Drug Menace in Coastal Kenya- The Story of Ali Hassan
I met Ali Hassan Ali in August 2017 when I visited Lamu County. At the time, Ali looked frail, lost and lacked self-confidence. His secretive nature and tense feeling were an indication of him having a lot on is mind and unwillingness to open up. Throughout our conversation, Ali emphasized his desire to put his carpentry skills into use in order to earn a living. When he was involved in drug use, Ali and his friends would participate in petty theft and sometimes use violent means to get money to sustain their drug habit. Hassan had spent one year and three months off drugs after a ten year battle with drug addiction.
“My first encounter with drugs was in primary school due of peer pressure. I started with smoking Marijuana locally known as Bhang, then slowly advanced to the use of cocaine and heroin. I got deeper into drugs due to frustration. My father could not pay for my school fees anymore yet I loved school. It feels sad seeing the people that you went to school with living a prosperous life with jobs or running businesses. Maybe I could have been one of them if only I had the chance to complete my education.” Ali said in a sad tone.
Ali was sent to a rehabilitation centre twice. Oh the first visit, his uncle who lived abroad offered to take him to ReachOut Centre Trust, a drug addiction treatment centre in Kibokoni, Mombasa where he spent two months. Upon his return to Lamu, Ali got back to his old habits and this time it was even worse.
“I would never sleep at home, docked boats provided shelter for me at night. My mother was so hurt and concerned but kept encouraging me to go through rehab again. When I finally decided to, I approached her and as always she sacrificed to pay for my rehabilitation.” Ali’s Mother sold her jewellery and fine clothes to raise money for her son’s drug rehabilitation. This time round, Ali made a committed to recover.
Like Ali, many young people –especially in the Coastal Part of Kenya, are faced with the challenge of drug and substance abuse. Studies reveal that most people start drug use between the ages of 15-30 years. Although males form the larger percentage of drug users, females are also involved though most do it in secret. Tobacco, khat commonly known as miraa and cannabis top the list as the most used, with heroin identified as the favourable drug by most users.
Individuals addicted to drugs have a higher chance of getting involved in anti-social behaviour and even crime. Drug and substance abuse has led many young people -especially in coastal Kenya to get into gang violence to mark territories and get supply. This has in turn seen crime rates rise in places where drugs are readily available.
Evans Achoki, the County Commissioner, Mombasa, pointed out that the cases of young people getting involved in crime and violence had reduced significantly in Mombasa though it is still a challenge.
“The drug problem has been there for a while now, but we have managed through working with several partners to contain it to some a significant extent. The challenge facing most youth in Mombasa as it is in other parts of the country is unemployment. Unemployment leads to idleness that in turn leads to drugs. Once addicted, they have to look for money to buy drugs, so they get involved in theft.” Added Achoki.
Conflict Prevention Peace and Economic Opportunities for youth in Kenya is a project that focuses on increasing peace and stability in Kenya by supporting youth to engage in economic activities. This is a project funded by the European Union (EU) under the Emergency Trust Fund (EUTF) and implemented by the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS).
“This project has given me hope in life. I don’t have thoughts of getting back to using drugs or other vices. Through the business management and entrepreneurship training, I have learned to draw a business plan, set up and run a successful business,” said Ali. “I was promised tools -together with my group members, to start up a workshop, I can’t wait for this to happen,” he added.
One of the expected results under this project is to ensure that a greater number of young people get in to the job market –both informal and formal sector, as a result of being provided with market oriented skills. The project is implemented in eight counties in North Eastern and Coastal Kenya; Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi, Tana River, Lamu, Garissa, Wajir and Mandera. It targets a total of 4500 youth; providing livelihood skills and vocational training, raising awareness on issues affecting young people and suggesting practical ways in which they can be supported to overcome the challenges.
Ali currently works at his father’s workshop. During his free time, he listens to Hip-hop and Reggae music. His advice to young people, “Wasiingilie uraibu, stop using drugs. “Kwa wale ambao hawaja ingilia, wasijaribu. Na wale tayari wako ndani, wafikirie haraka sana ku quit. Mimi nilikuwa pale najua ilivyo” (For those who are not into drugs, don’t try. Those who are addicted should think fast of going through rehabilitation. I was once there I know how it feels).
The Sustainable Development goals also known as Global goals are universal call to action to end poverty, ensure global citizens enjoy peace and prosperity and protect the environment. SDG target 16.1 focuses on significantly reducing all forms of violence and related deaths everywhere. With several goals focused on addressing risk factors of violence. They include; 1. No Poverty, 3. Good Health, 4. Quality Education, 5.Gender Equality, 10.Reduced inequalities 16. Peace and justice.