When The Attempt To Escape From Pain Creates More Pain: KUSH.

Abdulai Mansaray, author

It is an open secret that Sierra Leone is in the grip of another pandemic, KUSH.  With its fair share of horrible outbreaks like the Ebola and Covid 19, many see this Kush (Killing Us Slowly Here) outbreak that is insidiously ravaging our communities as a man made, self-inflicted, and self-harm catastrophe. Despite the obvious and devastating daily damage that it is causing daily with our eyes widely shut, it is the corresponding response or lack of it, from the authorities that is causing alarm in some quarters. Gauged against the devastating impact on lives, the response has been widely condemned in many quarters as not proportionate. Some believe that it has been swept under the carpet as a non-issue.

There is a feeling that the response is one of a deafening silence.  Is this why some are now peddling rumours that the manufacture, distribution, and sale of Kush is being orchestrated by “big Alayjos” in marble- clad homes and offices?  Photos of alleged producers, dealers and distributors are now flashed across social media platforms. These are just rumours, but who can blame the victims and families of victims when they feel helpless and unsupported in the fight against this deadly scourge? Do we need to wait until the son, daughter, uncle, or cousin of a prominent official loses their life to this scourge before we take it with all the seriousness it deserves? No one is immune from addiction. It afflicts people of all ages, races, races, classes, and professions.

Social media has been awash with voice clips, video clips and blogs showing the toll of this pandemic on especially the youth. Without meeting the threshold of what qualifies as a pandemic, I will take the liberty of describing this deadly scourge that is haemorrhaging our community as a PANDEMIC. Social media clips have shown the reported death of 32 victims who were summarily buried in a mass grave (reportedly) recently, thanks to the rampant effects of this drug. There have been video clips showing local communities in Waterloo, Tengbeh Town and other areas, with groups of people coming together to address the problem. We have seen alleged Kush users’ heads shaved, some placed in running streams and some even beaten by “vigilantes”. You know that this is a really serious problem when you see cultural societies including “Orjeh” masquerades like “Cape light”, “Or-rayday” campaigning against this menace.

With all the best of intentions, is the vigilante approach the right way to address this? The fact that communities are coming together with vigilante approach to address the problem should be seen as an indictment on our authorities. It feels like these communities are saying: “if you can’t do anything about it, we’ll do something about it, brute force. Is that the right way or is that they only way they see fit? There have been a recent drive from the authorities to address the issue. However, many see it as too late and too little. We have seen police officers and other law enforcement personnel arresting drug culprits and carting them to jails. That may be one way to deal with it, but is that the only way. If we are to address the pandemic, we need a root and branch approach. Let us start by asking the following questions in our search to understand some of the fundamental ideas behind drug misuse.

Why do people take drugs?

There are one hundred and ten reasons why people take drugs, and the contributory factors can include availability, the price, experimental, recreational, situational, or dependent use. When a drug is widely available and easily accessible, its widespread use becomes inevitable. Widespread availability means excess supply. You don’t need to be an Adam Smith to know the relationship between demand and supply to figure out the outcome of such a scenario. Excess supply leads to lower price and high demand. Most people who engage in taking drugs start from an experimental phase. A young person might try a particular drug out of curiosity. In most cases, they would have observed their peers taking the drug and “having fun”. Not to be left out, they would feel peer -pressured to be with the in crowd.  That marks the beginning of its recreational use for enjoyment, or social occasion to improve their mood. With prolonged use, the person becomes dependent on the drug to feel “normal” or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

However, there is an insidious factor that drives people to take drugs. Most people who continue take drugs do so to “cope with the demands and stresses of daily life”. As humans, we are naturally configured to be happy and live happy lives. No one was created to live depressed, defeated, ashamed, guilty, or unworthy. Most times, society makes us so. We all know that it is practically impossible for many of us to always achieve happiness, thanks to our social, economic, environmental, political, cultural etc circumstances. In the case of Sierra Leone, which ranks as the THIRD poorest country in the whole wide world, it is very easy to see why the concept of “happiness” is fast becoming an alien phenomenon. We can all agree that against a narrow export base, the prolonged civil war, the Ebola outbreak, the conflict in Ukraine, poor governance, limited fiscal space and many other factors have combined to stultify employment and trade.

