CONGO: Conflict leaves legacy of widespread addiction

Monday, November 19, 2007

Many of the atrocities committed during the armed conflicts that have plagued the Republic of Congo in recent years were fuelled by illicit narcotics. Warlords and militia leaders gave drugs to young fighters to eliminate fear and scruple. Now, although the civil war is officially over, the scourge of drug addition lingers on, hampering recovery and development.

One regular cocaine user is 20-year-old Junior "The Colonel" Mbio. He was first given drugs by the leader of an armed group when full-scale civil war broke out in 1997.

"He always told me we had to take more so we would be ready to fearlessly attack the enemy at any time. And we took them happily, above all because we didn’t have to buy them like today and always had something to eat after," the former fighter told IRIN in the family’s Brazzaville home.

Junior’s father is distraught by his son’s addiction.

"It’s a waste because he used to go to school and was intelligent. Today, I’m left with a good-for-nothing who has abandoned his studies and now just makes problems for others, attacking and stealing from them because he doesn’t have the money to buy his drugs."

Another father, who gave his name only as Mambenga, is equally upset at his two sons’ consumption of cocaine and marijuana (known locally as "diamba").

"I am deeply hurt because two of my sons who should have helped me at home behave like wild animals. When all they do is consume I-don’t-know-what with their friends, I have nothing to say. When I take them to task, they threaten to kill me and accuse me of sorcery," complained Mambenga.

"When they haven’t eaten, they disturb everyone, me and the tenants. Soon I won’t have any tenants left and then I don’t know what I’ll do," he added.

"He forgets that it was he who made me stop studying, by casting a spell on me. He should provide for my daily needs," retorted one of the sons, named Luck. "Otherwise I’ll have to sell this plot of land one day for the money."

Luck and Junior are among thousands of young Congolese drug addicts, who include school dropouts, street children, musicians, soldiers, even civil officials. In the capital and elsewhere in the country, they are easily identifiable by their dirty clothes and sickly pallour.

In the Brazzaville districts of Poto-Poto, Ouenze, Moungali and Bacongo, the problem has magnified over time. Street-corner dealers openly sell small wraps of cocaine and heroin for between 500 and 1000 FCFA (US$1-2). Marijuana sells for 200 FCFA per packet.

Little is done to stem the trade. Just a few NGOs are working to warn people of the dangers of drug abuse. The only place addicts receive treatment is a psychiatric hospital in the capital, which handles only the most extreme cases.

Aside from marijuana, which is grown in the southern region of Pool, most of the drugs in Congo are imported, or skimmed off shipments destined for other markets. Thanks to poor training, inadequate equipment and lax controls entry points, Congo has become a transit hub in the international narcotics trade.

"Large amounts of cocaine reach our country. It comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Cameroon and Chad. We have no reliable equipment to stop this trafficking, particularly not at our ports or airports," one customs officer, who asked not to be named, told IRIN.

"It seems the authorities are not really interested, whatever their public pronouncements," complained one police colonel.

For one activist, the problem of narcotics use is linked to development.

"The government should make the fight against poverty a reality because as long as peasants cannot sell their produce, such as cocoa and coffee, they will keep on growing marijuana," warned Loamba Moke, president of the Human and Prison System Rights Association.

"As for the young unemployed, they will turn to dealing if there are no jobs," he added.
There are also concerns about the impunity allegedly enjoyed by some of those involved in the drugs business.

"It’s a real shame that people caught red-handed are often released by the courts on orders from on-high afterwards," complained one police officer, who wished to remain anonymous.

"Each time that a trafficker is arrested, some important administrator or official intervenes to free them just a couple of hours later. Under these conditions how can we work effectively?"

Congo is a signatory of international agreements countering drug use, notably the 1961 convention on narcotics, the 1971 convention on psychotropic drugs and the 1988 convention against the trafficking of illegal drugs.

Source: IRIN
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