligning drug policy metrics with the sustainable development agenda. According to Prof. Bewley-Taylor, despite the limitations of self-reporting, the ARQs are a useful mechanism through which member states report on their efforts to address the world drug problem. As the nature of the world drug problem has evolved, however, there have been increasing gaps in the data collected by the ARQs. This recently came into sharp focus, as the UNGASS Outcome Document included an operational recommendation to use relevant human development indicators in alignment with the SDGs to increase understanding and improve impact assessments. Within this context, Prof. Bewley-Taylor stressed that there is a clear need to review the structure and questions of the ARQs to bring them into alignment with the SDGs by incorporating indicators related to human rights, public health, and human security. Such a review could be conducted through an interagency expert group established by the Statistical Commission, which has already begun considering these issues.

Discussions on drug policy indicators and their relationship to the sustainable development agenda are undoubtedly of utmost importance at the CND, and in other forums, such as the meeting of the high-level political forum on sustainable development in July 2017. Yet, much more than discussion is needed. As Ms. Horsfield said, advancing past this critical juncture will require political will from member states beyond simply reaffirming their commitment to SDGs, but towards deemphasizing drug control efforts that undermine the SDGs and funding those that contribute positively to their achievement. Aligning drug policy metrics with the SDGs is an important step in this direction.

 

Click here to visit the CND Blog’s live reporting from this side event.

View From the Ground: Bocas del Toro; Drugs in Paradise

By Alastair Smith, Panama

Following exploratory fieldwork in the rural coca growing fields of Colombia, GDPO followed the cocaine supply chain to Panama. Most recently, time spent on the Northern Caribbean coast soon revealed the permeation of drug trafficking into the already complex socioeconomic context that many perceive as paradise.

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Paradise of Bocas del Toro (MandingA 2013)

First impressions of Bocas del Toro – the name of both the 7,000+ person settlement on Isla Colon, just off the north eastern seaboard of Panama, but also the wider surrounding Province – largely confirm its international reputation as an accessible tropical ‘paradise’. With sympathetic afternoon light, the final leg of the 1-hour flight from Panama City reveals aqua marine water lapping at golden sands backed by lush green forests. Once established in the area, other widely talked about attractions of Bocas quickly emerge. There is a wealth of outdoor activities. Many international tourists, largely backpackers, and domestic visitors come to enjoy the Caribbean Sea: to scuba dive and snorkel, surf the notorious waves of Playa Bluff, or to take things a little easier with sunbathing and guided tours to spot the charismatic wildlife.

Party goers in one of Bocas' bars open late into the morning

Party goers in one of Bocas’ bars open late into the morning (Taken by Author 2015)

Another attraction of Bocas del Toro for many, and particularly backpackers, is undoubtedly the opportunity to mix Salsa and Reggaeton music, with low cost national beers and regional rum cocktails, as they enjoy the party life offer on Isla Colon (primarily in BocasTown) and the surround islands. Many of the bars and clubs in Bocas town are right on the water: making it very possible to ‘live the dream’ of enjoying beers in a hammock, dancing off the alcohol, and when things get a little too hot back-flipping off the dock into the cooling sea.

In this hedonistic environment, it is seemingly easy to forget the volumes of boat traffic and not think about the dubious quality of the sea water while enjoying a midnight swim. Another undercurrent in the town is the availability cocaine and cannabis. Sellers freely mix in the nightlife with various degrees of subtly in communicating their offerings. During the day, it is unusual to walk the length of town without being offered ‘weed’ – sometimes as a follow up to the initial list proposal of taking a boat tours to the beach – although there is little menacing about time spent in Bocas, and disinterest is well-accepted by opportunistic sellers.

Part of the reason for the level of supply is the demand of international tourists and more permanent life style migrants willing to pay higher prices than local consumers. However, Bocas del Toro is also well supplied with drugs as one of the recognized points of refuge for traffickers making the journey up the EasternCoast from Colombia to North America

Originally founded as a settlement of concentrated population by foreign banana producers, the region remained disconnected from administration in Panama City due to a lack of a reliable road connection: and therefore, the centralized government administration has lacked a presence in many respects. The archipelago is also composed of some highly remote islands that fall well beyond almost all government services and authority: and as in many cases across the world, the lack of state institutions supports the trafficking of drugs.

