The African Union (AU) has begun integrating traditional leaders in drug dependency prevention treatment and care to widen community interventions in the wake of a growing burden of substance use.
Minata Samate Cessouma, African Union Commissioner for Health, Humanitarian Affairs, and Social Development, said it was important to explore indigenous and inclusive ways to brace communities at risk to strengthen protective factors and reduce risk factors for drug use.
“It would also offer mental health support and galvanise young people with resilience to withstand the tide of drug initiation and use.
“What we seek is a collaboration of our Chiefs, not consultation,” Amb. Cessouma stated at a two-day meeting convened by the AU Commission in Ekurhuleni, South Africa for traditional leaders.
The meeting culminated in the formation of a Chiefs’ National Network of Champions for drug demand reduction – the first on the continent.
Organised jointly with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and South Africa’s Department of Justice and Correctional Services, the meeting at affirming the role of traditional leaders as first-line responders in addressing the challenge of drugs at the community level.
A copy of the communique available to the Ghana News Agency in Tema said Amb. Cessouma was represented by Ms. Angela Martins, Acting Director for Social Development, Culture, and Sport, AU Commission.
Amb. Cessouma observed that traditional leadership institution had remained a custodian of culture, customs, origin, and history in many parts of Africa.
She said: “It’s high time we integrate them in drug demand reduction interventions on the continent,” and noted that African countries were been experiencing an upsurge in public health problems as a result of increased availability and use of psychoactive substances trafficked into the continent and produced locally.
This comes against the background of damning statistics from the AU’s continental drug surveillance sentinel – the Pan African Epidemiology Network of Drug Use – which captures the number and characteristics of people who use drugs and sought drug treatment/rehabilitation services on the continent.
Mr. Nkosi Phathekile Holomisa, South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Justice and Correctional Services and a traditional chief said communities in rural areas were no longer insulated against social ills that affected urban areas.
He said the exposure to drug trafficking and use was worsened by increased internet connectivity, high unemployment, and climate change dynamics.
“There are difficulties in controlling the problem, but because our people continue to listen to traditional leaders it is necessary to engage traditional leaders to address substance drug abuse.
“We are here to confirm our commitment as traditional leaders that we are part and parcel of the solution to this scourge,” he said.
Kgosi Thabo Seatlholo, Chairperson on National House of Traditional and Khoisan Leaders in South Africa said, “so we have agreed to be champions. We will be the first ones to go to our communities to say here is the problem we have not been addressing.
“But we need training to scientifically understand various aspects of drug addiction and intervention tools available.”
Dr Jane Marie Ong’olo, UNODC Regional Representative for Southern Africa, said it was imperative to bring everyone on board as drug use was a common and shared responsibility.
“In South Africa, many people access services from the Community leaders, so it’s important to begin to have a discussion with traditional leadership as the first line of intervention for people experiencing challenges with drug use,” Dr Ong’olo stated.
Mr. Bill McGlynn, Senior Adviser, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, US State Department, said, “the US appreciates being part of this important effort to strengthen drug demand reduction and looks forward to cooperating with them, the AU and UNODC and other partners”.
16 Nov. 2022
Caption: Picture attached