RE: “Combating drugs requires going beyond punishment – Busingye” (The New Times, January 12).
We need to be very careful how we go about dealing with this issue. Our knee-jerk reaction lately tends to be throwing prison sentences at every problem. Thankfully, the Justice Minister himself has said there is a need to look beyond punishment, in the search of a solution to this threat.
It is not surprising that the use of these drugs remains within the realm of the elite. This is somewhat expected, as such drugs tend to be beyond the financial reach of the average.
What we need to keep a keen eye on is when “affordable alternatives” start making their way into wider society, i.e. when you have criminals developing homemade substitutes for these “elite drugs”.
It is perhaps time to look at establishing a dedicated body drawn from intelligence, police and customs, whose sole mandate is focused on drug crimes and drug-related crimes. This would help in maximizing our efforts against illegal drugs.
Of equal importance is the need to educate and rehabilitate the youth. Educate not just the affected drug using youth, but all of Rwanda’s youth. I think we’re underestimating the potency of the dangerous of our youth’s unfiltered exposure to trends and lifestyles which are glamorized in other societies, but perhaps not the best fit for Rwandan society.
The same way we need sexual and reproductive health education as a core element of primary and secondary education in Rwanda, we also need to educate our young about the debilitating and deadly effects of illegal drugs.
As for our fellow Rwandans who already find themselves hooked on these drugs, punishment, no matter how many years you increase the sentences by, is no solution. Putting someone in prison for substance abuse or drug addiction will not change their predicament. All it does is add to their burden. Instead, what we need to focus on in this aspect is the widening of our rehabilitative infrastructure.
I would like to recommend an unpopular but highly effective means to finance the enhancement of our rehabilitation resources: Firstly, a steep increase in alcohol and tobacco tax, the revenue of which should go to the Ministry of Health for use in the rehabilitation of substance abusers and drug addicts.
Secondly, a steep increase in the fines of traffic violations committed by those who are found to be committing these violations while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
To be clear, as an example, if speeding attracts a fine of Rwf100 under normal non-intoxicated condition of the driver, then a driver who overspeeds while intoxicated should pay multiples of the normal fine.
Again, this revenue should then be directed at the enhancing of existing rehabilitation resources, e.g. by improving drug rehab and prevention programs, by establishing rehab centres for in- and out-patients in each district/sector.
The picture painted by this article is quite dire, but it is not an unsolvable problem, and I am confident we already have what it takes to put in place the tools needed to fix this.