The domino effects on the average Sierra Leonean is too obvious to mention. Stress, anger, frustration, anxiety, depression, and many other features then become a common denominator for the majority. According to World Bank, unemployment rate in Sierra Leone decreased from 3.30% in 2022 to 3.20% in 2023. A small step in the right direction, you might say. Many summarily see the unemployment rate as one of the biggest contributory factors of this epidemic, especially among the youth population. We are a relatively small country with so many of us chasing too few jobs. We know that unemployment is a static factor in every nation across the face of this earth. The differences lie in how different countries tackle the problem differently.

Since 2018, the youth unemployment in Sierra Leone has trended as follows: Youth unemployment increased by 0.06% (3.63 %,) in 2019 and by 0.73% (4.36) in 2020. In 2021, youth unemployment rate fell by 0.17% (4.9) and again in 2022 by 0.04 (4.15%) (Macrotrends.com). It is very easy to see the correlation between youth unemployment and the prevalence of Kush among the youth population. Unfortunately, this scourge is taking a firm grip on the population demographics, and not only confined to the vulnerabilities a particular generational group.

Let us look at one of the reasons why people take to drug use or alcohol misuse. People’s social circumstances and environment are known to play a significant role in this vein. When people are frustrated, stressed, anxious or experiencing extreme emotional duress, it can be unbearable. With limited means to address the contributory factors of such discomfort, the natural response tends to be a search for coping techniques or strategies. In most cases, avoidance behaviour becomes the default position. People tend to cope by looking for ways to avoid facing the reality, especially where the chances of addressing the stress factors are premium or limited. Any form or sense of detachment from such reality is easily seen as a solution, albeit temporary. Drugs and alcohol do provide such brief dissociations from reality. Such drugs can lighten the mood, create euphoria, numb the senses, and unfortunately generate a false “feel good factor” when literally under the Kush (pardon the pun). Like any other hallucinogenic drugs, they potentially change the way people see, hear, taste, smell, or feel, and can affect the mood and thought. People don’t get addicted to drugs and alcohol; they get addicted to escaping reality.

This piece is not aimed at serving as an apologists or castigator for the affected. However, it might be worth looking at one unseen backdrop. The current young generation have monopoly on the ravages of our decade long civil war. Some were either born into it, took part in it or weaned off from it. In any of the three groups, there is no doubt that the traumatic effects will be residually present in their active and passive forms. Before you start raising your eyebrows, please note that I am neither a psychologist, psychotherapist, nor one of those people who make their living through talking. Suffice it to say that most of our youths display so many characteristic traits and behaviour patterns that suggest evidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorders. The penchant for violence and disorder, the propensity to break the law, their affinity with chaos and many other undesirables count towards their vulnerabilities. Sadly, we see how such vulnerabilities have been preyed on by the predators, and some cases even our politicians.

So, how do we solve a problem called “KUSH”?

There is no one formula to solve this problem. However, the rate at which its effects are devastating our communities means that we need a collective approach from top to bottom. The government can lead the way, but it will require the effort from everyone, from individual, family, community, religious, NGOs, etc. standpoint to tackle this problem. I wanted to suggest that our political parties should take it to their respective grassroots but “O Yah”, some would soon call it an “APC yagba” or “SLPP combolo”. Sounds like its better to stick to the call for collective national and patriotic approach.

According to AYV news (20/03/24), the Sierra Leone Inspector General of Police has called for “holistic approach to fight drug use”. Meanwhile, “the Executive Director of the national Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Andrew Jaiah Kaikai has confessed that the agency does not have even a bicycle to do its work, it has only twelve permanent staff and cannot afford to pay for its electricity”, according to AYV. Be Twaa? I wonder what took the Inspector General of Police so long to come to that conclusion. What do you make of the Drug Czar’s view on the state of drugs law enforcement? The Inspector General of Police is correct to call for a HOLISTIC approach, and perhaps we might need to re-visit our educational system as part of that approach.

