President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf says young people in Liberia are victims of drugs trafficking, but complains that getting the real culprits is the problem the country is faced with due to civilians’ inability to determine what is contained in traffickers’ bags.
Meeting with delegates of the West African Commission on Drugs or WACD Wednesday, 29 February, President Sirleaf said traffickers take risk to cross porous borders because drugs make money for them … and the “civilians” here “may not be as effective to determine what’s in their bags when they come through.”
Mrs. Sirleaf noted that the problem is indeed serious, as so many of the young people here are uneducated and unemployed and are really vulnerable. She observes that they just looking for opportunity to find a job to feed their family which government is trying to respond to; but said the numbers are much larger for government’s capacity.
President Sirleaf told the delegates that due to the young people’s vulnerabilities, people are able to coerce them to give them drugs, which relieves them temporarily off their problems and the fact that they are lacking.
“We want to go after the traffickers; and I’m glad you mentioned that because they are the real culprits, not the young people. The young people are the victims,” she pointed out. Speaking earlier, WACD commissioner Madam Mary Chinery Hesse said her institution is trying to sensitize governments to see how to get rid of the menace, having suggested the need to shift away from jailing casual drugs users to sending them to hospital instead.
She argued that other countries, especially in Latin America have been tackling the problem in a manner that has not made a lot of difference because it’s being basically using the criminal justice system that has not worked.
“It has not worked and everybody now recognizes that a punitive approach might need to be modified,” she told President Sirleaf, adding that what WACD sought to do was to look at the fact that West Africa was no longer just a transit spot, but that the people here were tending to use drugs more and more, affecting the population.
“And the current method of trying to arrest and so on was just driving the problem underground. We have discovered that maybe it should be treated more like a public health issue where when you arrest somebody, who is a casual user of drugs, you will send them to the hospital and not to the prison,” she suggested.
She recommended that in order to go after traffickers, governments should take their money away by “maybe decriminalizing” so that they don’t make so much money. “Whilst it’s a black market, I think that’s where the money is,” said Madam Hesse, suggesting a very holistic approach in the fight.
By Winston W. Parley-Edited by Jonathan Browne