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View of coastal geography from the air (Author 2015)

Despite limited resources, local law enforcement officers in Bocas confirm that they have been involved in interdiction operations in partnership with central authorities and the US Coast Guard: furthermore, these operations have yielded high powerboats used by the traffickers that are then repurposed for local counter narcotics operations. Discussions with the local police support existing knowledge that traffickers use the inland water ways of the Panamanian coast to evade the authorities during the day, and then make their staged journeys under the cover of night (UNODC 2012). In some cases it is believed that small shipments of drugs are consolidated in Panama before being moved on (UNODC 2012). Local testimony also identified that during chases, traffickers will jettison quantities of drugs in attempts to bribe the police.

It is through a combination of these mechanisms that trafficked drugs enter the Bocas economy. The availability of drugs then provides relatively easy returns for those willing to become involved. This option is especially attractive so some due to the poor quality of education, high levels of poverty and general limitations on livelihood opportunities in the Bocas region. Despite Panama’s average national economic growth of 7.2% between 2001 and 2013, of the mainly indigenous population of the Bocas del Toro province, 25% are classified as poor and 11% as extremely poor (Omar and Moreno 2014). Many of these people live on subsistence agriculture and fishing on outer islands. There is therefore a potentially strong pull incentive to become involved in the distribution of drugs. In this case, as was found in Colombia, rural development will likely be as important an anti-trafficing policy as strengthening governance capacity for interdiction operations.

In conclusion, while the vast majority of visitors to Bocas del Toro find their expectations of fulfilled, the reality is that the international trafficking of drugs is playing into a complex socioeconomic situation, which many of the ‘poor’ permanent residents might well not accept as ‘paradise’. Again, genuine investment in enhancing the life opportunities of those currently motivated to support drugs distribution will likely contribute to a reduction in the global trade in narcotic drugs.

Sources

Omar, A. and V. Moreno ( 2014). Pobreza e Indigencia. Panama, Ministerio de Economia y Finanzas.

UNODC (2012). Cocaine from South America to the United States. Transnational Organized Crime in Central America and the Caribbean A Threat Assessment. Vienna, United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime.

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View from the Ground: Infrastructure and Coca in Guaviare, Colombia

By Alastair Smith, GDPO Research Associate.

In mid-May 2015, Ross, Dave and I left the relatively comfortable climate of Bogotá and headed to the humidity of South East Colombia and the Department of Guaviare to conduct fieldwork. Leaving the Department’s capital, San José del Guaviare, Pedro Arenas – the city’s previous mayor, current director of the Observatory of Declared Illicit Crops and Cultivators at the NGO INDEPAZ, and our guide for the weekend – explained that although Guaviare has been settled since time of Spanish conquistadors, the rural population greatly increased during and after the period of Colombian history known as ‘The Violence’. This was a ten year period (1948-58) of civil war in Colombia when the Colombian Conservative Party and the Colombian Liberal Party fought for dominance, and during which it is estimated that some 200,000 lives were lost. In an effort to flee the problems that came to San José, much of its population moved further into the countryside both temporarily and permanently. Pedro further explained that after the upheaval, the government offered land titles and investment to those moving to the rural area. However, as the government failed to honour these promises, an increasing population was left with little other than subsistence farming for their survival (Ortiz, 1984). As a capitalist economy grew around them, campesinos became aware of the opportunities to sell the traditional crop of coca for conversion into cocaine. For the first time, the communities were faced with the opportunity to stabilise their subsistence existence and offer a decent future to their families – although they lived nothing like the extravagant lifestyles synonymous with processors and traffickers working higher in the supply chain.

Moving through the countryside, the panoramic pasture with its sparse population of cattle – apparently underused for productivity, as powerful interests accumulate land primarily as an investment and a status symbol – began to merge into patches, and then significant areas of uncleared jungle. As we sat in the rear of our 4×4, cushioning ourselves against the contours of the dirt track road (only reasonably passable with such a vehicle or motorbike, and the expert manipulation of Freddy our driver), our travel companion, a local community leader, explained the basic truths of coca production. His language was human, straightforward and non-technical; yet he eloquently outlined a situation which formal national and international drugs policy in Latin America and Colombia, has always, and continues to largely disregard.

The community has been born into a context where the possibilities of development constantly fail to emerge due to a lack of even the most basic of investment. While there are major roads that connect San José to Bogotá and other large regional centres, the majority of communities remain connected only by dirt tracks, which are in a volatile state due to the local climate. Our own travel time consumed four hours in both directions, despite moving only 60km into the interior. As explained by other community leaders, the lack of reliable and passable roads drastically impede the sale of legal agricultural produce to local urban markets: long travel times undermine the ability to provide a reliable supply and drastically increase the transport costs associated with the purchase of inputs and sale of the final products.

