Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Global Drug Policy V: Drug policy reform momentum: where is the international development community?

By Markus Schultze-Kraft

Drug policy reform advocates have some reason to be upbeat these days. Momentum for reassessing the existing prohibitionist international policy framework is gathering in different corners of the world. New, unusual suspects are joining the debate, providing fresh perspectives and challenging entrenched positions.

Consider, for instance, the Organization of American States (OAS), not precisely known for its propensity to challenge the status quo in the Western Hemisphere. In May it released a nuanced yet frank report on the drug problem in the Americas and the devastating effects of drug-related organized crime and violence in producer and transit countries, calling for a more flexible approach to drug policy.

In a similar vein, at the end of last year the UK House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee came out (PDF) urging Her Majesty's Government to monitor closely the legalization and regulation of cannabis for non-medical use in several US states as well as Portugal’s experience with depenalisation.

Led by regional powerhouse Mexico where drug wars have killed some 60,000 in the past seven years alone, several Latin American governments successfully pushed for holding the next UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs in 2016 and not 2019, as originally planned. No doubt, the momentum for drug policy change is building up.

The international development community is conspicuously absent from the debate

Yet, one sector has been conspicuously absent from this quest: the international development community. With some notable exceptions like Germany’s Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) (PDF), bilateral and multilateral aid agencies have resisted participating in the debate, shying away from acknowledging that the production, trade and use of illicit drugs is their business too.

Poverty, inequality and economic shocks can increase the vulnerability of countries vis-à-vis drugs and the associated public health problems, as well as organized crime and violence. And drugs and repressive counter-drug policies are known to contribute to deepening underdevelopment through, for instance, corruption, violence and macroeconomic instability.

Of particularly concern for development agencies should be that there are indications that the effectiveness of development programmes may be undermined by not integrating drug issues. A few non-governmental development organizations and research centers are just beginning to grasp some of these inconvenient truths.

What explains this reticence on the part of the development community to engage with drugs issues? Why is there so little interest in spite of the fact that in a growing number of countries reducing poverty, strengthening governance and curbing corruption is also dependent on tackling complex drugs and drug policy problems?

The Global Drug and Development Policy Roundup, held at the Sussex-based Institute of Development Studies in February, provided insights into why it is difficult for the development community to engage with drugs and drug policy issues, and what would be actionable ways to increase much-needed cooperation between development and drug policy experts and practitioners.

Despite a shared commitment to human wellbeing the two policy communities are not on the same wavelength

Many people working in international development do not readily see what their role could and should be in addressing problems related to the production, trade and use of drugs that impact negatively on poverty reduction, livelihoods and governance. Their focus is essentially operational and on development issues and activities in individual countries, and not on the larger, global policy issues that are at the core of the work of drug policy reformers. The latter’s principal aim is to reform the existing ineffective and harmful prohibitionist international drug control regime. Development practitioners lack the time, expertise and leverage to take on broader drug policy reform issues and are, if anything, concerned with the question of how development could be achieved in drugs-affected environments.

Further, many governments still stigmatize drug users, portraying and treating them as offenders rather than people in need of health and social attention. For the most part bilateral aid agencies find it difficult to come to terms with illicit drugs, an issue which for many governments and politicians remains an anathema. It is easier and politically less risky to defend the stance, however mistaken, that the production, trade and use of illicit drugs – and the associated corruption and organized crime - are essentially law enforcement and security problems which fall within the remit of police forces, and defense and foreign ministries.

Short term policy cycles too work against building commitment to necessarily longer-term strategies of integrating drug and development policies. The mainstreaming of illicit drugs issues into development programmes in source countries, such as Afghanistan and Colombia, has had little success thus far.

Motivated by their own fundamental interest in enhancing human wellbeing and reducing poverty many more development organizations should start focusing systematically on drugs issues, thereby seeking to contribute to mitigating the negative impact drugs and drug policies have on poverty reduction and development.

A Global Drugs and Development Network could help bridge the gap

A Global Drugs and Development Policy Network, championed by development organizations (including one or two donor agencies) with policy capacity, convening power and an interest in making a bold contribution to moving the debate forward and identifying inroads for policy reform, would be a step in the right direction.

Such a network should look at producing quality and operational research, including on how tackling poverty in countries affected by drug problems can relate to global drug policy reform,  mobilizing stakeholders in different world regions and promoting dialogue on the nexus between drugs and development to strengthen much-needed comparative perspectives. Let’s bring development in – there’s no way round it.

