• As expert puts the population of Drug Addicts at over 85,000

The Better Future Foundation (BFF) and its collaborating partner, the University of Liberia’s (UL) Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation (KAICT), commemorated the 58th Unification Day in Monrovia, with several leading experts highlighting the causes and factors that lead to unbridled drug abuse, proliferation, and addiction in Liberia.

The experts also made a number of key recommendations aimed at not only bolstering and enhancing genuine national healing and reconciliation, but also addressing the scourge of illicit drugs, which is wreaking havoc on the lives of Liberia’s predominantly young population and, as a result, destabilizing the country’s peace, unity, and socio-economic development.

The National Unification Day Program, whose theme was “Reconciling Liberia for the Twenty-First Century: understanding the current status of drug proliferation and addiction among citizens and its implications for sustaining peace and democracy in Liberia,” featured thematic presentations and interactive panel discussions that drew attendees from various colleges and universities, civil society and pro-democracy groups, women AND youth community.

The Government of Liberia (GOL), through the Office of the Minister of Internal Affairs, Varney A. Sirleaf; the National Traditional Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia (NTCCEL); and the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA), praised BFF and KAICT for organizing the national unification day program and the deliberation on drug abuse, proliferation, and addiction in the country in their Goodwill Messages delivered on the occasion.

Rev. Augustine S. Arkoi, the Founder and President of the Better Future Foundation (BFF), gave an overview of the event.

Mr. Arkoi, who is a supporter of the Liberia Democracy Sustainability Platform (DSP), stated that from 2014 to the present, BFF has had a fruitful partnership and collaboration with the Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation (KAICT), particularly in organizing the annual National Unification Day celebration (NUD).

The goal of this year’s event, which was titled “Reconciling Liberia for the Twenty-First Century: Understanding the Current Status of Drug Proliferation and Addiction among Citizens and its Implications on Sustaining Peace and Democracy in Liberia,” according to Rev. Arkoi, was to bring the debate about drug proliferation and abuse to national attention and seek the opinions of the country’s political institutions and experts on how to mitigate the scourge.

The National Unification and Integration Policy was started by Liberia’s 19th President, William V.S. Tubman, 58 years ago in 1964, to decrease social and political inequalities between Americo-Liberians and indigenous Liberians, according to the BFF CEO.

The National Legislature then passed legislation designating May 14 as National Unification Day, which would be honored as a national holiday. During the Tubman Era, four more counties were founded and absorbed into the Republic of Liberia under one system of governance: Bong, Grand Gedeh, Lofa, and Nimba.

National unity, Mr. Arkoi cautioned, remains a crucial problem 58 years after its passage, as seen by the lack of genuine national reconciliation, peace, social fairness, drug misuse, and growing violence in the country.

The 58th National Unification Day Program, according to the BFF President, is being held in the face of sensitive and escalating socio-economic tensions, particularly the unfavorable political discord involving some of the country’s major stakeholders, while the country is rapidly succumbing to drug proliferation, abuse, and addiction.

The Rev. Arkoi stated that drug addiction among Liberia’s youth has become a destabilizing factor in the country’s peace and unity.

He informed the crowd, “The NUD event strives to highlight and discuss the key causes leading to and affecting drug consumption, proliferation, and addiction in the country.”

CSOs, political parties, students, Fula Business Association representatives, and community people from the 16 ECOWAS member states were among the attendees.

Political will, according to empirical study, is a critical requirement for combating drug spread and addiction. As a result, a panel of high-level political institutions has confirmed their attendance to address the theme of this year’s National Unification Day, with the goal of formulating a consensus solution through policy formation to ease the country’s crippling drug epidemic.

The Better Future Foundation (BFF) and its collaborating institutions have been spearheading the annual celebration of National Unification Day (NUD) since 2014, in recognition of a shared desire to raise national awareness and rally public support for genuine national healing, peace, unification, and development, according to Rev. Arkoi.

