Why Are African Leaders Calling for Drug Policy Reform? High-level Roundtable

February 9, 2022

The Policy Center for the New South, the Global Commission on Drug Policy and the West Africa Commission on Drugs are pleased to organize a high-level debate under the theme “Why Are African Leaders Calling for Drug Policy Reform” on Wednesday, February 9th 2022, starting 3:00 pm GMT+1. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the declaration of the “war on drugs” by President Richard Nixon. Since then, law-enforcement responses are primarily used to counter the production, trafficking and consumption of illegal drugs. The international control regime based on the prohibition paradigm, and grounded in the three international drug conventions (1961, 1971 and 1988), consolidated national and regional fights against illegal drugs and supported the focus on drug elimination in national laws. In parallel, and while the regime focused on its main objective and countries implemented international agreements, the “unintended consequences” –as they are referred to by the UN since 2008– of this same regime became more dire, to the point of slowing other global development objectives. Public health efforts have been destabilised by current drug policies. For people who inject drugs’ (PWID), access to services has been impeded by the criminalisation of their behaviour. As a result, today, 17.8% of PWID live with HIV, 52.3% are infected with hepatitis C, and the prevalence of tuberculosis among this population is 9.1%. Another unintended consequence is that access to controlled essential medicines, including morphine for pain relief, is inadequate for 80% of the world’s population, affecting mainly low- and middle-income countries (the New South). Drawing on the poorest populations for its workforce, the illegal drugs market creates enormous profits to criminal organizations, with an estimated annual turnover between USD 426 and 652 billion. The high market value of this illegal market and its attractiveness to people with few economic opportunities then feeds mass incarceration, with one in five of the eleven million prisoners worldwide incarcerated for a drug offense. The result is a complex situation that undermines, in turn, the achievement of just and fair societies as part of sustainable development. Other issues include the inadequate collection of data directly related to the international drug control regime. In 2018, 269 million people were estimated to use drugs globally. Yet that figure represents only people who were arrested or sought treatment. It is therefore not currently possible to have disaggregated and effective data on problematic drug use. The use and conditions referred to as ‘problematic’ have the potential to undercut health, social integration, economic prosperity, and all other development indicators. Within that perspective, this event will serve as a platform for experts to discuss common approaches to drug policies, appreciate current policies’ interactions with the rule of law, health, and the fight against organized crime, and to discuss pathways to address contemporary and emerging challenges related to drugs. The objectives of this high-level debate are three-fold: - To discuss drug policy in the New South and in Africa, and attract attention to its cross-cutting economic, social, and cultural challenges; and to reenergize the debate on drug policy control as the policies on the ground are taking diverging directions; - To facilitate the exchange of experiences, lessons learned, and good practices between countries that have been reforming their policies in the last decade; - To provide a space where emerging solutions for the next decade are discussed and defined by experts and global leaders.

Mohammed Loulichki
Senior Fellow
Mohammed Loulichki is a Senior Fellow at the Policy Center for the New South and an Affiliate Professor at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University. He brings over 40 years of comprehensive experience in diplomacy, conflict resolution, and human rights. He has served in various roles including as a member and Deputy Head of the Moroccan delegation to the 3rd Conference on the Law of the Sea (1982-1990), Head of the Department of Legal Affairs and Treaties at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1988-1991), and General Director for Multilateral Affairs in the same ministry (2003-2006).   He also acted as Morocco's Ambassador to Hungary, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Croatia (1995-1999), and was the Moroccan Government's Ambassador Coordinator with MINURSO (1999-2001). Furthermore, he served ...
Mary Chinery-Hesse
Member, West Africa Commission on Drugs
Dr. Mary Chinery-Hesse, a retired International Civil Servant worked at the United Nations as Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, serving in several countries. She was the first African woman to be appointed to that position. She was then appointed as the first woman Deputy Director-General of the International Labour Organization, with the rank of Under Secretary-General of the United Nations. She also served as the Chief Advisor to the President of the Republic of Ghana. She currently serves on the Five-Member African Union Panel Of The Wise. She is a Commissioner of the West African Commission on Drugs (WACD). ...
Mohamed ElBaradei
Former Director General Emeritus of the International Atomic Energy Agency; Nobel Peace Prize Laureate; Former Vice President of Egypt
Mr Mohamed ElBaradei was Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from December 1997 until November 2009. In October 2005, Mr. ElBaradei and the IAEA were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for their efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible way."  Mr. ElBaradei He was an IAEA staff member from 1984, holding a number of high-level policy positions, including that of Legal Adviser and subsequently Assistant Director General for External Relations. In 1980, he joined the United Nations and became a senior fellow in charge of the International Law Programme at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research. From 1981 to 1987, ...
Kgalema Motlanthe
Former President of South Africa
Kgalema Motlanthe is a South African politician who served as deputy president of South Africa (2009–14). He previously served as president of the country (2008–09) and also served as deputy president of the country’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC; 2007–12). Motlanthe was politically active from an early age. He worked for the Johannesburg city council when he was in his early 20s, and it was there that he was recruited into Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation”), the militant wing of the ANC. In 1976 he was jailed for 11 months for furthering the aims of the ANC, and he was found guilty of terrorism the following year. He was sentenced to a term of 10 years at Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela had been incarcerated since 1964. Upon his rel ...
Khalid Tinasti
Director of the Global Commission on Drug Policy; Fellow at the GSI at the University of Geneva


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