This blog was originally published on Huffington Post UK.

Previous blogs on global drug policy by the same author:

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Signs of change in Pakistani politics: a story from the Punjab

by Shandana Khan Mohmand

Pakistani politics is popularly perceived to be based on the local power of landed bigwigs. But an unusual thing happened in the lead up to the May 2013 election in a constituency in central Punjab.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) (which eventually won) issued a party ticket for a provincial seat to a relative, a usual enough occurrence. But in this case the ticket went to someone who was not locally popular. He was elected from this constituency in 2002 and was the runner-up in 2008. Yet, he has no real performance record. According to most people I spoke to, he has a “feudal mentality” and has not delivered in return for votes. To top it off, he lives and works in distant Lahore, and is considered an outsider.

Opposing him was a local man, a member of one of the area’s largest biraderis (kinship groups). He ran for the first time in 2008, as an independent candidate, and despite receiving only 2800 votes in that election, he built a reputation over the last five years as a “worker”. He is easily accessible and well connected. His family has been part of the local government system and his two brothers are high-ranking bureaucrats, and he has used his contacts in the state to deliver. This has swung support strongly in his favour within the constituency. Encouraged by this, he approached the PML-N for a ticket, only to be refused in favour of a relative who had contested the previous two elections on a rival party’s ticket.

The local man decided to go ahead anyway and contested again as an independent, and began a campaign that grew quickly in strength and soon made him a stronger contender than the ex-member of the provincial assembly. Ten days before the election a member of the PML-N’s leadership stopped by the constituency for an election rally. According to my local sources, PML-N’s youth wing allegedly reported to him that they were bound to lose this seat because of the party’s decision to go with their relative. The party’s rally was also boycotted by the local candidate’s large biraderi.

A few days later the party issued a statement “opening” the seat. This meant that the party was no longer backing its own candidate, nor opposing the local man (who, rumour had it, was invited to join the PML-N in the case of a win).

Local will, it seemed, had prevailed over what in Pakistan is called the “jaagirdarana nizam”, or a ‘feudal system’ of politics. Different biraderis of the constituency had come together against a veteran, landed politician who had provided little and remained inaccessible to his voters. Instead, a man with far less experience but an apparent will to deliver was now set to win. And win he did.

Increasing competitiveness

Beyond this, however, something more has changed too. This local candidate was only one of many new candidates on almost all provincial seats in this district. In the three provincial constituencies where I spent some time in the run up to the election, the average number of candidates in 2002 was 5.3, in 2008 it was 4.6, and this time it was a whopping 15.6. Many of these candidates have never run before, or if they have, it was as part of the now defunct local government system.

Connecting with voters

The explosion of candidates for provincial assembly (PA) seats has heralded a number of visible changes. While the competition for national assembly (NA) seats was still being managed by local bigwigs, that for PA seats was far more open this time around. People appeared to be choosing and aligning more freely. Almost everywhere we found that while an entire village was voting for a single candidate for the NA seat, or at the most two candidates, at the provincial level the village was divided into multiple small groups that were aligned to different candidates. More importantly, these groups usually had direct contact with these candidates, who were all out and about the countryside, conducting small meetings in every village. Door-to-door campaigns are still rare, but such face-to-face contact between rural voters and candidates was also a rarity until the 2008 election.

Direct contact between voters and candidates has even greater significance in the post-18th Amendment environment, in which almost all ministries related to the delivery of public services were devolved from the centre to the provinces in 2010. This means that voters are now connecting directly not only to their representatives, but also to those that will have a direct say in the delivery of most rural services. The increased competitiveness on these seats means greater choice for the voter, and consequently, a greater ability to hold candidates directly accountable for their delivery records.

Emergence of new politicians

It also means a larger space for new politicians. If this trend crystallises, it could mean the injection of many new politicians within existing parties, as exemplified by the story above. Initially, this will probably include people with connections in the state, and large biraderis to draw upon. Slowly, however, it may start to draw in non-dynastic, unconnected first-timers. If the new government now brings back the system of local government – the usual route for the emergence of newer, less wealthy candidates – we may see the emergence of a dynamic, vibrant political scene that could work to marginalise the landed elite from politics without the need for structural reforms.

Writing for the Guardian, Jason Burke quoted a landlord politician as saying, "Politics has become such a dirty game. It's getting so hard". The man seems to be referring to exactly this trend. That, for the rest of us, is very good news.

(This is a modified version of an article that appeared in the Dawn Newspaper (Pakistan) on May 12th 2013) .