|Bishop: Media contributes to drug abuse in Africa|
By John Makokha*
Aug. 7, 2007 | NAIROBI, Kenya (UMNS)
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.
Bishop Daniel Wandabula
"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
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
"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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
*Makokha is the communications consultant for the East Africa Annual Conference.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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