Rebels without a clue

March 11, 2008 at 10:40 am | Posted in Celebrity, Drugs | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , ,

A UN report claims that drug use is bad for Africa; media reports on how it’s bad for celebrities 

Over at Obselete there’s a lengthy post about the trend towards blaming all the world’s problems on celebrities. Last week, a UN report blamed the Dohertys, Mosses and Winehouses of the world for glamourising drug use and criticised our judicial system for being too lenient on these strung-out snort machines. Septicisle rightly points out that the endless ambulance-chasing of Doherty and Winehouse, their physical deterioration and very public breakdowns hardly leave the impression that drug use is glamourous, and also notes that without an obsessive and intrusive media making money out of stalking them, there’d be no such stories in the first place:

All of this though is still missing the most obvious point: that without the sanctimonious media that feels fit to follow a “celebrity’s” every movement, and indeed has the power to both make that individual’s image in the first place and then later to destroy it if it so desires, the public at large that are apparently so influenced by celebrity behaviour would never know about it in the first place.


Newspapers of course love to have it both ways: they denounce the behaviour of celebrities in comment pieces and leader columns while their sales and showbiz pages depend on capturing that very behaviour which would otherwise go unnoticed.

But in the media’s obsession with celebrity, a far more important part of the report was missed; namely, the toll that the drug trade is taking on the failed states of West Africa. Sunday’s Observer featured some first rate reporting:

By day, Guinea-Bissau looks like the impoverished country it is. Most people cannot afford a bus fare, never mind a four-wheel drive. There is no mains electricity. Water supplies are restricted to the wealthy few, and landmark buildings such as the presidential palace remain wrecked nine years after the end of the war. But this wreck of a country is what the UN – which declared war last week on celebrity cocaine culture – calls the continent’s ‘first narco-state’. West Africa has become the hub of a flow of cocaine from South America into Europe, now that other routes have become tough for the traffickers.

With the old lines of supply becoming more heavily-policed, the drug barons of Columbia established a trade route through countries like Guinea-Bissau, in large part because their state is so weak that politicians and police officials are easily bought-off. It is this terrible situation that prompted Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN’s anti-drugs office, to write this passionate comment piece:

And yet for every rebel with a cause, there are 10 others without a clue. While some well-meaning pop idols and film stars might rage against suffering in Africa, their work is being undermined by the drug habits of careless peers such as Kate Moss. For the cocaine used in Europe passes through impoverished countries in west Africa, where the drugs trade is causing untold misery, corruption, violence and instability.

Of course, Kate Moss is not directly responsible for the drug trade in Africa and it’s still far too easy to blame celebrity substance abuse for making it more widespread amongst the general population. That said, anyone who has ever bought or used cocaine is still an indirect accomplice in the misery of millions. And for those celebrities who lend their voices to campaigns on behalf of Africa and yet still find time for the odd line, it’s the vilest kind of hypocrisy.

Costa’s piece ends with this pointed plea: if you don’t care what the drug does to you, at least spare a thought for what it can do to others.

Too true. But no one’ll ever write a pop song about it.



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  1. Well yes, but for every celebrity that takes drugs there are probably around 10,000 “ordinary” people that have habits far beyond what they consume. All the more reason for the UN to end its ridiculous attempts to stop a trade that will never stop, and instead move on to controlling, classifying and legalising.

  2. Good points, and though none of us really know how it’d work in practice, I’d agree on the point of controlling, classifying and legalising. But to be fair to the UN, that’s not something it has either the power or resources to bring about. Bam Ki Moon managed to scrape together $20 million at the Security Council to help strengthen the eradication efforts in Guinea-Bissau – a paltry drop in the ocean compared to what would actually have been needed. Replace the word ‘eradication’ with ‘legalisation’ and they wouldn’t even have received that. Control & legalisation can only happen at a national level, and at the moment western governments are far more comfortable fighting an unwinnable war on drugs than they considering the kind of bold and humane action that would both make the drug trade less dangerous and exploitative and neuter some of its equally destructive side-effects (people-trafficking, guns etc). Without that kind of commitment, we can hardly blame the UN for doing one of the few things it can do; writing reports detailing the extent of the problem and hoping our governments do something more constructive about it.

    Anyway, the tragedy of the whole thing is that what should’ve been a serious discussion was made ignored by the talk of drug-taking celebrities. My post should probably have reflected that better, rather than letting my disdain for people who talk of ‘social justice’ in between coke breaks get the better of me.

    Thanks for stopping by

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