In the country as a whole, 75% of roads are paved and generally in good condition (Ministerio de Transporte, 2014). However, those in the countryside are the least developed and least well maintained. A quick comparison, undertaken back at our hotel, identified something of a correlation between the UN 2013 estimates of coca growing and government statistics on the existence and quality of roads. To take one example, in Putumayo, the second biggest producer of coca, only 54% of roads are paved, and over 57% of the remaining dirt track routes are currently evaluated to be in “bad” or “very bad” condition (Ministerio de Transporte, 2014)

In the morning we were lucky enough to have met with the Governor of the Department of Guaviare, José Octaviano Rivera Moncada. Moving from a campesino family into politics, inspired he said by the lack of representation that he witnessed as he travelled the region as a rural health worker, the Governor explained that his department was critically underfunded, pointing out that while his administration had been able to make investments, it was almost entirely the result of locally raised funds. The central Government does not provide sufficient support for development in his view. One reason for this, as suggested by a number of people we met during our time in Guaviare, is that there is little incentive for politicians and government officials to provide for the isolated communities. By way of explanation, people point out that the political support in the region is of little consequence, and there is better status (and some say money) to be generated (through corruption and kickbacks) by focusing efforts elsewhere.

By generous invitation we accompanied the Governor to a village where we had the opportunity to participate in a momentous event in the community’s history. In the year 2015, this village was to be connected to the electricity grid: meaning that until that day, the households there had been among the 6,300 in the department, and 435,500 nationwide, officially estimated to be living without an electricity supply of any kind (MMEUPME, 2014). Again, reviewing numbers of households without electricity in the departments where coca is grown reveals a potentially telling pattern. Indeed, talking at the event, we met with further leaders from surrounding villages also still without this basis economic input. Talking of their current economic situation, they posed the rhetorical question: ‘How are we to generate income for our communities without electricity?’ ‘How are we expected to store food crops in a way which keeps them suitable for market?’ The answer they immediately follow with is the logically obvious one: ‘We simply can’t’. It is perhaps partly for this reason that coca tends to be grown in areas with notable levels of poverty (see Table 1, below – although, it should be noted that statistical analysis correlates coca with mid-levels of poverty, likely because of the need for some capacity to engage in the activity). Overall, we encountered the same position in all the communities we visited: the people are desperate for alternative livelihood options, but without roads and electricity, from which one leader noted many other opportunities would come, the only rational option for those seeking to provide for their families is to grow coca leaf. After all, in contrast to others, this crop grows easily in the region, and can be transported by the buyers on motorbikes.

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Back in San José, we talked with a corn dealer, who elaborated on the impact of what we had seen and heard in the countryside. Although the man had dedicated himself to trading corn – partly in order to help small farmers in the region, Pedro suggested – the ageing trader is only able to pay a price to farmers that is barely, if at all, sufficient to cover their costs of production. While this ratio is impacted by competition from industrial producers and growing imports under Colombia’s free trade agreements, there is little chance that market incentives drive efficiency in Guaviare given the constraints imposed by a lack of basic rural infrastructure. Here, I am reminded of my work in the field of international development, and the need to compliment policies to develop market incentives (the primary focus of the trade agreements and market liberlisation pushed by international institutions, such as the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund), with investment in building the economic capacity that people need to respond (Smith 2009).

Finally then, on the issue of investment in development, the other topic at the centre of many conversations on our trip to Guaviare, was the Colombian Government’s policy – heavily backed by the United States – to reduce the production of coca through aerial fumigation. Recent news reaching the communities supported previous analyses demonstrating that the fumigation programme, estimated to have cost between US$1 billion and US$2 billion since its launch in 1994 (Isacson, 2015), has done little to reduce cultivation (ONDCP, 2015); aside from the heinous damage inflicted on human health and the environment, as recently identified by the WHO (2015). In this situation, campesinos, well aware of the financial cost of each fumigation flight, ask a very logical question: Why does the government not direct investment into roads and electricity, instead of dropping chemicals that along with killing coca, destroy legal food crops, cause cancer and damage our natural resources? Indeed, undertaking statistical analysis of the characteristics associated with growing coca, nationwide studies find that while fumigation is little associated with reducing coca cultivation (with a minor and statistically insignificant association) there is a strong statistically significant correlation between the size of the coca crop and transport infrastructure (for example see: Dion and Russler, 2008). On the basis of the evidence then, a clear conclusion emerges: if the Colombian and US Governments are serious about reducing coca cultivation, it is essential to invest more seriously in the kind of economic development needed to support legal livelihood opportunities for the rural populations of Colombia. Indeed, if the balance between investment in fumigation and development does not change, it is high time the international community asked more critical questions about the continuation of such an ineffective and inhuman drugs policy in areas such Guaviare.

