by Seshata on 17/12/2013 | Cannabis News

Cannabis in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) is a vast, war-shattered country in sub-Saharan Africa, with a population of over 75 million and an area of nearly 2.5 million km². The Second Congo War (1998-2003) devastated the already unstable nation and massively increased dependence on illicit trade, including cannabis.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) is a vast, war-shattered country in sub-Saharan Africa, with a population of over 75 million and an area of nearly 2.5 million km². The Second Congo War (1998-2003) devastated the already unstable nation and massively increased dependence on illicit trade, including cannabis.

Law & International Policy

Since the establishment of the current democratic (although with definite authoritarian tendencies) system after the official end of the war in 2003, the legal system has become somewhat more effective—while still remaining opaque and potentially highly-corrupt, as well as based on increasingly-outdated legislation. Present-day cannabis laws were codified in 1917, and have not been amended since, although the nation is also a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention.

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Ongoing conflicts in DR Congo have caused displacement of over 2 million people as recently as 2012

DR Congo (not to be confused with the smaller neighbouring country to the west, the Republic of Congo, which is usually shortened to Congo) plays very little active role in regional efforts to curb drug trafficking, and generally shows little will to fight the great expansion of such activity within its own borders. The knock-on effects of war, corruption and lack of funding precludes the establishment of well-trained, well-paid law enforcement agents capable of mounting effective investigations.

Drug enforcement is not considered a priority, and it is suspected that much of the country’s production and trafficking is ignored due to corruption in the higher ranks of law enforcement and government. However, Congolese officials attended the Heads of Narcotics and Law Enforcement Agencies (HONLEA) conference held in Windhoek, Namibia in October 2009, a sign that their commitment to international efforts is growing.

In 2011, National Geographic reported that rebel forces had cleared protected land—important habitat for endangered gorillas—in Virunga National Park to plant cannabis, and that several park rangers had been shot and killed by militiamen keen to protect their lucrative investments.

Cannabis Arrests & Sentences

Beyond 213 known prisons holding approximately 30,000 prisoners, there are reports of secret prisons which may hold many thousands more, and detainees are reportedly kept in appalling conditions even in official institutions. There is very little information available on the rates of arrest and the nature of punishments for drug offences in DR Congo.

Despite poor enforcement of law, trafficking of drugs including cannabis is a capital offence in DR Congo, although authorities will not always impose the death penalty. It is not known how many of the 330-500 individuals currently on death row are there for trafficking offences.

In a case of a Ugandan national arrested with five kilograms of opium in Azanga, a trading centre in DR Congo’s Eastern Province, Congolese officials imposed a custodial sentence of an “unspecified number of years” rather than the death penalty, perhaps due to the desire to amicably resolve a situation with the potential to cause international tension.

The Cannabis Trade in DR Congo

DR Congo is the second-largest country in Africa (after Algeria) and the fourth most populous. Despite the country’s vast mineral wealth, estimated at over $24 trillion in value, instability and lack of infrastructure have prevented exploitation of the existing natural resources and shifted economic focus onto agricultural products and illicit goods—which can be produced, obtained and transported quickly and easily, without the need for the infrastructure required for legitimate industries such as mining to be viable.

In Virunga National Park, protected land reserved for gorillas has been cleared by rebel forces to grow cannabis, a highly lucrative cash crop

Cannabis is grown throughout the nation, with points of concentrated cultivation occurring in the provinces of Kasai, Bandundu and Lower Congo. There are no available statistics on the acreage or yield of cannabis cultivation efforts, and the only available information on seizures often comes from other countries, where Congolese nationals are regularly arrested while attempting to traffic cannabis and other drugs.

As well as cultivation, there is significant trafficking of cannabis and other drugs to neighbouring countries, including Rwanda, Uganda, Congo and Angola. Major trafficking hubs include the ferry crossing connecting Brazzaville, Congo to Kinshasa, DR Congo; the Ndjili International Airport at Kinshasa, and the seaport at Matadi. Congolese traffickers are also responsible for ensuring the drugs are then shipped to target markets elsewhere in Africa as well as to various European countries.

Cultural Use of Cannabis in DR Congo

Cannabis use is traditional and widely practised in much of sub-Saharan Africa. It is believed that Portuguese and Arab traders brought the plant to east Africa between the 10th and the 15th centuries, and that its spread was assisted throughout the southern parts of the continent by indigenous—mainly Bantu—tribespeople.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a large country in sub-Saharan Africa

More recently, massive displacement of people as a result of conflicts in Rwanda, Angola, Burundi and Sudan have led to DR Congo’s playing host to millions of refugees, many of whom have brought their own cannabis traditions and practices with them. As well as this, there is now a significant Rastafarian population in Kinshasa that makes enthusiastic ritual use of cannabis.

Modern Attitudes to Cannabis in DR Congo

As with much of southern Africa, rates of cannabis consumption in DR Congo are relatively high; Congolese officials believe the rate has increased steadily over the last few years, although there is a lack of properly-maintained statistics on drug abuse. Little resources are put into rehabilitation or treatment programs for cannabis or any other drug; cannabis use itself is not widely considered to be so dangerous or unacceptable as to necessitate an immediate or extreme effort. Many of DR Congo’s inhabitants use cannabis for recreational and medicinal purposes, as has been customary for hundreds of years in the region.

Unfortunately, keeping accurate records of the situation in DR Congo is impossible, due to the ongoing conflicts and instability that caused displacement of over two million people as recently as last year. However, where possible it is important to document the history and current events of the ongoing drug war in every country that it occurs—for this reason, organisations like the Hash Marijuana & Hemp Museum in Amsterdam are crucial as they attempt to bring together information from various credible sources in order to provide the most accurate, up-to-date and unbiased information on the present global situation.

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