Acting National Peace Ambassador Eric S. Quaqua, speaking on behalf of Internal Affairs Minister Varney Sirleaf, said that drug proliferation, abuse, and addiction have had a negative impact on Liberia’s youth since the disarmament and demobilization of various former warring factions that participated in the country’s civil war about 15 years ago.

“We are also aware that there was, and still is, a need to rehabilitate the thousands of ex-fighters who are languishing in ghettos around the country during the disarmament and demobilization,” he told the crowd.

Liberia and its people have gone a long way since the country’s civil war, which began in December 1989 and ended in August 2003, according to Mr. Quaqua.

Our confidence in the Divine has brought us to this day, symbolizing our various nationalities, cultures, and religious views, as well as our optimism and tenacity as a nation and people. After years of conflict, we must now be prepared to do everything it takes to maintain the peace we deserve. As a result, we must ensure that we never again journey down the path to the abyss, where we experienced chaos, hopelessness, dread, conflict, and man’s inhumanity to man, via our combined thoughts, words, prayers, and actions. Let us instead choose the path to the mountain top, where we can demonstrate our love for God and humanity by supporting others, ‘changing for hope,’ and taking advantage of opportunities, encouraging aspiration, rewarding motivation, facilitating genuine reconciliation, replicating collective achievements through collaboration and partnership, and reclaiming our identity as Liberians.”

“We need continual reminders that peace is not an event, but a process with so many stakeholder perspectives, needs, and expectations to address; various interest groups require time, space, and place to communicate their distinct views,” the Peace Ambassador added. To maintain our successes, we must maintain constructive dialogue and proceed with care.

“There are two profound concerns to consider: (1) What did we mean when we talked of disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration (DDRR) in the context of the situation of drug proliferation, misuse, and addiction in Liberia and its consequences for maintaining peace and democracy?” (2) What are we willing to do as a nation as a whole?”

“The panelists will give distinct and significant solutions to these topics,” he continued. However, many people may only be concerned with the near term, with their daily needs and human security. Others may be more likely to consider the long term, considering the socioeconomic and political repercussions.”

“This is an important step for keeping our peace,” the Acting National Peace Ambassador told the crowd. “As we begin this process of participation, we invite all participants to make clear ideas and suggestions.” He praised BFF and its collaborators for their willingness to “take on such a difficult matter.”

The invocation was given by the Right Reverend Dr. James B. Sellee, Bishop Coadjutor of the Episcopal Church of Liberia, to begin the official proceedings of the 2022 National Unification Day celebration. He urged Liberians at home and abroad to work hard to ensure the country’s peace and stability.

Dr. Raphaela Tabea Kormoll, a German scholar who is now the Acting Deputy Director for Research at the University of Liberia’s Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation (KAICT), presented the opening comments, expressing the university’s complete support for achieving peace and unity in Liberia.

Similarly, Mr. Michael W. Jipply, the Liberia Drugs Enforcement Agency’s (LDEA) Communication Officer, who spoke on behalf of the Director General of LDEA at the program, noted that Liberia approved a legislation establishing May 14th as a National Unification Day fifty-seven years ago.

Mr. Jipply stated that the day was set aside to “reconcile and bring together all Liberians as a group of people, holding together in one accord with Liberia as our shared inheritance, notwithstanding our political, socioeconomic, and economic diversities.”

Liberians, he continued, have enjoyed uninterrupted peace, unity, and stability as Africa’s oldest sovereign republic since 1964, as predicted.

“Fifteen years later, as a result of individual political quests, the same political will that saw it necessary to keep us united as a people and to recognize programs befitting reconciliation and national unification became misguided, self-centered, and counterproductive to our peace and stability,” Mr. Jipply asserted.

He noted that today’s reconciliation and national unity have been “tempered with a senseless political devastation that has resulted in insecurity, political witch-hunting, rampant corruption, nepotism, ethnic divide, and a breakdown of our social and cultural values as a people,” as well as “insecurity, political witch-hunting, rampant corruption, nepotism, ethnic divide, and a breakdown of our social and cultural values as a people.”