Table 1: Basic infrastructure for largest coca producing regions in Colombia (DANE 2014; MMEUPME 2014; Ministerio de Transporte 2014).

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References

DANE (Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística) 2014. Cifras Departamentales De Pobreza Monetaria Y Desigualdad. https://www.dane.gov.co/files/investigaciones/condiciones_vida/pobreza/cp_pobreza_departamentos_R2013.pdf.

Dion, M.L., Russler, C., 2008. Eradication Efforts, the State, Displacement and Poverty: Explaining Coca Cultivation in Colombia During Plan Colombia. Journal of Latin American Studies 40 (03), 399-421.

Isacson, A. 2015. Even If Glyphosate Were Safe, Fumigation in Colombia Would Be a Bad Policy. Here’s Why. Washington: Washington Office on Latin America. http://www.wola.org/commentary/even_if_glyphosate_were_safe_fumigation_in_colombia_would_be_a_bad_policy_heres_why.

Ministerio de Transporte 2014. Transporte En Cifras 2013. https://www.mintransporte.gov.co/descargar.php?idFile=11527.

MMEUPME (Ministerio de Minas y Energía Unidad de Planeación Minero Energética) 2014. Plan Indicativo De Expansión De Cobertura De Energía Eléctrica 2013 – 2017. http://www.upme.gov.co/Siel/Siel/Portals/0/Piec/Libro_PIEC.pdf.

ONDCP (Office of National Drug Control Policy) 2015. Coca in the Andes. https://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/targeting-cocaine-at-the-source.

Ortiz, S. 1984. Colonization in the Colombian Amazon. Frontier expansion in Amazonia, pp. 204-230.

UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) 2014. Colombia Coca Cultivation Survey 2013. http://www.unodc.org/documents/crop-monitoring/Colombia/Colombia_coca_cultivation_survey_2013.pdf.

Smith, A.M., 2009. Fair Trade, Diversification and Structural Change: Towards a Broader Theoretical Framework of Analysis. Oxford Development Studies 37 (4), 457-478

WHO (World Health Organisation) 2015. Iarc Monographs Volume 112: Evaluation of Five Organophosphate Insecticides and Herbicides. http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/iarcnews/pdf/MonographVolume112.pdf.

WHO (World Health Organisation) 2015. Iarc Monographs Volume 112: Evaluation of Five Organophosphate Insecticides and Herbicides. http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/iarcnews/pdf/MonographVolume112.pdf.

SPP Prof. Julia Buxton Highlights the Great Disconnect Between Drugs and Development

This post was originally published here by the School of Public Policy at the Central European University.

Julia Buxton, Professor of Comparative Politics at the School of Public Policy (SPP), outlined key conclusions from her forthcoming report on the relationship between drugs and development in a stimulating faculty research presentation on Thursday, October 16. “Drugs are a development issue,” emphasized Buxton, “and this needs to be recognized by development actors.” The report, Drugs and Development: The Great Disconnect, will be published by Global Drug Policy Observatory at Swansea University as part of a portfolio of work that is being prepared ahead of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs in 2016.

Buxton analyzed United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) alternative development (AD) projects. Since UN endorsement in 1998, these projects have become a counter to traditional law enforcement strategies of drug crop eradication and drug interdiction. She highlighted multiple UNODC failings that have resulted in a 36% increase in opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan between 2012 and 2013, an increase that is even more shocking given the more than $7.5 billion that has been spent in counter narcotics efforts. Some of the examples of failed efforts include the use of generic AD approaches across regions and communities, a lack of pre- and post-project monitoring and evaluation, a dearth of development experts on staff, the absence of development and human security metrics (with AD projects evaluated only on the basis of short-term drug supply reduction targets), and, most crucially, the failure of AD to target the poorest of the poor and identify motivations for engagement in drug crop cultivation. Ultimately, “Alternative development is unworkable within the framework of drug criminalization, a focus on the sources of drugs, and ongoing militarized enforcement,” asserted Buxton, all of which serves to drive up the price of illicit drugs and the incentives to participate in supply.

