By Kgalema Motlanthe, Former President of South Africa; Olusegun Obasanjo, Former President of Nigeria / Global Commission on Drug Policy
When we were Presidents of Nigeria and South Africa – the largest economies on the continent – our Administrations dreamt of many things. One in particular was to create drug-free societies.
We were wrong.
We were wrong because we thought prohibition, repression, and prison would protect our children. We allowed harsh penalties for drug-related offenses, including the non-violent ones. We legitimised State forces when they arrested and punished many citizens, even when, in retrospect, that was excessive.
It didn’t work.
It didn’t work because the prohibition that global superpowers imposed to the world at the end of World War II was a continuation of their political concerns, and cultural preferences. It was not a rational and concrete strategy to cope with addiction.
Still today, alcohol and tobacco are sold, freely consumed and pushed by sophisticated marketing and few people challenge this although those substances are harmful to people’s health. The somewhat artificial distinction between those substances and illegal drugs (such as cannabis) led the world, and us as African leaders, to many mistakes.
Those young people that were thrown in prison, did we convince them to take a better path?
More often than not, the main thing they learnt in prison is the craft of crime!