“Since then, the effects of these political devastations have continued to badly damage the lives of our younger generations and undermine our national security systems,” Mr. Jipply stated. While we recognize that political will is one of the most important weapons for addressing our country’s problems, we are equally convinced that self-centered and misplaced political will undermines national unity. It also jeopardizes national security and stymies our country’s primary growth goals. “Let us prioritize and respect national security and cultural variety if we are to be together and reconcile our differences as a people, and if we are to enjoy national unity under peace and stability,” he implored.

Let us remember that drug misuse and trafficking have far-reaching impacts on our national unity and stability as a people as we emphasize the theme of this year’s National Unification Day Program. “Drug misuse endangers our national security even when there is no need for it,” he remarked, worried.

“Misguided and self-centered politics cannot advance the demand for a harsher drug law,” he said.

If we must look back, Liberia must be more decisive and proactive in redefining our position in the face of this threat.”

Drug addiction, according to the DEA officer, is a felony that should never be condoned in today’s society.

Let us make the fight against this threat a top priority, and let us all work together to support law enforcement in our local communities.

The Communication Officer took advantage of the opportunity to appeal for enough logistical and financial support to enable the Drug Enforcement Agency to carry out its duties effectively. He also advocated for the government to declare drug misuse a national emergency and for all of us as a people to come together and beat our personal egos in order to win the war against drug trafficking and abuse.

“As a result, we would want to use this means to urge members of the Liberian Senate to examine the present drug law’s passage before that body for concurrence, as it is their enabling obligation.

Mr. Jipply stated, “It is our hope that the wisdom of the seats they occupy would lead them as they decide the fate of our country, Mama Liberia.”

“It is my distinct privilege to once again represent and speak on behalf of Chief Zanzar Karwor and the Traditional Community of our country,” said Mr. Isaac B. Gbarpue, speaking on behalf of the Chairman of the Traditional Council, Chief Zanzan Karwor. We’ve come because of the significance of this presentation and the topic being discussed. Chief Karwor has asked me to pass along these words of caution, counsel, and pleading.”

“Despite all of the efforts made by governments, civil society organizations, and international partners to rebuild our country following a catastrophic civil war, we are still on the verge of hitting rock bottom if nothing is done to combat heroin addiction.

“Over the last few years, we’ve talked a lot about how destructive traditional behaviors can be. It’s past time for us to focus on the negative consequences of consuming hazardous substances “He went on to say.

“We, the National Traditional Council of Chiefs and Elders, are ready to support you and all of your compatriots in your endeavor.” Liberia is sinking, and the money supplied to us by other countries’ taxpayers is being squandered unless we end drug proliferation and addiction. Mr. Gbarpue told the audience, “The sturdy walls of a wonderful future that we all wish to create are cracking, and if we sit here with our voices shut and hands folded, they will fall.”

“Programs to remove our brothers off the streets and cease utilizing their condition for political gain,” the Traditional Council said.

The chiefs’ hearts are shattered because “rather than doing something to improve the plight of the Zogos, politicians just visit them to ask for votes during elections,” to the point where “we now have the Zogo Community on the constituency lists of all political parties.”

He wished the Better Future Foundation and its partners well and thanked them for starting the process.

Having a prayer for national unity has been a regular component of the indoor National Unification Day event.

This year, Apostle James Mendel Tarr, Sr., President and Founder of Rhema Christian Ministries, conducted the Prayer for National Healing, Peace, and Reconciliation, and invited the audience to repeat after him sentence by sentence as he prayed for the nation.

Adam M. Kyne, Executive Director of the A. M. Kyne Collegiate Resource Center in Sinkor, Monrovia, and Visiting Professor at the Baptist Theological Seminary in Margibi County, stated in his expert presentation that complete national unification will be realized if those who are differently challenged than the majority of us are included in our societal and political engagements.

“It must be shown that everyone is challenged or has a susceptibility to addiction—-a brain disorder marked by impulsive conduct, denial, preoccupation, out-of-control behaviors, tolerance, impulsive spending, and persistent substance misuse despite negative consequences,” says Dr. Kyne.

