Rwanda has held a number of campaigns against drugs but with little success. This is because drug abuse is still an issue even after the ministry of youth and ICT (MYICT) in partnership with the ministry of health has tried to eradicate the vice. But tougher laws need to be implemented.
According to Minister Jean-Philibert Nsengimana, if there were tough punishments for drugs dealers and users, those involved would be scared of taking part in the illicit businesses. "For example in Singapore, drugs dealers and abusers are given the death penalty. That makes it a very risky business to invest in," he said recently, adding that that handing down heavy fines would be an alternative to help save many youth from getting wasted by drugs.
"When you fine such people heavily, they will lose their entire business thus going down easily, even those who wanted to invest in the drugs business will no longer have the courage, due to the fact that they clearly see that they cannot bear the loss."
Drug dealing and abusing are crimes punishable by the country's penal code in its articles 599, 598, 596, 595, 594, 593.
"Any person who manufactures, sells, prescribes a drug, harmful products, cosmetics or body hygiene and other herbal substances prohibited in healing practice, shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of six (6) months to two (2) years and a fine of one million (1,000,0000) to five million (5,000,0000) Rwandan francs or one of these penalties," reads article 598 of the penal code.
For the Minister of Youth and ICT, the above are not tough enough punishments for such a crime. "We should have tough laws against these issues. We know that those who are involved are mainly big names and earn a lot from their dirty deals," Nsengimana told The Rwanda Focus.
Youth and children at high risk
Information from MYICT reveals that drug dealers now use children to traffic their drugs. "They usually terrorize them and prevent them from telling anyone that they are used to traffic illegal drugs," said Nsengimana said.
The penal code also stipulates punishment for anyone who induces children into trafficking or using of illegal (drugs) substances. "Any person who induces a child to use narcotic drugs in any other way shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of more than five (5) years to seven (7) years and a fine of five hundred thousand (500,000) to five million (5,000,000) Rwandan francs," reads the article 596.
In its article 594, the penal code stipulates penalties for a person who unlawfully uses narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances (mentioned in the list as 'illegal drugs' by the ministry of health)
"Any person, who consumes, injects, inhales, anoints him/herself with or makes any other unlawful use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of one (1) year to three (3) years and a fine of fifty thousand (50,000) to five hundred thousand (500,000) Rwandan francs," reads the article. It adds that any person who, unlawfully, makes, transforms, imports, or sells narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances within the country, shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of three (3) years to five (5) years and a fine of five hundred thousand (500,000) to five million (5,000,000) Rwandan francs."
A study by a team of researchers from Kigali Health Institute found out that 52.5% of youth in Rwanda have at least once taken drugs, and 92.7% of that group kept on consuming them, which implies that 48.66% of all Rwandan youth consume drugs. While this is of course alarming, Nsengimana specified that the research considered as "drug" both legal and illegal substances.
Out of the 52.5% reported as consuming drugs, the same study further states that about only 5% have ever tried an illegal substance, mainly cannabis, with 2.54% reporting problems of dependence on it.
The other most prevalent illegal drugs are illicit brews such as Kanyanga, solvents (glue) and local brews prepared from sorghum, sugar, etc. collectively responsible for about 1% of reported cases of drug use. These findings point out to the relatively high level use of alcohol (34%) and tobacco (8.5%) among the youth (14 to 35 years of age).
In December 2011, First Lady Jeannette Kagame launched a program to eradicate drug abuse, trafficking and dealing. And mid this year, MYICT initiated the "Neighbor's eye" (ijisho ry'umuturanyi) which aims at pushing the campaign to the village level (umudugudu). To-date, the campaign has established anti-drugs committees in all the 14,813 villages of Rwanda, though their effectiveness is still to be assessed.
"To win the battle against alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use among young Rwandans, it will take much more than policy, government-backed programs and law enforcement.
There has to be a mind-set change towards the traditional and cultural value of these substances," stressed Nsengimana.
He further emphasized that parents, educators and communities need to play a leading role by protecting children against exposure to these substances at a tender age.