Citing “profound institutional sclerosis” in the UNODC, Buxton asked how alternative development can be successful if the end goal is drug prohibition. “The more the UNODC is involved in alternative development, the more it risks doing more harm than good,” she argued. According to Buxton, drug policy and also the drug policy reform lobby pay too much attention to raw narcotics (opium poppy and coca leaf) rather than synthetics such as MDMA and amphetamines manufactured in the Global North. This underlines the bias in the international drug control model and the risk of further problematic interventions that exacerbate rather than alleviate poverty and insecurity in drug crop cultivating regions.

Ultimately it is development and not law and order factors that enable drug crop cultivation. As such, Buxton concluded, drug crop cultivation should be the concern of the development community and NGOs. Unfortunately, development actors often treat drugs as a taboo subject preferring that they be handled within the portfolio of law enforcement. This works against the achievement of development objectives, with counter narcotics responses generating violence while distorting security priorities and democratic systems.

Watch Buxton discuss her latest research on drugs as a development issue here.

The UN drug control authorities reinforce the ‘received wisdom’ on drugs in Sub Saharan Africa

The proliferation of drug trafficking in West Africa, as measured by drug – and most specifically cocaine – seizure data, has drawn considerable attention from the United Nations drug control bodies, and from West European and North American countries  that are engaged in anti-poverty, state stabilisation and counter terrorism activities in the sub-region. Underscoring concerns as to the rise of West African ‘narco states’ and penetration by South American drug ‘cartels’, drug seizures in the first three quarters of 2007 were 60 times higher than in 2002, with 33 tons of cocaine seized.

In its 2007 report, ‘Cocaine Trafficking in West Africa: The Threat to Stability and Development‘, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) highlighted the challenges posed to West African peace and security by the transit of an estimated $1.8 billion of cocaine (at wholesale prices) through countries such as Guinea Bissau, where the entire national budget for 2006 was just $304 million. Specific impacts related to increased trafficking volumes detailed in the 2007 report included corruption of poorly remunerated local security sector officials (police, military, customs and judiciaries), politicians and national governments; the distorting impacts of the illicit economy on development prospects and economic stability; rising domestic drug consumption linked to an increase in availability; and drug related violence.

The latest report by the Global Drug Policy Observatory explores how West Africa has become a new ‘front’ in the drug ‘war’ (see GDPO Briefing ‘West Africa: A New Front in a Losing War’).  The report explores how donors and other external actors and institutions stepped up financial support to, and political pressure on, West African countries for strengthened counter narcotics activity.  This has included the training of local security sector officials, robust domestic anti-drugs legislation, judicial reform and demand prevention measures. While this was in part influenced by the negative domestic implications of drug trafficking for the achievement of peace, security and development objectives in West Africa, it was also informed by traditional ‘supply side’ approaches that seek to prevent drugs reaching consumer markets in Europe.

This bias toward the priorities and approaches of wealthy, Western consumer states has led to the formulation and implementation of drug control measures that do not always take into consideration African concerns. Furthermore, policy responses are based on limited and very often poor data, while the use of contestable statistical indicators to legitimise the reorientation of public and donor spending toward counter narcotics activity obscures rigorous assessment of the dimensions and implications of West Africa’s drug ‘problem’.  As an example of the ‘bad practice’ in counter narcotics responses, statistics relating to levels of drug consumption in West Africa are discussed below.

In its Annual Report for 2012, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) highlights cannabis as the ‘most widely abused illicit substance in Africa’,  with a prevalence rate for the entire continent of 7.8% (range: 3.8 – 10.4%). This is considerably higher than the global average, which is estimated at 3.8% (range: 2.8 – 4.5%). West Africa, the INCB adds, is the sub-region with the highest prevalence rate within the continent (12.4 %, range: 5.2 – 13.5%) with Nigeria showing the highest national annual prevalence: 14.3%. These cannabis consumption statistics are extrapolated from the limited data sets of just 6 of West Africa’s 16 states: Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Togo, of which three (Burkina Faso, Liberia and Togo) show prevalence rates slightly below the global average according to the  United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime World Drug Report Statistical Annex.

In the case of cocaine prevalence rates  the INCB estimates that there are1.5 million cocaine users in West and Central Africa, with Nigeria having the highest prevalence rate in the region. However, as with the cannabis consumption statistics, projections of cocaine use are based on data provided by only 2 of the 23 Western and Central African countries Nigeria (0.7%) and Cape Verde (0.23%). Moreover the figures for these two countries are from different years (2008 in the case of Nigeria, 2004 in Cape Verde).

