The national campaign against illicit drugs continued yesterday in the Western Province as senior government officials engaged various groups in dialogue to drive the agenda against the vice that is still rated high, especially among the young generation.
The outreach programme held in Rubavu District brought together local leaders, elders, teachers, religious leaders and residents, majority the youth.
The exercise was also characterised by testimonies of suspected drug dealers arrested recently, and reformed drug dealers and addicts, who shared their ordeals.
One suspect who was arrested recently with a bundle of cannabis strapped at her back as a baby said, "I have been trafficking drugs into the country for years until I was arrested recently. I would swim through Lake Kivu or use various tricks through porous borders. Life is not good in prison and I don't wish to see anyone in this situation," she told thousands of youth.
To Omar Umuhoza, a former drug dealer and addict, life has changed since he quit drugs.
Umuhoza is a pioneer at Iwawa Rehabilitation and Skills Development Centre, where he spent two years. He has since brought together reformed and rehabilitated addicts to form a carpentry cooperative in Rubavu.
"Drugs stole my chance to acquire education and my time to have a resourceful life. I became a renowned thief in Kigali; a life of arrests and misery. Even when I started a positive life in Kigali, few people trusted me and I had to relocate to Rubavu. I must say that Iwawa was my turning point," Umuhoza said.
The Minister for Local Government Francis Kaboneka, while addressing youth at Umuganda stadium, said that "the first enemy of the youth today are illicit drugs."
"Winning or success is driven by a healthy and positive mind; the wealth of this country is it's people especially the young generation but whose lives are threatened by illicit drugs," Kaboneka said.
At least 40 per cent of over 2040 drug dealers arrested last year are youth aged between 18 and 35 years, according to Police statistics.
The minister noted that drug abuse is one of the major obstacles to development in different aspects including education and health, citing school drop-outs, spending resources in rehabilitating addicts.
"We want a healthy and focused generation, and that's what this campaign is all about," he said.
The Minister for Youth, Rosemary Mbabazi also appealed to the youth to be driven by positive decisions and work with the police to identify and arrest drug dealers.
The State Minister in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Patrick Ndimubanzi highlighted side effects of abusing drugs such as mental illness, liver and heart complications including cancer.
The Governor of the Western Province, Alphonse Munyentwari said that measures against drugs have been adopted including conducting similar campaigns down to the village level.
Meanwhile, IGP Emmanuel Gasana said that the force has increased deployments and operations against drug dealers, but "counting on your strengthened community policing spirit through community patrols and timely information sharing with the people on dealers."
The separate discussions centered on parental care and guidance, preaching against the vice in churches, campaign in schools and sharing information at all levels with security organs on identified drug dealers.
The open discussions also included testimonies on how illicit drugs are trafficked into the country, major affected areas and hideouts for either dealers or users, which the police said its a step further towards reversing the trend.
The campaign against drugs in Rubavu also included public destruction of about 420kgs of cannabis and over 1900 liters of illicit gin, all valued over Rwf47 million.
The countrywide awareness campaign is aimed at having similar understanding in response to the problem and to break chains of supply, which is seen as an effective way to prevent consumption.