Rethinking drug policy from a peacebuilding perspective

Studies from Afghanistan, Colombia–Peru and Nigeria

This report unpacks the nexus between conflict, drugs, crime and violence in three crucial contexts: Afghanistan, the border between Colombia and Peru, and Nigeria.

With support from the Global Drug Policy Program of the Foundation for an Open Society, which aims at shifting the paradigm away from a punitive approach to international drug policy to one that is rooted in public health, development and human rights, International Alert carried out research to unpack the nexus between conflict, drugs, crime and violence in three crucial contexts: Afghanistan, the border between Colombia and Peru, and Nigeria. Building on the political momentum in each country, this research aimed at clarifying the role that drug production and trafficking play in the political economy of the three contexts and at understanding whether a peacebuilding approach could bring new venues and ideas to the conversation.

The research explored the various expressions of drug trafficking in the aforementioned contexts, and highlighted how all four countries share similar political, social and economic grievances that are – to various degrees – associated with drug trafficking, both in terms of what determines the reasons for entering the production and becoming associated with the trade, and how this impacts on individuals, governance and security.

An important distinction can be drawn between producing and transiting countries in terms of the economic opportunities that the drug trade offers. In producing countries (Afghanistan and Colombia/Peru), the livelihood of communities continues to depend heavily on the illicit crops, which are part of a much larger chain of local ‘fixers’ and national and international traffickers, many of which are linked to criminal or illegal armed groups. Conversely, in countries such as Nigeria, which is mostly a transit country (even though the production of methamphetamine is on the rise), the narcotics trade strengthens the economic position of already powerful individuals, reinforcing their influence over the state.