“Those who are differently challenged (drug addicts) and suffering from chronic brain disorders known as “Zogos” should not be ostracized, abandoned, or stigmatized,” he argued.

“Beyond any reasonable question,” Prof. Kyne says, “every one of us demonstrates the same addictive traits in different ways.” Alcoholism, sex addiction, internet addiction, shopping addiction, food addiction, or gambling addiction are some of the most common addictions. Let us contemplate and begin to discover a national solution to the nation’s biggest problem: drug addiction, rather than the intentional national prejudice against our brothers and sisters stranded on drugs. Rather than assigning culpability, they make a blanket determination that all “Zogos” are sought, dangerous, and demonic. Let us carefully gather the best minds and specialists in the field of addiction to address Liberia’s drug addiction problem. “Please accept my apologies for reminding you that drug addiction is a chronic brain disease.”

If we don’t go around arresting people with diseases or illnesses (cancer, diabetes, HIV, AIDS, etc.), then we shouldn’t go around arresting drug addicts who are suffering from brain ailments. Let us not go around incarcerating, beating, alienating, and ostracizing drug users with brain diseases if we don’t go around incarcerating, beating, alienating, and ostracizing persons with diseases and illnesses “Prof. Kyne addressed the audience.

Dr. Kyne: I’m Dr. Kyne, and I’m “Our kids, daughters, siblings, and sisters are the “Zokos” (as I refer to individuals who are differently challenged). They need us more this season—they need us to assist them—and if we assist them, we assist ourselves, our country, and future generations.”

Prof. Kyne stated that “we are now sure that residential treatment and single-organization response to drug addiction in Liberia are not working” based on several research and decades of experience working with drug users.

“It is apparent that in Liberia, the existence of ghettos full of addicts and war-like lives will continue to be an allure and a way of life for many young Liberians who are being recruited in an increasing number of daily.”

“If this population continues to grow without rapid intervention, the drug addiction epidemic will spread; Liberia’s future security and stability would be jeopardized; and a new conflict will be inevitable.”

According to Dr. Kyne, 14 registered emergent young organizations led by the A. M. Kyne Collegiate Resource Center have created a collaboration to help ease the country’s current drug addiction epidemic for the first time in Liberia.

He went on to say that member organizations were chosen after a rigorous process that included filling out a lengthy online application, being screened based on standards and community effect, being interviewed by experts, and being chosen for membership.

He stated that the major purpose of this collaboration is to assist people in Monrovia and the surrounding area in getting off drugs one community at a time.

“Our initial strategy is to train members of the participating emerging youth organizations and community leaders to better grasp the science of addiction and how it affects the country, as well as to provide an effective approach to alleviating the drug pandemic.”

“Second, raise public awareness about the dangers of substance abuse and work to favorably influence practitioners and lawmakers so that legislative and therapeutic changes can benefit addicts and their families.”

Finally, undertake a community evaluation and client recruitment. Fourth, devise successful culturally contextual evidence-based community outreach tactics, and fifth, put them into action by implementing the techniques devised.

He mentioned the creation of various psycho-education (age-specific 14–19, 20–35) hubs for Intensive Out-Patient Groups (IOP), mixed with Narcotic Anonymous (NA) meetings facilitated by our trained psycho-educators and staged for community awareness (walks, games, etc.) and the conducting of an overall evaluation of the progress and gaps of the strategies and implementations used by the emerging youth organization for improvement.

We won’t have to live in fear and trepidation if we win this battle. We won’t have to walk around in fear, clutching our phones and luggage, if we win this battle. If we win this battle, we won’t have to construct our homes like prisons, complete with iron bars. Liberia would succeed if we are successful in easing the drug addiction epidemic “Prof. Kyne was emphatic. “

“All of us here are no exceptions,” he said, adding that addiction is a human problem. Phone addiction, music addiction, sex addiction, game addiction, and alcohol addiction are all common current addictions.

“When you spend too much time on your phone, or when you spend too much time watching or playing games on your computer or television to the exclusion of your family members, it is a sort of addiction; when you have sex with several women or men, that is sex addiction,” he said.

