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Illicit Drugs Put Tanzania's Workforce At Risk

By By Anaclet Rwegayura, Panafrican News Agency, 20 December 2000

Dar es Salaam - Efforts to suppress the increasing demand for narcotics in Tanzania must be stepped up or else the country's workforce is destined for a downfall, a senior government official said Wednesday.

Labour, youth development and sports minister Juma Kapuya said the rising wave of illicit drugs trade and consumption puts 33 percent of Tanzania's population at risk.

The country's population is currently put at over 31 million with most of the people socially maturing without being economically independent.

Times are changing for the young in ways that affect their lives both positively and negatively. The resulting confusion leads many of them to find peace of mind in drugs.

Our youthful population, aged between 15 and 35 years, accounts for 68 percent of the national workforce, but the swelling illicit drugs trafficking and consumption may be their death knell, Kapuya told participants at a workshop on drug law enforcement for policymakers.

There is increasing public concern in Tanzania for young people who live in situations characterised by violence and distrust but are often reluctant to reunite with their families.

They spend most of their time on streets, now and then grouping at the so-called jobless corners, popularly known as kijiweni to compare notes about idle pleasures, smoke marijuana and fix deals for different narcotic drugs.

Marijuana is the cheapest drug on the market. One roll costs about 1,000 Tanzania shillings (1 US dollar = 800 shillings).

Kapuya describes them as youths who find themselves in a vacuum because the education they got at primary, secondary and even tertiary level has not prepared them for creative self-employment.

Different studies also describe them as socially marginalised youth who are at a double high risk of contracting HIV/AIDS as they succumb to drug addiction.

Already Tanzania is among countries which have large numbers of HIV/AIDS infected people across many groups in the population.

The country's policymakers now seem to agree that whatever can be done to mitigate the impact of the AIDS epidemic on people and society should also take the drugs crisis on board.

Letting both AIDS and the drugs take their toll of the young population may lead to gravely disastrous consequences to the economy and the nation's future in general.

Experts at Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar es Salaam report of rising cases referred to the hospital from different regional hospitals for specialised treatment related to drug abuse.

They include brain damage, heart problems, damage to lungs, liver cirrhosis, psychosis, impotence and weight loss.

While some parts blame the drugs problems on the weakness of the education system, analysts of prevailing lifestyles find fault with family heads who habitually fail to keep their kids from becoming spoilt and drug-addicted.

No matter what their daily schedules are, parents must show that their children are always at the forefront of their minds, a secondary school teacher, Joseph Mateo, told PANA.

Children hear everything adults say and they store it. So it is important to have time to talk with them, say the right things to them and raise them in the right way.

When they become adults, they will not depart from the right path shown in childhood. Children may experience tough times as adolescents, but when they get older, they will do what is right, because that's what they were taught when they were young. If they go astray, don't blame teachers, he added.

Youth counselling is a glaringly missing element in Tanzania despite the increasing concern for the socially marginalised young adults, both men and women.

The only social support they get is typically from peers living under similar circumstances. Policymakers and social workers may find it difficult to reach them with advisory or any other assistance.

But there is no doubt that girls and boys found walking the streets need information and services beyond what is provided by traditional and school-base programmes to enable them live responsibly.

For Tanzania, economic planners maintain, recent success in macroeconomics will enable the nation to address social problems more effectively than in the past.

However, economists quickly point out that the country's 4 percent annual economic growth rate must, at least, be doubled in order to support the population that is growing at the rate of 2.8 percent per annum.

For the time being Tanzania still has the capacity to build up a strong economic base on which the population's vulnerability in the wake of AIDS and the drugs menace can be drastically reduced.