African countries

a new index shows how

Awukye was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Ghana for possession of cannabis. The experience, he said, shattered his family’s dreams. Michael Anami, a Kenyan, recalled the “multiple arrests, beatings, incarceration and premature deaths” he had witnessed as a drug policy activist and former user.

These are just a few of the poignant stories we heard in the development of the recently launched Global Drug Policy Index, a way to compare countries’ drug policies. Stories like this suggest that drug policy too often ruins lives. But there are also inspiring individuals and communities who work to help people who use drugs. They provide drugs to fight overdoses, needle and syringe exchange programs to prevent the spread of blood-borne diseases, and drug control services to educate people about the strength and quality of drugs. that they might ingest.

It has long been clear that some countries have policies that undermine and violate human rights, while others have more rational, evidence-based and humane policies. But it was difficult to assess and compare them.

The Global Drug Policy Index aims to fill this gap. It is designed to provide rigorous, transparent and comparative evidence on the quality of national drug policies. It is a tool for holding governments accountable and ensuring that policies are grounded in health, human rights and development.

Measure, compare, guide

The United Nations Human Development Index, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index and Freedom House’s Global Freedom Index are just three examples of projects that measure and compare countries in complex policy areas. Such cues are useful because they crystallize state performance and offer clear indications of how to improve.

The Global Drug Policy Index was led by the Harm Reduction Consortium and developed by academics from the Global Drug Policy Observatory at Swansea University.

In the field of drug policy, academics often collaborate with policy makers, activists and drug users. For the 30 countries covered in this first version of the Global Drug Policy Index, we consulted extensively with organizations rooted in communities affected by drug policies. We also interviewed 371 people with “on the ground” knowledge of each state’s drug policy.

The index specifies 75 policy indicators. These are taken from a recent United Nations report on best practices in national drug policy.

Based on their performance on these indicators, states score from 0 to 100. One hundred would represent full implementation of recommended policies in five areas.

The first area is the lack of an extreme response, such as the death penalty and extrajudicial killings.

Second, the proportionality of the criminal justice response. It examines levels of violence, discrimination and human rights abuse in state drug policing.

Third is health and harm reduction. This focuses on the funding, availability and affordability of interventions that reduce the harms resulting from problematic drug use.

Access to controlled drugs is the fourth. It examines state provision of drugs for pain relief and palliative care.

Finally, there is development: programs designed to provide alternative livelihoods for people who cultivate illicit crops.

Drug policies in African countries

Even a quick glance at the Index results for African states reveals a sad truth: African states are among the worst performing in the world in terms of drug policy.

Uganda only scores 28 points in the overall index. The country has a perfect punitive and very violent drug law enforcement storm, combined with minimal availability of basic medical interventions to reduce the harm caused by drug use.

In Kenya, which scores only 32 points overall, access to harm reduction interventions is better, although still uneven. Our experts interviewed in Kenya described the frequent use of violence and torture by the police, as well as arbitrary arrests. They said drug law enforcement was particularly harsh on women, certain ethnic groups and the less wealthy. Such characteristics are common to all states that are poorly ranked in the Global Drug Policy Index.

In other African states assessed in the index (such as South Africa, Mozambique and Senegal), the picture was more mixed. There were areas of good practice, including less “extreme” responses to drug crimes like the death penalty. And there have been some promising developments in harm reduction. But access to essential medicines is very limited across the continent. And most states exert disproportionate force in implementing their drug policies.

These issues are not separate. Money spent on police, courts and prisons is money that could be spent on health care and harm reduction. Sadly, it appears that African states are still operating largely from an outdated and discredited “war on drugs” perspective. Even South Africa, the regional leader in decriminalization policy, has implemented it in a cautious and limited manner. Our expert respondents have collectively judged that South Africa’s decriminalization has so far been ineffective in reducing contact between people who use drugs and the criminal justice system.

We hope that the information in this index will help develop constructive debates that will lead to more humane and evidence-based policies in the region. To achieve this, states should reorient their approaches to focus on the health and human rights implications of drug use. The index provides a clear guide to the types of policies and actions that will lead them towards this goal.