Harare – Africa is often touted as the continent of the future, owing to its relatively young population with a median age of 19.
It has the largest concentration of young people in the world, with 60 percent of the total population being between the ages of 15 years and 24 years. That number is expected to keep growing, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and by 2055 that demographic is expected to be more than double the 2015 total of 226 million.
Economists contend that a young, economically active market is a spending market, which may favour growth and development.
However, the promise of youth may be hard to realise for Africa if the rate of substance abuse continues at its current pace.
Africa has a growing drug problem, and it is mostly affecting the youth.
Marijuana has long been the drug of choice across Africa’s users of narcotics, but an increasing number of young people is turning to methamphetamine.
Also known as crystal meth, it now ranks as the second most abused drug in Africa and the World Health Organisation is concerned.
Crystal meth is a colourless, odourless form of d-methamphetamine, a powerful and highly addictive synthetic stimulant. It affects the nervous system and has long-term effects, which can include a heightened likelihood of suffering a stroke.
The Drug Free Foundation says short-term effects of such drugs may be dangerous to consumers and render them unproductive.
“When taken, meth and crystal meth create a false sense of well-being and energy, and so a person will tend to push his body faster and further than it is meant to go. Thus, drug users can experience a severe “crash” or physical and mental breakdown after the effects of the drugs wear off,” the foundation says.
This means if the numbers of users of the dangerous drug keep rising, the continent is going to have an economically impotent youth in the near future.
The World Health Organisation in its African overview on substance abuse says the highest prevalence and increase in use is being reported in Central and West Africa, with usage rates of between 5.2 percent and 13.5 percent amongst young people.
Experts believe the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed more young people into substance abuse, due to the stresses brought by dwindling opportunities and the need for some form of escape.
Mr William Box of the Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network told The Southern Times this week that a person who finds themselves addicted to the drug is likely to lose not less than two years of productive time.
“It depends on the person`s biological make-up but successfully fighting addiction, especially to drugs like Crystal meth can take up to a year,” Mr Box said.
The highly addictive nature of the substance and high cost may also result in increased crime.
High quality crystal meth in South Africa costs an average of about US$14 per gramme. In Zimbabwe, low-grade meth costs about US$5 per gram.
This is a lot of money for families that live on less than US$2 per day, and it means many users resort to crime to feed their habits.
Mr Tungamirai Zimondi, a board member of the African Tobacco Control Alliance and Movendi International says drug addiction is a threat to development and if not dealt with, will cost the continent dearly.
“Drug abuse and related harm is a major obstacle to sustainable development in all its dimensions. Most developed countries have treatment, rehabilitation and harm reduction services. For us poorer countries investing in prevention is the best bet,” said Mr Zimondi.
Africa, thankfully, is not sitting on its laurels.
The African Union is well aware of the changing circumstances on the continent and the emergent challenges on substance abuse.
In the AU Plan of Action on Drug Control and Crime Prevention (2019-2023), the continental bloc says: “Drug use on the continent has escalated in all five AU Regions, confirming that Africa is no longer only a transit zone in the global trade in narcotics, but also a major consumer.”
SADC has a protocol on fighting drugs, although there is little coordination.
On its website, the regional bloc says, “SADC is aware that the region is being increasingly used as a conduit for drugs destined for international markets and that illicit drug-trafficking generates large financial gains and wealth thus encouraging cross-border criminals and organisations to penetrate, contaminate and corrupt society at all levels.”
Besides the challenges those consume, the fight against drugs is very expensive.
As Africa continues to try and reduce burdening financial issues, the drug situation could become a cost.
Australia spends more than US$1 billion annually funding rehabilitation and law enforcement.
This is the same capital bleeding which awaits the continent if it does not act to save its young.