SPECIAL REPORT - Sierra Leone's Unemployed Youth Wallow In Drugs

The air is heavy with the smell of marijuana as Gibrilla (23) expertly rolls a large joint at the Members of Blood (M.O.B) gang base in a poor neighbourhood of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown.
He is part of a generation of young people faced with a chronic shortage of jobs, many of whom have turned to routine drug use as a way to pass the time and deal with the stresses of life in what is still one of the poorest countries in the world.

“Most of the young guys smoke diamba (marijuana) here,” says Gibrilla, gesturing towards the slum neighbourhood of Susan’s Bay. He says he has been smoking since he was 11, and usually smokes about 15 joints every day. “I have my first one at about five o’clock in the morning when I wake up,” he told IPS. “It makes me feel good.”

Sierra Leone’s high unemployment rate is fuelling a culture of drug use among the country’s urban youth. Experts say the trend is responsible for acts of violent crime, while medical practitioners are concerned about serious health repercussions for long-term users, which the country is poorly equipped to address.

In another part of the city, Patrick, who estimates his age as “twenty-something”, swigs from a plastic sachet of gin as he talks of his relationship with drugs.

“I use cocaine, marijuana, brown-brown (heroin) and liquor,” he told IPS. “I did not choose to live like this. I was living the street life…sometimes I did not even have somewhere to sleep. I had nothing.”

Patrick now feels he needs drugs and alcohol just to get through the day. “I feel hopeless when I don’t have them,” he explains.

His friend Alimu, heavily tattooed, with the initials of his gang shaved into his hair, speaks of a similar dependence. “I don’t want to stop,” he says. “I need it now.”

Alimu is not sure how much he takes every day, only that he spends all the money he can get on drugs and alcohol.
Sierra Leone 7059984887625500628

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