In relation to heroin, the INCB sets out that ‘heroin abuse is perceived [emphasis added] to be increasing and is mainly concentrated in East and West Africa’. This assessment is based on East Africa’s emergence as a transit zone for Afghan heroin and not detailed epidemiological surveys of heroin use in East Africa. The most recent prevalence rates for opioid use in the region are from 2004  with only Senegal and Nigeria updating their statistics  –  in 2006 and 2008 respectively.  Without reliable, robust data on contemporary heroin use, the assertion that there is rising heroin consumption lacks empiricism. It should be further noted that the INCB’s report does not detail the source of evidently influential ‘perceptions’, nor does it provide citations for all data sources within the report.

All aspects of the drug market, including drug use, within West, Central and East Africa are clearly areas worthy of concern. The region undoubtedly has significant drug related problems that merit an energetic response.  However, effective, targeted interventions in the interest of public health and human security require a radical enhancement of the collation and processing of statistical information, and improved support to information gathering by sub Saharan states. Conversely, debates and strategies based on limited and archaic data runs the risk of doing more harm than good, which is to say replicating ineffective and inappropriate policies imported from other parts of the world.

Guinea Bissau: Poor data and the rise of the ‘narco-state’ narrative

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In recent years, the media has applied the contentious term ‘narco-state’ to a number of West African countries, including Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, on account of the increased volumes of cocaine being trafficked through the region and the impact of this illicit activity on governance and security. The heightened prominence of West Africa in the trafficking of cocaine from South America to Western Europe follows from the strengthening of European interdiction efforts along the established cocaine routes in the Caribbean, which has led to a displacement of trafficking activity through the politically and economically fragile states of West Africa. However, as highlighted in a GDPO interview with Chief Inspector Daniel Carril, Attaché for Home Affairs in the Spanish Embassies in Bissau and Praia (Cape Verde) there is a paucity of data and empirical information on the volume of trafficking, with implications for the conclusions and recommendations that have been all too quickly drawn about the ‘threats’ facing West Africa, and the ‘narco state’ of Guinea Bissau in particular.

The interview began with Carril  outlining that there are only three Western European Embassies in Guinea Bissau: France, Portugal and Spain, with the Spanish Embassy only recently established in 2007. According to Carril Spain’s initial interest in the country was motivated by the significant increase in Sub-Saharan immigrants arriving on the Spanish coast during the so-called ‘cayucos crisis’ – cayucos referring to the small boats landing African migrants on the Canary Islands.

However, the attention given to this issue was quickly re-focused as a result of the increase in cocaine trafficking through Guinea Bissau. This alarmed Western governments in that it opened up new routes to West European drug markets, offsetting the ‘success’ of strengthened interdiction efforts in the Caribbean. The subsequent strengthening of radical Islamist movements in the wider sub region in turn produced a swift re-ordering of priorities. In Carril’s analysis: ‘’the concern about drug trafficking is more related to the financing of terrorism than with the problem of drug consumption in Western countries’. However, Carril continues that: ‘From my point of view, the international agencies do not have a big interest in understanding the problem in depth but at the same time they are interested in maintaining the high threat level in order to justify their presence and levels of funding’.

Information about the levels of drugs transiting West Africa remains scarce and existing material lacks reliability and consistency. Even the World Drug Report published annually by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) fails to give a comprehensive picture of the region (see, for example, sections focused on West Africa in the World Drug Reports for 2012 and 2013).  Acknowledging the paucity of data, the 2012 World Drug Report outlines that: ‘Considerable challenges also remain in the reporting of trend data on illicit drug use, production and trafficking. The main challenges continue to be the availability and reporting of data on different aspects of illicit drug demand and supply in Member States. The lack of data is particularly acute in Africa [emphasis added] and parts of Asia, where data on the prevalence of illicit drug use and trends remain vague at best.’ WDR 2012, Executive Summary pg. 3

Nevertheless, despite the lack of empirical quantitative or qualitative information, the 2013 World Drug Report forges a nexus between drugs, organised crime and state failure: The trends in new emerging routes for trafficking of drugs and in the production of illicit substances indicate that the continent of Africa is increasingly becoming vulnerable to the drug trade and organized crime, although data from the African region is scarce [emphasis added]. While this may further fuel political and economic instability in many countries in the region, it can also lead to an increase in the local availability and consumption of illicit substances. This, therefore, requires the international community to invest in evidence-informed interventions for the prevention of drug use, the treatment of drug dependence, the successful interdiction of illicit substances and the suppression of organized crime. The international community also needs to make the necessary resources available to monitor the drug situation in Africa.’ WDR 2013, Preface pg. iv

Carril noted that ‘most of the references to the levels of drug trafficking in Guinea-Bissau are speculative, not even estimates. None of the international agencies in the country seem to be conducting fieldwork. So I don’t really know where the data used by international bodies comes from.’