“Alcohol is the route to higher substances,” Prof. Kyne says. “In Liberia, alcohol is the most often abused drug.”

He highlighted denial, tolerance, reckless spending, out of control conduct, lack of interest, and fixation as frequent hallmarks of addiction.

Madam Olunbanke King-Akerele, Liberia’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, said she was pleased to see ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) community members represented at the Liberia National Unification Day Program in a brief special remark.

“We worked hard to create ECOWAS a community of the people,” MadamKing-Akerele, a former Minister of Commerce and current Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Angie Brooks International Center (ABIC), said.

On the subject of drugs, Angie Brooks International Center (ABIC) Board Chairperson stated that drug usage is a serious problem that necessitates coordination among numerous players, including national and international stakeholders.

At the same time, she expressed gratitude to BFF and its partners for bringing the drug proliferation discussion to the forefront of national debate in order to educate proper policy responses.

“Concrete steps are required. We need to include the international world in the drug problem because it is a national security concern. This is the destiny of our nation, and thus we cannot sit down and watch on, “the renowned diplomat and UNDP former Head for Africa underscored.

She expressed concern that the Liberian Nation’s Peace Ambassador, Rev. William R. Tolbert III, had died and was unable to attend the recent Unification Day Program held on the Capitol Hill main campus of the University of Liberia in Monrovia.

As a result, she requested a moment of silence in honor of the late Peace Ambassador. Following that, the audience rose to their feet and observed a moment of silence.

The former Minister of Foreign Affairs then alluded to Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, who recently appeared at the Angie Brooks International Center (ABIC), where she discussed the prospect of commencing the writing of a drug-related Act in the National Legislature.

She also stated that the ABIC is developing a program called “Aspiring Youth” that addresses the question of “Where are we going?” and engages Liberia’s youth in their future.

Prof. T. Debey Sayndee, Director of the University of Liberia’s Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation (KAICT), chaired the panel discussion after the expert presentations and special speeches.

Two of the three political parties or coalitions invited to the national unification day ceremony failed to appear for unknown reasons.

A delegate from the Rainbow Alliance (RA) did, however, attend. The Democratic Justice Party (DJP), Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE), Redemption Democratic Congress (RDC), True Wig Party (TWP), Union of Liberian Democrats (ULD), Victory for Change Party (VCP), and Vision for Liberia Transformation (VLT) are among the seven (7) political parties that make up the Rainbow Alliance (VOLT).

The Rainbow Alliance representative was therefore joined by the expert presenter and the moderator to form the panel, and the audience was engaged with peace and drug-related questions.

 While the RA Representative, Edward Norman, Jr., represented a political grouping, both Professors Adam Kyne and T. Debey Sayndee were, however, apolitical actors. 

 The Rainbow Alliance Representative, who used to be a student leader at the University of Liberia, said that everyone should be concerned about drug problems. 

He claimed that addicts do recruit every day everywhere, and drugs are being used all over the country. We need to be united in fighting this problem. “We can only have a drug-free country if we are united,” he said.

 Upon the introduction of the panelists, the moderator started posing questions to both the panelists and the audience. 

Question 1: What does this day mean to you?

From the audience, a participant answered that National Unification Day celebrations should begin with family members coming together and then the community.

 The participant added that “without unification, there is no peace.”

 A female respondent said unification day is a day for everyone to unite, a day to accept other people and to re-unite.

 Student Bendu George of New Hope Academy said it is a day for bringing people together and rising above their differences for national development and progress.

Question 2 was: What are the key drivers of national unification?

From the audience, the first respondent said “love”. “Justice and a fair justice delivery system,” said the second respondent.

 The first female respondent added that love for one another, and the second female also added equal rights and tolerance, especially religious tolerance.

 Question 3 was: How are illicit drugs shaping Liberia’s unification?

 Mr. David Kelvin Mansaray, of ECOWAS Community Union, said it is reducing the potential of future leaders.

 An ECOWAS youth said it is retarding human resources, and student Bendu George said it is shaping Liberia’s unification negatively.

