Through stimulating conversations and thought-provoking presentations, participants shared first-hand experiences on how punitive drug policies have shaped their lives. These powerful testimonies served as a stark reminder that effective policymaking requires meaningful engagement with those directly impacted by its outcomes if it is to put people first. Former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe reiterated this notion during his address at the opening plenary session, where he proposed that incorporating input from drug activists and those working for the betterment of the lives of people who use drugs should be the primary approach in creating evidence-based and human rights-oriented drug policies.
The opening day of Africa Policy Week centred on current policies, the complex operating landscape for advocacy, and the transformative effects and unique obstacles brought about by the move towards decriminalisation. In the first workshop, titled "Power, Policy & People in Africa: Putting People First”, Coleen Daniels from Harm Reduction International led a discussion on the interdependent relationships between drug policy, power dynamics, and challenges in Africa through an exploration of the global context, existing policies, and real-life examples. The session featured input from Gunasekaran Rengaswamy of UNODC, Charity Monareng from TBHIV Care, Maria-Goretti Loglo of IDPC, and Mohamed Motala of NACOSA. Following this was a session called 'Be Careful What You Wish for: Lessons from Decriminalisation and Legal Regulation,' facilitated by Shaun Shelly of TB/HIV Care. The speakers included Myrtle Clarke of Fields of Green, Simon Howell of UCT, Jason Eligh of GI-OTC, and Zintle Tsholwana of SISONKE. They asserted the fact that drug use and sex work are social problems and governments should not seek to solve these through criminalising people, as they explored the significance of prioritising the restoration of human rights for people who use drugs or sex workers and promoting their economic rights through social justice in advocating for decriminalisation.
During the second day of Africa Policy Week, the focus shifted to highlighting success stories and innovative approaches being implemented across various fields. This created an ideal environment for knowledge-sharing and collaborative problem-solving. The first session, Community responses to Global Targets and Policy Change through Collaboration, Capacitation and Action, featured representatives from Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and South Africa who shared their experiences in drug user-led advocacy. During the Women in Harm Reduction session, experienced harm reductionists from South Africa and Zimbabwe discussed their difficulties in creating safe environments for women to access harm reduction services. They also emphasised the need for increased financial resources and government support to ensure the sustainability and effectiveness of these services. Delegates from Kenya, Canada and South Africa had the opportunity to share actionable strategies during the Resilience and Resistance: Finding best practice models for Africa session, aimed at promoting a people-centered approach in future service delivery for people who use drugs.
At the closing plenary session, the delegates each shared their thoughts on Africa Policy Week and compiled a submission to the General Comment on the Impact of Drug Policies on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. These included “leave no one behind”, “current drug policy has divided society, isolated the most vulnerable and terrified the rest’, ‘Don’t forget the minor, we always talk a lot about them, they have a lot of protection, but this is not always enforced’, ‘we are saving lives by making changes in our perceptions of people who use drugs’, ‘young people are not problems to be solved, they are problem solvers, we need to empower them’.
The Africa Policy Week was bracketed by two highly successful workshops funded by the UNODC, one capacitating Local and Provincial Drug Action Committees on harm reduction and the other focusing on interventions for stimulant use.
In the final plenary, Shaun Shelly shared a vison for the future: “A world where all people are empowered and can, most of the time, make conscious, autonomous, well-informed decisions about their bodies, including how and when to use or not use drugs, without being criminalised, stigmatised or excluded”.
This sentiment was supported by the Chair of the Central Drug Authority, who wrote, “May I, on behalf of the Central Drug Authority, express our sincere gratitude for inviting us to such a successful, empowering, informative and educational Africa Policy Week. May I express our support for the realisation of your vision that you shared with us at the end of the conference. “
To see all the sessions and presentations, please visit: https://www.sadrugpolicyweek.com/apw-plenaries.html