Carill is not alone in questioning the data and his analysis is in line with others such as the West African Commission on Drugs and also the UNODC itself, which support the call for better data gathering and analysis on illicit drugs in Western Africa. For example, one of the key objectives of the West African Commission on Drugs is to develop evidence-based policy recommendations, as set out by the Commission: In order to fully understand the scale and impact of trafficking and growing drug consumption, and to be able to make evidence based policy recommendations, the Commission will use available data and analysis, which will be compiled into a series of background papers to help shape the direction of the Commission’s work programme. New research work would only be initiated if gaps are clearly apparent in the currently available information.’

Unlike many journalists and international civil servants working in the region, Carril is reluctant to consider Guinea Bissau a ‘narco-state’: ‘Guinea-Bissau is not a ‘narco-state’ and drug trafficking is not the main problem in the country. What is happening in this country is not a consequence of drugs. The problems of poor governance and corruption occurred before drug trafficking organizations arrived, and will continue to happen in the future even if the level of drugs transiting through decrease or disappear’.

For Carril, labelling Guinea-Bissau a ‘narco-state’ deflects from serious scrutiny of the drivers of the country’s economic, political and security problems. Moreover the use of the term is highly politicised and discriminatory:  ‘If Guinea-Bissau is a ‘narco-state’, then Gambia, Senegal and Guinea (Conakry) could also be seen as ‘narco-states’ as well. Even Spain. I doubt very much that more drugs transit through Guinea-Bissau than Spain. This analysis seems to be self-interested’.

As Carril concludes:  ‘It’s easier to blame a little country for what is happening in the region while there is neither any solution on the table nor the courage to demand explanations from the more powerful states’.

This interview formed part of the research for GDPO’s forthcoming briefing ‘Telling the story of drugs in West Africa: The newest front in a losing war?’ that will be launched on 2nd December 2013 along with our new website.

 

Modernizing Drug Law Enforcement takes the stage at United Nations headquarters in New York

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Last week the topic of modernizing drug law enforcement took center stage at UN Headquarters when the Permanent Missions of Switzerland and the Czech Republic to the United Nations co-sponsored a program with International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), Harm Reduction Coalition, the International Security Research Department at Chatham House and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) entitled “Modernizing Drug Law Enforcement”. Featuring a distinguished international panel of scholars and law enforcement personnel including Professor David Bewley-Taylor (Director, Global Drug Policy Observatory (GDPO) at Swansea University, UK), Dr. Vanda Felbab-Brown (Brookings Institute, Washington D.C.) and Interim Chief of Police Jim Pugel (Seattle), the event aimed to promote debate around the current challenges to drug law enforcement, the concept of managing drug markets to minimize harm and the implications for future law enforcement strategies. The program was moderated by Heather Haase of IDPC and Harm Reduction Coalition and was well-attended by the UN community and civil society.

The first speaker was Professor David Bewley Taylor, who gave an overview of the Modernizing Drug Law Enforcement project and its key goals and objectives. Providing background for the project, he explained that for decades drug law enforcement has focused on reducing the size of the illicit drug markets by seeking to eradicate drug production, distribution and retail supply, but that these methods have failed in significantly decreasing supply and demand in consumer drug markets. As a result there is a need for an adjustment in drug law enforcement strategies: the new challenge is to manage drug markets policing strategy in a way that will minimize harm to communities.

Minimizing harm is particularly relevant in the case of drug-related violence. Discussing the relationship between violence and drug markets, Professor Bewley-Taylor explained how actions of law enforcement can affect – and even cause – drug drug-related violence. He noted the growing recognition that law enforcement powers can be used to constructively shape these markets and discussed several underlying concepts, especially focusing on the need to change indicators to “metrics that matter” – from metrics concerned with numbers of drug-related arrests, seizures, or hectares of crops eradicated to measures relating to public health and community well-being. He also discussed the need for selective targeting of law enforcement efforts on areas where the most impact on harms can be achieved, and concentrating law enforcement action on the basis of the level of harm caused by individuals in the market (rather than focusing on the easiest to catch).

Professor Bewley-Taylor then presented the core objectives of the program, supported by a series of publications as well as network development and seminars. He ended by expressing the hope that “we will move into the High Level Review in Vienna and the 2016 drugs UNGASS with a different view about policing drug law enforcement”.

