Sunday, March 09, 2008

Joining the dots between doing the lines

After his comments earlier in the week, the UN's Antonio Maria Costa expands on his view of drugs at length in The Observer this week. It's undoing the work of Geldof and Bono, he says:

Within Europe in recent years, a few influential pop stars and other fashion-conscious celebrities have been at the forefront of efforts to improve living standards in Africa. Bob Geldof's Live Aid concerts and Bono's Drop the Debt campaign have been vital in raising political awareness and money to tackle the continent's economic crisis. Stopping the trade in blood diamonds and promoting fair trade with Africa have been two other favoured causes of the celebrity elite.

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, the actual truth is more complicated still - after all, Pete Doherty was both doing coke and part of Make Poverty History. Simultaneously. Canceling himself out.

Costas explains how cocaine is now adding an extra layer of misery to West African life, as the ports there become a funnel for the drug on its way to Kerry Katona's house and Amy Winehouse's mansion:
The cocaine is unloaded and then repackaged for shipment to Europe. It is moved up the coast hidden in export consignments - crates of fruit or crafts, even frozen fish. Because the cocaine trade from west Africa is relatively new, the European authorities are not looking for it with the same vigilance that applies to goods from South America or the Caribbean, so there are fewer checks.

This burgeoning trade is a disaster for west Africa. It perverts the local economies. In Guinea-Bissau, for example, the value of the drugs trade may be as high as the country's entire national income. It spreads corruption and undermines security.

It is also spreading addiction and related health and social problems, particularly since couriers and other helpers are often paid in kind with narcotics.

There's also blame to be shared with the media:
The media deserve much of the blame. The entertainment industry puts a gloss on the latest drugs scandal and uncritically spins the story for all its worth. Notoriety sells, whereas when stars such as Eric Clapton discreetly seek treatment for their addiction there is little interest. If the media want to assume some social responsibility, they should not act as cheerleader or megaphone for celebrity junkies.

That's a slightly simplistic take on the story - you could hardly argue that Doherty, Moss or Winehouse are praised for their drug-taking, but the problem is that the gossip media have great trouble untangling excess from success; you only have to look at Gordon, struggling to balance condemnation for Amy Winehouse snorting vodka while applauding heavy drinking in his caner's league to know that looking for any sort of moral coherence in the commentary is going to be hopeless. It's not that The Sun and Heat are in a moral vacuum - they can sound outrage so shrill only dogs can hear it when they feel like it - but they lack any framework in which they operate.