Side event: Rethinking drug policy from a peace building perspective

Organised by International Alert

Kim Toogood. Peace building can contribute to the issue of drug policy in particular contexts. We will focus here on Afghanistan and Nigeria. In many cases, we talk about violence linked to trafficking or crime. Here, we’ll discuss structural or cultural violence. If one’s livelihood is criminalised, then the people themselves are criminalised. We want to contribute some analysis and nuance on the issue. Peace builders come from a dynamic area of work and angle, and can facilitate synergy.

When we talk about peace, we often focus on what doesn’t work. Peace builders usually focus on what does work. We also promote inclusive dialogue, focusing on specific actors and partners. We bring everybody to the table. We try to enhance and widen the scope of this inclusive dialogue. The last area we’ll discuss is civil activism and empowerment. Some unlikely actors can be involved in this, not just governments. We’ll discuss this through the examples of Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Rabia Nusrat. I will focus here on Afghanistan. A few attempts at peace building were made but none of them were really successful. What was missed out was understanding the rural and urban setting differences, and also the differences in regional contexts. Going beyond rural areas, there were specific issues related to the border area. The gendered dynamics were also often overlooked. The different levels of land ownership were also very important as a factor for peacebuilding, in a historical and cultural context. Understanding access to markets and legal opportunities is also critical.

Moving on to how the dialogue can be initiated, we need to widen the levels of dialogue to connect all the levels. Ministries were not all engaged, and there was no collaboration with local level officials. New voices also had to be brought in – especially from the local communities. This could be used as a way to design solutions. We also realised that we could not bring everybody to the table at the same time. We also tried to work more in Afghanistan to bring in different actors to the table, including those engaging in dangerous activities. Finally, we involved the private sector to the conversation. Media was also an important actor. To do so, we had to find incentives to bring them to the table.

Kim Toogood. To contrast with the Afghan situation, I will now discuss Nigeria using the same framework. At the moment, Nigeria’s drug trade is well developed but it is thankfully disconnected from the violent conflict in the country. However, there is a more worrying dynamic now of people involved in the drug trade being able to pay for violent actors to intervene. In our research, we looked at these different dynamics. We found that conflict analysis is already being done by a number of different actors. The challenge is that this tends to be done from the top through a law enforcement and security approach. Or it is happening at the grassroots level, focusing on health and the user side of things. In one case, the Ministry of Health is driving the rehabilitation of users, and at the state level the government focuses on law enforcement. We are missing civil society engagement at the middle, and we’re missing the vertical – from the grassroots upwards and back down. The inclusion of multiple actors is not connected. In addition, at state level, the state focuses on law enforcement towards the low fish, and leads to the stigmatisation of all those involved. This stigmatisation then become reinforcing. The reintegration part of people who have been caught is then very difficult. If we widen the dialogue we will find more entry points. Most individuals on the user side were siting economic deprivation, as well as a social identity marker, to explain their involvement in the drug trade.

In terms of dialogue, it is extremely difficult for these tight conflict/security issues. We’re working with civil society actors. We also find that in a context of criminalisation, there are more people willing to engage in the dialogue. Right now, it’s driven by the state agenda. We also believe that the dialogue can be transformative – many people just want to be heard.

Lastly, on civic activism – once people are gathered, people need to know in which direction they’re going. In Nigeria’s case, the state centric driving force prevents civil society from engaging in some of the issues. Unless the dialogue is focused on health, there are serious limitations, especially in terms of policy.

Q&A

Question: How to ensure meaningful alternatives to engagement in the illicit drug trade, especially for youth?

Kim: We’re focusing on promoting alternative livelihoods and this is difficult. Because some people are a certain ethnicity in Nigeria, they are drawn to specific jobs, some related to drugs. If national governments can look for a multisectoral approach, creating alternative opportunities for people in a holistic way, looking into what the markets need, then it will work. Getting the analysis right requires engaging with the individuals themselves and that’s where the real disconnect is. We need to have a look at what’s working – not just what’s not working. And focus on who’s involved and where, not just those who are not employed.

Question: How do you involve violent actors?

Rabia: Everyone is talking to those actors, even if they will not formally report it. Violent actors are also part of the community. So if you’re an NGO working with the local population, you’ll already work with them. It’s not that we’re not talking to these people, it’s that we are not reporting about it. We must be a bit broader in our way of thinking as peace builders. When INGOs go to the ground, they won’t go to any location that is safe, and then everyone will end up working there because of how the funding is being ruled out. In the Philippines, we had the same issue and we used some innovative approaches on how this could be done – this requires flexibility from the donor side and from others involved. We must be pragmatic and realistic.

Question: How do you work on stigma reduction from the ground up?

Kim: We’ve been working a lot on this for women and girls victims of sexual violence, reaching out to the media and to religious and community leaders to reduce stigma. We try to engage with all those sectors, engage with the Ministry for Development, for Health, etc. to reduce stigma. We also promote partnership working. At the moment, this is working for women and girls. Now, we’ll have to test our methodology for men and boys recruited by Boko Haram as soldiers. There is also not stigma applied for the top individuals involved in the illicit trade.

Question: how do you link this all to the SDGs?

Kim: We can use the SDG language when it is found useful for the specific context we engage in. We can keep driving that message as the sector.

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