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Bishop: Media contributes to drug abuse in Africa

By John Makokha*
Aug. 7, 2007 | NAIROBI, Kenya (UMNS)


Bishop Daniel Wandabula

Movies and the media have been instrumental in encouraging the spread of substance and drug abuse in East Africa, says a United Methodist bishop serving on a task force on the problem.

"The users are portrayed as stars in both social and economic fields and this encourages our youth to desire and be associated with this kind of group," said East Africa Area Bishop Daniel Wandabula.

"Substance abuse is spreading like bushfire in East Africa," Wandabula said, citing other factors. "A lot of substance abuse in the region is attributed to war where combatants are encouraged to take drugs as a way of getting courage to fight and carry out atrocities."

Wandabula and other members of the African Task Force on Substance Abuse and Related Violence discussed the challenges during its July 10-12 meeting. The task force is part of the Special Program on Substance Abuse and Related Violence (SPSARV), a ministry of The United Methodist Church that addresses alcohol and other drug concerns. The Nairobi gathering was attended by representatives from the East Africa Area and staff members from SPSARV and the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

Growing problem in an expansive area

Task force members said the vastness of the East Africa Annual Conference adversely impacts efforts against substance abuse.

"The conference is so big and therefore makes coordination of programs and projects difficult. The legal, political and policy differences in each of these countries have affected the smooth working of our programs as a conference," said Wandabula.

The geographic size and the diverse concerns of the church in East Africa was addressed during the recent annual conference meeting at which members agreed to divide into four administrative units: Uganda/Sudan annual conference, Burundi annual conference, Rwanda provisional conference and Kenya provisional conference. The action has to be ratified and approved by the African Central Conference and 2008 General Conference.

"The East Africa Annual Conference is striving to reduce substance and drug abuse to protect the health and quality of life for all regardless of age, sex, ethnicity and denomination with a major focus on youth," said Wandabula. "It is cheaper to run programs that prevent the youth from taking on these substances rather than trying to rehabilitate them."

Tolerated violence

Elizabeth Lwanga, resident representative of the United Nations Development Program, said there is a grave correlation between substance abuse and gender-based violence and worsening HIV and AIDS.


The Rev. Vienna Mutezo, president of the African Task Force on Substance Abuse and Related Violence, listens to discussions during the task force meeting July 10-12 in Nairobi, Kenya.

Lwanga reported that nearly 50 percent of Kenyan women experience different forms of violence – physical, sexual, verbal and emotional – from childhood to adulthood. "In most African traditional patriarchal societies, violence against women is ignored, tolerated and even condoned," she said.

Women who are abused or live with the threat of violence do not have the privilege of choosing abstinence, being faithful and using a condom.

The traditional acceptance of violence has devastating implications today in Africa. The AIDS rate for women and girls is two to six times higher than those of men and boys. "Beyond the already unacceptable neglect of women’s basic human rights, violence against women in today's world of HIV and AIDS has fatal socio-economic and psychological implications," Lwanga said.

The role of alcohol

Alcohol plays a significant role in promoting risky sexual behavior. Alcohol use is particularly problematic among groups with an increased risk of HIV infection including mobile populations, commercial sex workers and youth. Alcohol consumption is highest in poor communities where alcohol is home-brewed. Though some local government authorities regulate production of home-brewed alcohol as well as the drinking age, the regulations often are not enforced.

Gender roles regarding drinking are changing in urban environments such as Nairobi, where both men and women consume alcohol regularly. Rape and forced sex is often linked closely with alcohol.

According to Lwanga, it is common for an intoxicated husband to return home and forcefully demand sex from his wife. Wives are unable to negotiate condom use with HIV-positive intoxicated husbands who often engage in unprotected sex under the influence of alcohol, she said.

Older single women are often in desperate economic situations in which their only option is to make traditional alcohol or home-brews. When this occurs in their homes, male customers may engage in trans-generational sex with their daughters. These informal drinking venues also are areas where households trade sex for money.

Jerald McKie of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries said that one of the agency's objectives is to prevent the physical and sexual abuse of children.

"Pastors in the U.S.A. are being trained and encouraged to prepare sermons on drug addiction so as to address the congregational needs," said Melissa Davis, executive director of SPSARV.

The Rev. Vienna Mutezo, president of the African Task Force on Substance Abuse and Related Violence, said "substance and drug abuse are serious illnesses which have been paralyzing whole families and which constitute a major barrier to the development of our respective countries."

Dr. Richard Kagacu from the Movement Against Substance Abuse in Africa (MASA) added that smoking has increased cases of chronic diseases in Africa including heart ailments, stroke, cancer and respiratory complications, especially among young people.

Regarding the challenges of substance and drug abuse in East Africa, "a faith-based initiative is the only solution to get us out, and the church should be the sanctuary for restoration and healing," said Jennifer Kimani, director of the quasi government anti-drug campaign in Kenya (Nacada).

*Makokha is the communications consultant for the East Africa Annual Conference.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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