Illicit drug use in Africa on the rise

By , Nairobi, Kenya

`WANT some ganja [marijuana]?'' a young man asked as my wife and I were visiting in The Gambia recently. ``No,'' I answered, and he walked away.

But in Africa, more and more people are saying ``yes'' to drugs. A recent report by the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board says use of certain drugs is on the rise. Abuse of cannabis, a drug made from the leaves and flowers of hemp plants, has reached endemic proportions and has become ``the most abused drug in Africa,'' the UN report says.

Illicit cultivation of poppies, used to make opium, is also growing in Kenya and Egypt, according to the UN. Africa is receiving illegal shipments of methaqualone, marketed as Quaaludes or Mandrax, from India, the UN says. The UN board has urged African nations to step up actions to control the illicit trade in drugs ``because they are major factors contributing to the worsening of the misery, violence, corruption, and instability in the region.''

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Meanwhile, South Africa appears to have a new drug problem.

The United States State Department has warned South African officials that since the lifting of trade sanctions, South Africa has been receiving increasing amounts of illicit drugs, including cocaine. The drugs are arriving on airlines, apparently en route to US and European markets, according to a report by the All Africa Press Service (APS).

US officials, says APS, have offered to help train South African drug control officials to combat this growing problem. In recent months, South African officials have made a number of major seizures of heroine and cocaine at the country's major airports.

In Nigeria, Brig. Gen. Musa Bamaiyi, who heads a six-member task force set up by the government's military regime to investigate charges of corruption in the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), has reportedly had some success.

US officials have privately long suspected NDLEA officials of being involved in payoffs. And they have blamed the NDLEA for not taking a tough enough stance against drug abuse in the country and against its shipment abroad, including to the US.

According to General Bamaiyi, there are now indications that some NDLEA officials have taken payoffs from suspects, according to West Africa magazine, published in London.

Eight NDLEA officials recently were discharged from their jobs by a Nigerian tribunal, following the disappearance of some heroin seized by the agency last December from a suspect. Six of the officials have filed suits challenging their detention and the competence of the Nigerian tribunal to try them.

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