The former presidents of South Africa and Nigeria have released an op-ed calling for a rethinking of anti-drug policies imposed by global superpowers.
Rabat – Two former African presidents have said their anti-drugs policies led to untold suffering and oppression and call for a decolonization of drug policies.
“We were wrong,” stated former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe and former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in a momentous statement in the Africa Report.
Opinions on drug policies are seeing a radical shift in recent times. Several Western, South American, and Middle Eastern countries have legalized cannabis. Africa is no exception.
The outdated approach of punishing drug users is “prohibition that global superpowers imposed to the world,” the former leaders stated.
‘We need to wake up’
The two leaders went through a long list of victims of drug prohibition, revealing the extent to which drug laws hurt African people far more than drugs ever could.
“It was not a rational and concrete strategy to cope with addiction,” the former presidents wrote. “As of today, we can honestly say that we regret not having questioned the certainties around drug control.”
The approach of punishing drug users led to many deaths as treatment was not available, according to the statement.
“They were our relatives. They were our children,” the former leaders stated. “Our societies invested much of our scarce money and energy in repressive responses – in pursuit of the illusion of drug-free societies.”
“We need to wake up, and abandon this illusion.”
Motlanthe and Obasanjo directly linked African drug laws with the Western nations and colonial powers that invented the failed approach that has not stopped drug use in any way.
“Fifty years of anti-drug propaganda impedes debates, but all the ‘war on drugs’ has achieved nothing but severely overcrowded prisons, boosted HIV transmission, and extrajudicial killings, at a horrific human and financial cost,” they stated.
“African politicians and communities are struggling to get out of the rigid thinking imposed by the international drug control system,” they wrote.
The two leaders presented anti-drug laws as intrinsically invented by Western nations, but enforced by their former colonies at a great cost. The war on drugs is not about helping African people, it is “much about using force against people.”
The remarkable statement by the two former Presidents comes at a time of incredible change in African perceptions on drugs. Several African countries have already taken brave and innovative approaches to limit the harm of drug laws. Drug users are benefitting from harm reduction treatment in pioneering countries like Nigeria, Senegal, Kenya, Tanzania, Mauritius, and Morocco.
Because of rigid power structures and outdated thinking among elites in Europe and the US, it is feasible that Africa could become a global leader in a new trillion-dollar industry.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) or the African Union could provide a watershed moment by establishing a common position on cannabis. This could catapult African nations into pioneers in a new global market while “protecting our people and our children,” as the two former presidents said.