A Press Release from the Liberia Chapter of the West Africa Drug Policy Network (WADP)

The Liberia Chapter of the West Africa Drug Policy Network (WADPN) is saddened by the action of the government of Liberia to raid ghettos without considering the consequences of the action. The Network describes the action as a warlike approach to the drug problem in Liberia despite global calls on governments to change the old approach to the world’s drug problem.

The Network does not believe that government adequately counted the cost of the action, realizing the resettlement of ghetto occupants, violent action of state security in carrying out raids, rehabilitation of the thousands of drug users, risk in absorbing ghetto residents within communities as well as the political intolerance in solving a problem that some members of the Sirleaf led government has directly or indirectly created. We are of the ardent belief that government has made a useful but time-wise wrong choice in as much as following considerations did not precede the action.

Resettlement of ghetto occupants: On Wednesday, March 16, the government through the Ministry of Health invited partners including civil society actors to an emergency meeting aimed at finding possible resettlement space for occupants of ghettos. The Ministry officials said government has made a decision to raid ghettos and there was a need for civil society organizations and or development partners to provide space for resettlement of ghetto dwellers. Realizing the implications of the decision, civil society organizations advised that the action was not timely in as much as government did not put any resettlement mechanism in place. Additionally, government felt short over the years to empower or create enabling environment for empowerment of local institutions in the area of addressing drug use and dependent disorders.  Government representatives at the meeting hammered the opinion of government that the decision was made and there was nothing to change it.

Violent Action of State Security in Carrying out Raid: State security actors perceive raid as an official order from government to exercise brutal and uncivil action against citizens (no matter what caliber of citizens). As far as the drug problem in Liberia is concerned, raid is an old mitigation approach, which has created more unresolved issues. Some of the issues range from forceful seizure of money and non-drug items that had never been accounted for.  Failure of the part of state security to account for proceeds of raids is a semblance of drug related corruption. More besides, there are startling reports indicating security agents aiding drug traffickers, thereby ignoring their arrest. This is due to corruption issues related to drug money. Raid is an expensive security operation, which is part of the “war against drugs” – an approach to the world drug problem that has dismally failed to solve the problem. At no time has ghetto raid in Liberia led to arrest of international traffickers or people within their syndicates due to connections with people in government especially state security. Long term drug problem and the old failed approach of raiding ghettos continue to create indelible scars and burden on the government and people of Liberia, with raid creating more problems than the country can solve.

Rehabilitation of Thousands of Drug Users Living in Ghettos: There is no rehabilitation program for people suffering from controlled drug and substance disorders. We missed out as a nation and people when the United Nations afforded us the opportunity of disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and resettlement of former fighters – a process on which millions of donor fund was spent. We are all aware that controlled drugs and substances were part of the ‘arms and ammunitions used to fight our civil wars’. It is not strange to any of us in Liberia that young people were conscripted into fighting forces and drugged to fight wars. We negated addressing the drug habit of former fighters during the DDRR program; a choice that haunts us today with rising youth debut in drug use culminating from peer pressure, organic solidarity and differential association.

Risk of Absorbing Ghetto Dwellers in Communities: Discarding ghettos without temporary shelter or congenial residence for occupants is a direct communication for them to return to the communities. There are several risk factors association with this return some of which can be listed as follows:

  1. Other young people who secretly admire them will have easy access to associate with them (differential association) thereby introducing new group of youths into their habit.
  2. Some ghetto dwellers returning in the communities have relatives who they will live with. In as much as their habit remain with them, some of their relatives will ultimately share their pains, habit, joy or whatsoever (organic solidarity). This leads to deeper family problems in the communities.
  3. Our communities are already porous in the sense that drugged soup is served at most parties in the communities. The ghetto returnees will now add new flavor (example bone dust of long time dead people, etc.).

Liberia’s drug problem has long term political, social and economic intricacies and does not therefore deserve quick-fixed solution. Preliminary findings from current baseline survey being conducted by a member agency of the Network (Foundation Against Illicit Drugs and Child Abuse) suggests that 69% of people living in the ghettos are between the ages 25 – 39 years. A cross section of this population were actually conscripted and drugged to fight wars sponsored and led by some members of the current government.

Government insiders have intimated to us that President Sirleaf promised the West Africa Commission on Drugs (WACD) delegation visiting Liberia in late February that she would have taken action in response to the drug issue in the country prior to the end of her term of office. Our sources maintained that this pledge of the president was in response to the issue of creating policy framework aimed at supporting harm reduction, human rights and public health in dealing with drugs. We are not sure if the raid is part of the President’s promised intervention; as this approach is a complete contradiction of the West Africa common position towards the United Nations General Assembly (UNGASS) Special Session on the World Drug Problem taking place from April 18 – 22, 2016 in New York.

In view of the intricacies of the situation, we are of the opinion that the following recommendations will be useful in amicably addressing the problem:

Government should target drug related corruption within the security apparatus. This will encourage equal treatment of people with drug related crime. Clamp down on drug related corruption involving security topnotch and other officials of government will reduce drug flow within communities.

Raiding ghettos without resettlement and rehabilitation plan is a lip service to addressing the drug problem in Liberia. Ghetto raid has a history of one ghetto being replaced with at least five new ghettos. Occupants of raided ghettos seek settlement in new communities and forge new alliances. But should there be a government or institutionalized facilities for keeping and controlling the activities of drug users, incidence of new ghettos and rising youth debut into drug use could be minimized. Senegal is an example of countries in West Africa with this kind of model; and it is call harm reduction program. The government should consider identification of a suitable place to relocate these Ghetto occupants with a rehabilitation plan that will include the treatment centers, recreational and skill training programs for at least 3-5 years.

There is no contact details of people dislodged from the ghettos. Tracing them within communities in case of any eventuality becomes very difficult. There is a need to conduct mapping of ghettos in the country. Additionally, communities did not receive any form of advice from government as a way of reuniting ghetto dwellers with their families, friends and relatives. In the absence of such community awareness threats, anger, reprisal, rejection and violence can be hardly avoided.

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