In October, IDPC were one of several civil society participants at the Africa Union (AU) Sixth Conference for African Minsters for Drug Control (CAMDC6) – the biennial meeting of the region’s Ministers and civil servants responsible for drug control. At the last meeting in 2012, the AU member states agreed a balanced and progressive Plan of Action on Drug Control 2013-2017. This year, they reviewed progress against this Plan, as well as some overarching issues facing drug policies in Africa and the rest of the world – under the overall Conference theme of “Drugs Kill, but Bad Policies Kill More: Scaling up balanced and integrated responses towards drug control in Africa”.

The meeting was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and was attended by more than 30 African nations. Jamie Bridge from IDPC presented on the need for scaled-up harm reduction responses on the continent to build on the recent positive developments in Kenya, Tanzania, Senegal, among others. There were also high-profile presentations from the West Africa Commission on Drugs, Ambassador Luis Alfonso De Alba of Mexico, and the New York NGO Committee on Drugs (NYNGOC).

Representatives from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) also presented on prevention, drug treatment, harm reduction and drug trafficking – with Dr Gilberto Gerra calling for “a society free of drug abuse” and compared this ambitious target to that for an HIV-free world (with little acknowledgement of how the global pursuit of a drug free world has directly undermined the HIV response). Sadly, this counterproductive and outdated rhetoric has found its way into the Africa Union’s overarching strategy: Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want.

Following five days of discussions between experts and Ministers, the final CAMDC6 report again presented a considered and forward-looking assessment – which owes much to the proactive approach taken by the Africa Union Secretariat in coordinating these meetings. The report, for example, included the following agreed ‘decisions’: 

  • That member states take a balanced and coordinated, holistic and multi-sectoral approach to drug control, and rebalance their approach by appropriating more resources in public health and social development programmes.
  • That Africa develops a common position for the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) in 2016, and also engages with Latin American countries.
  • That member states strengthen and scale-up their drug services – including substitution therapy and the rest of the UN’s comprehensive (harm reduction) package.
  • That member states undertake policy and legal reforms – moving away from a sanction-oriented approach to a public health approach.

At the meeting itself, there was a lively discussion on the issue of depenalisation, decriminalisation and regulation of drugs – with a clear division between member states on these issues. Harm reduction, reassuringly, was not subjected to any such controversy – with several countries making positive statements on their national experiences.

Jamie Bridge, IDPC Senior Policy and Operations Manager

Keep up-to-date with drug policy developments by subscribing to the IDPC Monthly Alert