Prof. Kyne was asked to provide a summary answer to the key drivers of national unification and how illicit drugs are shaping Liberia’s unification.

 In response, he told the forum that drug addiction is not demonic, as alluded to in many religious circles. Rather, he said, it is a chronic brain disease.

 “We have created a wide gap between drug addicts and non-addicts. We need to bridge that gap, “he disclosed.

 He noted that, statistically, the number of addicts is growing from 20,000 in 2016 to 60,000 in 2020 and now over 85,000.

 Question 4 was: What action plan do you offer to help us sail through this situation?

 In response, the Rainbow Alliance Representative said all opposition political parties/coalitions are a government in waiting. So, a Rainbow Coalition government would make sure that people who bring drugs into the country are punished in a strong way.

 “In this regard, and once in government, the Rainbow Alliance will create a robust system of checks at the entry ports to intercept such drugs.” It will also enact laws to provide a legal framework to deal with illicit drugs. Additionally, a Rainbow Alliance government will design a national rehabilitation program to restore the dignity of addicts, “he added.

The Rainbow Alliance Representative said, “Each year, we celebrate National Unification Day. We remind ourselves to work together or there will be no progress, more so in diversity. “

“As you leave from here, please be an ambassador of this forum to report drug users and sellers,” he asserted.

From the audience, Mr. Anoul Sheriff, Chairman of the Senegalese ECOWAS Citizens Union in Liberia, first wanted to know what happened to the seized drugs by the law enforcement agencies. “I suspect the seized drugs end up being re-introduced into the communities,” he noted. He simply advised that “we should be our own gate-keepers.”

Mr. Diallo of the Fula Business Association said BFF and its partners are doing well to bring people together to discuss these issues. “It is frustration that drives people into the illegal use of drugs,” he alluded.

He cautioned that parents should raise children together because single parents find it difficult to raise children alone. He recommended that the government should raid the ghettos and break them down.

Other suggestions from the audience included building a correction center in Grand Gedeh County; petitioning the religious leaders to use the pulpits to preach against drug abuse and trafficking; reporting, counseling, and punishing people involved in the sale or illicit use of drugs; building rehabilitation centers; and working with the law enforcement agencies, especially the Liberia National Police (LNP) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

For his part, Prof. Kyne said he wished the invited political leaders were all present in this very important deliberation.

“The blame game by opposition parties has been that when they get to power they will act, and when they get to power, they do nothing. “This circle of blame must end,” he argued.

He submitted that people who are doing something now to tackle the many problems society is facing should be the ones elected into state power tomorrow.

Prof. T. Debey Sayndee, who was in charge of the panel discussion, thanked the people on the panel and the people in the audience for their active participation and honest thoughts and suggestions.

He asked those who did not have the chance to express their views to send them to the organizing committee of the National Unification Day. “These views will be compiled as points of action to deal with the drugs issue,” Prof. Sayndee noted.

In closing remarks, the chief organizer of the program and founder of the Better Future Foundation, Rev. Augustine S. Arkoi, said, “We value your time committed here today.”

 “Let me re-echo the sentiments of our senior citizen, Madam Olubanke King-Akerele. We cherish the presence of our ECOWAS citizens in this gathering. “It is evidence to show that we are one people under ECOWAS. “

He thanked the Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation of the UL for technical support and collaboration, and the Beyond Law Chambers in Monrovia for providing lunch and feeding support for the program.

The Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Better Future Foundation (BFF) and the Managing Partner of the Beyond Law Chambers (BLC), Cllr. Mark M. M. Marvey, gave the final closing remarks. He urged Liberians to muster courage and to form networks to fight the scourge of drug proliferation in Liberia.

“National Unification Day is a central norm to national development and the pursuit of happiness,” Cllr. Marvey said.

 He called for more such programs to keep the debate on burning issues and cementing ties alive in the nation.

Better Future Foundation (BFF) is a civil society organization dedicated to the postwar reconstruction and development of Liberia. BFF’s mission primarily involves initiating programs and activities aimed at promoting socio-economic, educational, international cultural understanding and cooperation.

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