African viewpoint: Highs and lows
In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Zimbabwean filmmaker and columnist Farai Sevenzo considers Africa's drug addiction.
We hear too often that the African continent is the last frontier for business, the great undiscovered cauldron of talent and opportunity.
End Quote Antonio Maria Costas UNODC
The developing world faces a looming crisis that would enslave millions to the misery of drug dependence”
The emerging economies - China, Brazil, India - are all charming us to death.
Our limitless resources are the talk of the industrial world; mobile phone companies are networking every remote village to their grids; our health professionals are in demand far and wide.
But the phrase "drug-trafficking" has been shooting its way to the top of the list of African headlines, with no real follow up or understanding of what this new devil in our midst means.
Increasingly, in any given year on any day or month, an African is caught somewhere on the planet smuggling drugs.
Gone are the days when a hit of marijuana was the height of delinquency, now the world is awash with new mind-altering drugs which erase a man or a woman's sense of purpose, kills their ambition and replaces all moral nuances with deep delusions and reckless selfishness - and that's just the addicts.
For the traffickers, the promise of quick cash returns on a continent synonymous with want and poverty is just too tempting.
A Namibian woman was sentenced to five years by a Lusaka court just the other day for swallowing pellets of cocaine and inserting yet more in her body and the Zambian Drug Enforcement Commission says there were more than 370 arrests of women traffickers at Lusaka airport in 2009 but that figure is likely to be eclipsed in 2010.
In the Far East - Singapore, Malaysia, China - Africans are facing firing squads and hanging for a few hundred grams of hard drugs found on their person. And while the Zambian authorities fight to have their citizens extradited so they can spend their life in regret and prison, it is a certainty that many Africans are ending their days alone, miles from home, and at the end of a rope in their pursuit of getting rich quick or dying trying.
Nigeria's National Drug Law Enforcement Agency says the nation is being flooded with drugs coming through her sea ports, citing a container that had come from China laced with hard narcotics for sale on Nigeria's streets.
And then the traffic goes the other way. Several air hostesses from South Africa's national airline have been nabbed at Heathrow.
The Gambian authorities displayed more than two tonnes of cocaine seized in Banjul earlier in the year en route to Europe, and arrested several individuals mainly of South American origin, after the discovery of a haul worth more than $1bn (£640m) on the streets of Western capitals.Cracking a habit
Even as Guinea-Bissau's President Malam Bacai Sanha pleads with the world that "we are not animals, but human beings who know what they want…" a short history of coups, presidential assassinations, a reputation as a narco-state and the filtering down of new hard drugs to an under-developed population on Bissau's streets all say he protests too much.
I explored the city with a former crack addict who had just celebrated being clean of his addiction for two years”
The scourge of drugs has arrived and it is difficult to see how, with his country's resources, he intends to stem it. Mr Sanha has requested 600 troops to help keep the peace from current Ecowas chairman and Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, but surely he will need more than that?
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime periodically dispatch their spokesmen to warn us of the biggest threat to African societies in the 21st Century, and its Executive Chairman, Antonio Maria Costas, will sometimes leave his Geneva headquarters to be photographed with the latest haul of drugs in Liberia or Senegal.
In his 2010 Drugs Report he warned of a far more insidious war lurking in the shadows - the threat of drug addiction itself increasing to levels we have not seen before.
"The developing world faces a looming crisis that would enslave millions to the misery of drug dependence," he said, and claimed there is a serious lack of drug treatment facilities around the world, where the rich can afford to be weaned off their dependency whereas the poor cannot.
And so in Johannesburg the other week as I explored the city with a former crack addict who had just celebrated being clean of his addiction for two years, I visited an addiction centre with my host and marvelled at its pristine cleanliness.
The walls were adorned with brass plaques featuring the names of clinical psychologists, behavioural scientists, doctors - and the 40 young men and women sitting in a circle talking of their fight with drugs had paid 55,000 rand per person (about $7,500, £5,000) for the privilege of two weeks of detoxification and soul searching.
And should such rehab centres sprout in Bissau or Freetown or Monrovia, as they have in Johannesburg, who could afford them?
My host drove me around the streets of Hillbrow and pointed to former crack dens where young men like himself often left their passports, their shoes, their car keys, so desperate were they for another hit on a crack pipe.
Will it be enough for them to utter sanctimoniously that these new drugs are "un-African" as they do with homosexuality and women in trousers?”
Once, in Zanzibar, young men hooked on heroin told me they would gladly follow anyone who could take them away from their habit, even al-Qaeda, and that seemed an ominous admission.
In Cape Town, a mother strangled her own son because his dependency on methamphetamine, known in South Africa as "tik", threatened to end her own life.
And so a generation of presidents, whose biggest fear was once that their young people would follow too closely the likes of Bob Marley singing "I need kaya [marijuana] now", must surely see far more serious problems as Namibian women are jailed, Nigerians are hanged in Singapore and the whole 50-year-old fabric of our independence is faced with an illness of the mind never seen by generations of our forefathers.
And being so schooled on missionary sentiment, what will they make of the 21st Century kids desperate to join a popular culture that includes synthetic drugs?
Will it be enough for them to utter sanctimoniously that these new drugs are "un-African" as they do with homosexuality and women in trousers?No risk, no rewards?
Then again, it could all be about commerce - supply and demand.
It is as if there is a no-man's land of moral ambiguity in which risk is everything - no risk, no rewards.
Business, as Africa has learned the hard way over many centuries, is an entity of shifting morality.
When the West wanted slaves, we delivered and sold our own kith and kin.
When they wanted gold, we perished in the bowels of the earth and enriched them not us.
When they wanted diamonds, wars raged and models were given dirty pebbles and not much came our way.
And now, reasons the drug-trafficker, they want drugs - so why can't we make a profit?
The trafficker sees a gap in the market, and heads to the source of the narcotics to supply the demand.
The governments, knowing how easily assistance will flow from Washington, will display the odd tonne as a show of commitment in the war against drugs and let another couple of tonnes through so everyone can get paid.
The rehab centres, seeing the rising human fall-out of addiction, will set up more and more centres to serve a need and turn a profit.
Meanwhile, it is the poor addicts in the African streets, their minds unhinged, who may well kill for their next fix in a neighbourhood near you.