Word is out. Multimillion dollar drug syndicates are spreading their tentacles, establishing a market in Botswana. As Botswana nudges itself into economic diversification mode, the underworld is growing.
If the trend continues, Botswana could transform into a narcotics hub for southern Africa. That could muddy the squeaky clean reputation of a country that is not drug producing terrain, say anti-narcotic operatives.
“Most of the drugs come from our neighbouring countries with dagga from Swaziland via RSA, Mozambique via Zimbabwe, Zambia and cocaine and other drugs from the Republic of South Africa,” says Officer in Command of the Diamond and narcotics squad, Senior Superintendent Miriam Kilano.
“Drugs find their way into Botswana through numerous illegal entry points established by our porous borders using human labour to smuggle drugs such as dagga across the frontier. Some are hidden in big trucks amongst goods, false compartments of vehicles, photo albums, food stuff etcetera.”
Regional events, such as the recent World Cup and Africa Cup tournaments held in South Africa and Angola respectively, act as a major pull for drug peddlers. Not surprisingly, countries bordering South Africa and Angola were targeted as transit points ahead of the two football tournaments.
For Botswana, a larger danger lurks. In the light of the country becoming a transit point and home for drug peddlers, many young Batswana could become vulnerable to the use of habit-forming drugs.
What can begin as a social snort, inhalation or shot may end up a disruptive pattern of using a substance that leads to significant problems, and if not stopped, become fatal. Whilst prescription drugs like anti depressants and pain killers have the potential of being addictive, it is the illegal drugs that are wreaking havoc on the streets.
In the drug world there are three categories of addictive drugs, namely sedatives, stimulant and hallucinogens. Sedatives, also known as tranquilizers, generally include alcohol, heroine and morphine. They tend to relax the central nervous system.
When sedatives are consumed or administered, the body reacts in different ways, leading to slurred speech, slowed reflexes and overall poor judgement of situations. However some like morphine, used to treat both acute and chronic severe pain, have medicinal purposes. Such drugs, when abused and consumed in high doses, can render a user unconscious and ultimately lead to death.
Stimulants are notorious for the elevation of the user’s mood and also result in surges in a chemical in the brain known as dopamine, a feel good substance causing an “internal reward.” All stimulants posses a high psychological addictive potential and prolonged use can lead to the elevation of blood pressure, sleeping and eating disorders and lethargy.
Prescription stimulants were used historically to treat asthma, obesity, neurological disorders, and a variety of other ailments, before their potential for abuse and addiction became apparent.
Stimulants are often swallowed in a pill form or for direct absorption into the blood stream they can be snorted through the nostrils in powder form, injected into a vein when in liquid form or they can be vaporized and inhaled directly to the lungs when in crystal form. The most commonly known stimulants are cocaine (coke), Methamphetamine (Speed/ Meth) and methylenedioxy methamphetamine better known as ecstasy.
Hallucinogens, also known as perception altering drugs are a diverse cluster of drugs. They all have different chemical structures, users have different reactions and they have different adverse effects on users as well. Though they are known to trigger hallucinations, it does not happen consistently and many cultures across the globe use them for mystical and religious purposes.
The Aztecs in pre-Columbian Mexico described the ceremonial use of teotlaqualli, a paste made from the hallucinogenic flower, ololiuqui. Rubbed on the skin of Aztec priests and soldiers, it was thought to eliminate fear and place the user in a proper mental state to serve the Aztec gods. The first form of synthetic hallucinogen was lysergic acid diethylamide more commonly known as LSD 25.
Most governments used LSD as an interrogation tool and a mind control agent. Hallucinogens have the power to distort the functioning of all five senses and can also alter impressions of time and space. They also have the potential to simultaneously unleash several emotions like extreme terror and elation at a go. Users “hear colors and see sounds.”
Vulnerability to drug addiction differs from person to person and not everybody who uses drugs gets addicted. The probability of addiction may occur in various instances like a history of drug abuse in the family, traumatic childhood experiences and mental disorder like depression and anxiety.
Harmless prescription drugs can be rendered addictive if monitored due to mode of administration for example if the drugs are inhaled injected or smoked on a regular basis. The younger a person the more susceptible they are to addiction hence teenagers experimenting with drugs are extremely vulnerable to drug addiction.
In Botswana there are stringent drug possession laws and perpetrators can be charged up to 15 years imprisonment and P15000 if convicted. According to the
Drugs and Related Substances Act, “(1) Except to the extent and as may be otherwise provided in Part II of this Act, no person (a) shall deal in any habit-forming drug or any plant from which any habit-forming drug can be manufactured; or (b) shall possess or use any such drug or plant.”
Despite this people within Botswana continue to deal with this illicit drug, according to Superintendent Kilano. “Trends in drug dealing show that dagga is the most common drug of choice available in Botswana because it is cheap and easily available unlike hard drugs which are expensive and hard to see on the streets,” he says.
The Drugs and related substances act further states that, “(1) If any police officer has reasonable grounds for believing that any person has committed an offence under this Part or any regulations made under this Act in relation to this Part he may (a) enter without a search warrant upon any land, and there require any such person to produce for his inspection any habit-forming drug in his possession, or any permit or licence or other authorization issued to him or required to be kept by him under the provisions of this Act or any regulations made there under; (b) without a search warrant search such person or any animal in the possession of such person, and enter and search any land, building, vehicle, aircraft or boat in the possession or use of such person, and open and search any receptacle or thing in the possession of or under the control of such person.”
It is only unfortunate that these laws leave out other intoxicating and potentially lethal substances like glue which is also a hallucinogen. “Substances like glue are household products, they are not regulated. These are regarded as get away drugs because users end up using hard drugs like dagga then shift to harder drugs like cocaine,” says Kilano.
This does not help since it is not only damaging to the body but it also makes it susceptible to usage of harder drugs in future.
Drug peddling may not be as rife in Botswana as it is in other countries but it exists. Parents should always be on the lookout for the above symptoms in their children and spouses on their partners. Law enforcers depend on the public for tip offs therefore they should not hesitate to report dealers and they should not protect them. Once a person is addicted there is extreme need for rehabilitation and if it is not detected earlier results are always fatal.