Every so often, our universities and other institutions churn out loads of graduates onto our already gridlocked employment traffic. We have truck loads of graduates in law, business management, computer science, accounting and many high sounding career professions. With the “feed Salone” programme underway, how many graduates do we harvest in and from Agricultural studies yearly? A systems overhaul in our educational system has given us BECE and WASSCE in the 6334 format. Unfortunately, our mind set in education remains grounded in the colonial framework. During colonial times, education was geared towards meeting the needs of the colonial administration. Independence meant that we needed to fill the vacancies created by the departure of the “John Bulls” who were administrators like District officers, lawyers, secretaries, surveyors etc. Careers for carpenters, welders, plumbers, electricians, plasterers, agriculturists, and builders have always been regarded as the domain for the intellectually handicapped. 

Interestingly, the latter group is the very types of professions we need more than ever, in our society today. Our changing lifestyles provide ongoing and increasing demands for these careers. These kinds of artisan jobs create better prospects for employment. In Europe and many other developed countries, such artisan careers have the highest potential for SELF EMPLOYMENT. This means that in Sierra Leone where the biggest employer is the government, having more trained and qualified artisans means that people might not need to wait for the government to provide employment. These people can be given subsidies, loans and many other incentives to engage in agriculture, open a welding shop, get a joinery, and open a painting and decorating company.

No one is saying that we don’t need lawyers, accountants, business managers etc. But how many lawyers and accountants does a bakery need? How many business managers can a welding, painting, and decorating or carpentry shop employ? Can you imagine how many people a well-established agricultural farm can employ? Do you remember how many youths were employed by African Mineral and London Mining companies, even though most were as manual labourers? What is the point of producing so many more lawyers, accountants, business managers etc. in a saturated job market at the expense of tertiary industries? Is it time to employ career advisers at all institutions offering higher education in the country?

This might sound like a long-term process for the future when you consider the Kush menace at hand. However, if we are going to take a holistic approach to tackling not only Kush but the drug problem in our country, the Inspector General of Police’ call for a holistic approach might need to consider some root- cause analysis in this matter. We all know that if there are no buyers, there will be no suppliers. But it is also true that if there are no suppliers, there will be no buyers. So, now that vigilante groups, the police and other services have started clamping down on the Kush users, what happens to the suppliers? I don’t mean the petty peddler but the producers and importers. Where are the Pablo Escobars of Sierra Leone in all this brouhaha? There will be no point in cutting the branches and leaving the seeds only to re germinate.

Finally, we might need to take a second look at drug abuse like we did with mental illness. Our cultural and societal view about mental illness had always been a case of the devil, the demon, and a curse. Mental illness was usually treated with brute force, which included beating and other forms of humiliation and restraint. The belief was that the afflicted was possessed by demons or a curse. The answer to mental illness then was to beat the demon or curse out of the individual. The stigma falsely miniaturised the presence, prevalence and treatment of mental illness.  Thankfully, such views are slowly but hopefully dissipating from our mind set, even though one shudders to remember the odd occurrence when the mentally ill were sent to “karamorkors” for treatment. Even in our only psychiatric hospital at Kissy, Freetown, it was a common sight to see mentally ill patients chained to immovable objects to curb their behaviour. We can all agree that taking drugs and drinking alcohol, like many other choices, is a lifestyle choice. However, let us remember that “no one is born criminal. Society makes one so”. KUSH is a national menace that requires a national drive to fight it.

When The Attempt to Escape from Pain Creates More Pain, People don’t get addicted to drugs and alcohol; they get addicted to escaping reality.

Don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave the room.


1 Comment

  1. This article is all just what we need to solve this kush problem
    I think the next step will be to deeply involve the government
    Including other stakeholders and community leaders. Starting spreading awareness of the health and economic impacts this drug
    Is causing by using the social media, newspapers,
    Toolbox meetings, national tv and rigid laws and penalties from government law makers.
    The main question is who will spearhead this project. How to ge the government fully involve and fund the projects.
    Big brother the government of Sierra Leone need to work with people like you to help the people.
    Thsnks for yr wonderful article

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