There has been a dramatic surge in drug use in Zimbabwe, particularly among the youth, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Statistics compiled in 2021 by the Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network revealed that 60 percent of psychiatric admissions were due to drug abuse. 80 percent of these were people aged 16 to 25. In Zimbabwe, the use of drugs is not exclusive to a particular social class, running rampant in elite suburbs, slum neighbourhoods and rural areas.

Commonly used substances in Zimbabwe include glue, bronclee(containing codeine), mangemba, cane spirit, codeine and methamphetamine (crystal meth or ‘mutoriro’) and musombodia (a colourless highly intoxicating drink made from ethanol and emblements powder).

Drugs are readily available, with prices starting from US$3 and drug dens neatly hidden in many neighbourhoods. Desperate users sell stolen items to feed their addiction.

Drugs in Zimbabwe | Boy smoking crystal meth

Short term highs are traded in for a host of long term health complications like sexual diseases, cardiovascular and neurological diseases, psychiatric complications, addiction, stress, depression, anxiety, suicide and even psychosis.

Sadly, the government does not have the resources or facilities to handle the drug problem. The government runs four major psychiatric hospitals but they are dilapidated and staff are poorly-paid. Private drug rehabilitation centres are either fully booked or too expensive for most citizens. Some facilities charge up to US$900 cash upfront for admission.

Unemployment, poverty and hopelessness has forced the youth to escape their reality through drug use. The Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions estimates that the unemployment rate is hovering between 70 percent and 80 percent. In 2019, 42% of Zimbabweans lived in extreme poverty below the international poverty line (PPP $1.90/person/day).

Drugs in Zimbabwe: Psychiatric patients looking through broken window at psychiatric facilities near Harare. Credit: AP Photo/ Tsvangiray Mukwazhi

Sinister reasons behind the surge of drug use?

Perhaps there are sinister reasons why drug use exploded among youth in the failed state of Zimbabwe.  Youth are able to mobilise and enforce regime change. The Arab Spring in 2010/2011 was sparked by the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old fruit vendor from Sidi Bouzid who set himself on fire to protest against unemployment and police mistreatment. The protests rapidly spread across the country and thousands of young men and women descended on the streets. From Tunisia, the protests then spread to five other countries: Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain. The result? Regimes were overturned. In Egypt, young people organised around three major youth movements––the Kefaya (“Enough”, in Arabic) pro-democracy movement; the April 6 Youth Movement, and the “We are All Khaled Said” movement–– marched and gathered in Tahrir Square to protest against the regime. They successfully ousted President Hosni Mubarak. In June 2011, the movement Y’en a Marre! (Enough is enough!) saw Senegalese youth descend on the streets of Dakar, clash with police, and managed to stop the approval of constitutional amendments that would benefit former president Wade. Then in February 2012, the Sengalese youth helped to remove Abdoulaye Wade from office. In October 2014, young Burkinabe protested for the end of President Blaise Compaoré’s 27-year-rule. As a result, President Compaoré was forced to step down.

Drug use in Zimbabwe has disconnected and distracted the youth from the grim political and economic situation. They won’t mobilise. They won’t protest. They won’t vote. They are numb and powerless.

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