Accepted Paper:

Between the 'wellbeing of mankind' and the pursuit of project funding: UN agencies and the war on drugs in Africa  


Axel Klein (University of Swansea)

Paper Short Abstract:

UNODC is active in Africa, calling for action against cocaine trafficking and leading a campaign for the international control of tramadol; against advice of medical practitioners. Is the public good conflicting with organisational interest?

Paper long abstract:

Over the past 20 years the 'war on drugs' has expanded in Africa'. One of the most aggressive efforts at awareness raising was by UNODC in the West African cocaine trade to Europe. It placed an anti-colonial, north/south rhetoric at the service of an interventionist agenda.

In the process UNODC positioned itself as centre of expertise. African states created specialised agencies that became interlocutors and data providers; UNODC channelled training, equipment and jobs.

Dissatisfaction over unintended consequences and failure to address problems among African policy makers and CSOs now coincide with global revisions to the status of cannabis. But Africa is locked out of the cannabis economy.

Agencies like ECOWAS have become rivals for EU funded drug control projects, and donors are deprioritizing drugs.

The agency's response was opening a new front, advocating the scheduling of prescription medicines, which are 'abused' in West Africa.

But prescription medicines are championed by African medical professionals, increasingly frustrated by the inability to access analgesic medication because of the drug control system which UNODC is at the apex of. While the incidence of non communicable diseases is rising fast, opiate based pain management medication is unavailable across the continent.

UNODC is at risk of being drastically re-defined. Once an ally in the fight against criminal disruption it is now an obstacle to economic development and humane patient care. The challenge for the agency now lies in managing reputational risk, maintaining its claim of being a voice for Africa, without offending the donor community.

Panel M1
Opening up the drug policy debate: grassroots perspectives