Next, Dr. Vanda Felbab-Brown discussed her report “Focused deterrence, selective targeting, drug trafficking and organized crime: Concepts and practicalities” (as well as various concepts addressed in the other reports in the series), focusing on enforcement efforts in the context of global drug markets. Giving an overview of the ever changing global drug market, she noted that while each country is different and “one size does not fit all” in the context of law enforcement responses to each situation, there were some things that are generally true across the board. These included that we not only cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem but we also cannot “eradicate” our way out: eradication efforts have not had a lasting effect on markets due to the “balloon effect”. The drug markets pose very severe threats to states and societies – including violence – and therefore it is critical how these markets are managed. She discussed traditional law enforcement methods (exported from the US, particularly NY) such as zero tolerance and high-value targeting (going after heads of criminal organizations) that have been ineffective overall. She then suggested an alternative: while law enforcement has traditionally focused on suppression on the flow of drugs, it makes more sense to focus on suppressing the violence instead. Drug markets lend themselves to this prioritization because drugs are an infinitely renewable resource; thus it would be more effective to focus on the harms associated with the flows, rather than on the flows per se. Another method is to identify the greatest threat generated by a particular drug market and apply selective targeting and focused deterrence methods to signal to criminals that certain behaviors are less tolerated than others (e.g., trafficking will be punished, but violence will be punished far more). Also, middle-level targeting is more effective than high-value targeting, as it is really the middle layer that allows an organization to operate, while in many cases high-value targeting disrupts an organization leading to more violence but no change in conditions.

Finally, she suggested that the goal of law enforcement in connection with drug markets should be to shape behavior of criminals to pose the least threat to societies. She discussed certain aspects connected with this goal, including reducing, to the lowest level possible, the violence of criminals, their capacity to corrupt societies, and their interaction with society. She pointed out that these goals might be achieved not just through deploying law enforcement approaches but with other policies including socioeconomic approaches to dealing with criminality.

The last speaker was Interim Chief Jim Pugel, acting chief of the Seattle Police Department. Chief Pugel described a program that puts many these concepts into practice: the Law Enforcement Diversion Program, or “LEAD”, operating in Seattle. The LEAD program is a comprehensive initiative championed by government and non-government, multi-agency and community partnership to divert non-violent, low level drug dealers away from jail and toward a productive life while making residents feel safer and saving money.

First he discussed some of the challenges law enforcement faced in Seattle that gave rise to the program, including business and resident complaints of street level drug dealing in the downtown area, pressure to arrest low level drug dealers, many of whom were ‘subsistence’ sellers, and concerns of disproportionate impact of these arrests on racial minorities – as the result of which the police department and prosecutors were sued. In the end, they realized that the system was very expensive for everyone involved, and did not produce results. To come up with a better solution for the community, numerous stakeholders, including ACLU, public defenders, police, prosecutors, elected officials, local businesses and community, came together, and, over an 18-month period, met to define the issues and agree on moving forward. The result was the LEAD program.

Chief Pugel then discussed the program including eligibility for LEAD (involving factors such as amount of drugs sold or possessed, whether the person is amenable to diversion, and whether the person exploits others or has committed a violent crime) and how it works: at the point of arrest, the officer offers the choice of going to jail or going to see a case manager. The case manager from a service provider performs an initial assessment at the police station, and within a week a 3-hour assessment is done. The program tries to meet the person’s needs on a holistic basis whether that entails treatment, housing or other services. Any treatment is harm reduction based, and a person can be in the program indefinitely.

A brief audience Q&A session followed the panel speaker presentations in which the discussion circled back to examples of “metrics that matter” – metrics based on community health, such as HIV/AIDS rates, drug-related violence (particularly homicides), and the level of penetration of criminal groups into political processes were cited as examples. The point was made that the difficulty of measuring “smarter” metrics should not deter us from using them – and that there were many indices already available such as the Human Developments Index.

The following day, Professor Bewley-Taylor and Dr. Felbab-Brown, along with Virginia Comolli, Research Associate for Transnational Threats at IISS, presented a similar program to an audience of US officials, security experts, members of the drug policy reform community and embassy personnel at IISS-US in Washington, DC. During his stay in New York, Chief Pugel also made a presentation on the LEAD program to a group of state prosecutors, district attorneys, public health professionals and law enforcement personnel from all over New York State in a meeting held by Drug Policy Alliance and Open Society Foundations, at OSF’s offices in New York City.

The full audio of Modernizing Drug Law Enforcement at UN Headquarters is available here and a video of the IISS-US event can be viewed here.

By Heather Haase, IDPC New York consultant

This post was originally published on the IDPC website