Resistance to a ‘War on Drugs’ in West Africa

It has long been known that the most cost-effective way to combat the drug trade is through treatment, prevention, and education at home.  These methods continue to be underfunded in the the main consumer countries.  Instead, the focus is on supply, a policy choice that has, among many other disastrous implications, served to push routes around the globe in a cat and mouse war of attrition between cartels and law enforcement agencies.  In recent years, West Africa has experienced an uptick in interdictions of illicit drugs bound for Europe.  This has inevitably led to official discussion, mainly among foreign states and agencies, of the need to confront the trafficking problem through militarised, punitive, supply-focused means.  Civil society and observers of the drug war elsewhere have been arguing against such an approach.  GDPO itself has produced two reports on the region.  Last November a report discussed the strategic goals that underlie the agenda being pushed by foreign actors, and this month another policy brief highlighted the risks involved in a War on Drugs type approach to the region.  The Institute of Development Studies released a paper on West Africa this month, written by a technical advisor to GDPO.  The report is a critique of the calls for “building up increased regional law enforcement and interdiction capacities to curb illicit flows.”  In a similar vein, the West Africa Commission on Drugs, a group of experts headed by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, this month released a comprehensive assessment of the present situation in the region.  The group warn against the adoption of War on Drugs-style policies and reiterate a now common conclusion: “that criminalisation of drug use worsens health and social problems, puts huge pressures on the criminal justice system and incites corruption.”  Instead they recommend partial decriminalisation, and that drugs be treated as a public health concern.  Such high-level advocacy is an important step in saving West Africa from the drug policy related nightmares experienced elsewhere.

The Commission’s report is online here.