“Liberia “Zogos” EPIDEMIC: The Struggle of Liberian Youth against Drug Addiction”

By: Lawrence Banks Saydee | School of Global Affairs, Cuttington University |

Introduction

The term “Zogo” originated from the Liberian colloquia term “Zogos,” referring to a group of individuals often living on the fringes of society. Many Zogos are young people who have fallen victim to the allure of drugs as a coping mechanism for the hardships they face. Economic difficulties, the aftermath of the ugly civil war, and social marginalization contribute to the vulnerability of these individuals. One estimation done by the United Nations Development Programme puts the total number of zogos or disadvantage youth in the country at 75,000. Other estimates put the number between 100,000 to 200,000. According to a 2019 survey done by the Government of Liberia, 91% of the zogos in Liberia are from the male gender. This article aims to shed light on the issues faced by zogos (disadvantaged youth) in Liberia and explore potential solutions to empower and uplift this very strategic demographic of the Liberian society.

Root Causes of the Zogo EPIDEMIC

Several factors contribute to the alarming rise in drug addiction among Liberian youth.

Some of the instigating factors include:

Economic Hardship

Liberia’s economic challenges, exacerbated by a history of conflict, contribute to widespread poverty. The lack of opportunities and a struggling economy drive some youth to seek solace in substance abuse as a means of escape. High levels of youth unemployment contribute significantly to the appeal of drugs. Many young people, faced with limited job prospects and economic hardship, may turn to substance abuse as a way to cope with the stress and uncertainty of their future. The recent census indicated that Liberian youth constitute 79% of the country’s population but sadly, according to a recent World Bank project, only 3.5 percent of youth ages 15-24 have stable jobs in the formal sector. The majority are employed in the informal sector, either as unpaid family workers or self-employed. As a result of this unfortunate circumstances, many young people in Liberia are exposed to drugs as a way coping with the economic challenges they are faced with.

Post-War Trauma

The exposure to abusive substances during the war and the lack of proper rehabilitation and reintegration contributed significantly to the ongoing crisis. Liberia, like many developing countries, lacks adequate health services to address the mental health needs of its predominantly youthful population who are traumatized as a result of the civil war.

Recent studies reveal that Liberian youth grapple with war-related mental health issues such as substance abuse, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts. However, the lack of infrastructure, moral support, and a reluctance to seek help pose significant challenges. To cope, some youth resort to survival strategies like adultification, engaging in petty trade, drug use and sex work, potentially worsening trauma-related problems.

While some Liberians recognizes the benefits of mental health services such as counseling, education, and skills training for youth, there is an insufficient allocation of human and physical resources to implement these programs which undermines rehabilitation efforts. Additionally, a study focused on reintegrating former child soldiers into society identified obstacles such as a lack of government funding and families’ weak economic capacity to support children as some of the instigating factors behind the increase in drug usages among the youthful population of the country. These findings underscore the urgent need for increased public and private resources and attention to mental health services in Liberia.

Top of Form

Social Marginalization

The economic challenges, high unemployment, and limited access to educational opportunities contribute to a sense of hopelessness among Liberian youth. In response, some turn to substance abuse as a coping mechanism. Barriers to education, inadequate schools, and a shortage of qualified teachers further diminish employment prospects, fostering a feeling of exclusion that may drive youth towards drug use. The psychological impact of civil wars, especially for former child soldiers, creates lasting trauma, while a lack of support for social reintegration including capacities building programs to empower them with life sustenance skills like masonry, carpentry, plumbing etc. increases their susceptibility to substance abuse. Peer pressure and a lack of positive role models also contribute to substance abuse, while gender inequality, limiting opportunities for young women, exacerbates vulnerability to drug addiction. As a result of social marginalization, according to UNESCO and Countrymeter, youth illiteracy rate in Liberia stands at 54.47%. Addressing these interconnected issues is crucial to prevent and mitigate drug addiction among Liberian youth.

Impact on Society

The increase in the number of zogos in Liberia, stemming from drug addiction, has significantly hampered the country’s post-civil conflict rebuilding efforts. This pervasive issue adversely affects education, public health, political governance, community dynamics, family structures, crimes, and the economy. Drug addiction creates a cycle of limited opportunities for youth, impacting education and exacerbating physical and mental health issues. Public health concerns arise due to the associated risk of diseases like HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis. Beyond individuals, the societal impact extends to strained relationships, increased crime rates, and social instability. Economically, young people engaged in drug abuse struggle with employment, perpetuating poverty and involvement in criminal activities. The long-term consequences include the risk of dependencies and addiction, hindering individuals’ ability to lead fulfilling and productive lives thereby undermining human development which is important for nation building. Overall, the zogos epidemic poses a significant threat to Liberia’s sustainable development and the potential of its youth.

Addressing the Crisis

To combat the rising tide of drug addiction among Liberian youth, a multifaceted and collaborative approach is essential:

  1. Prevention and Awareness: Launch widespread awareness campaigns to educate youth about the dangers of drug abuse and promote preventive measures. This exercise should be implemented in schools, religious centers, and at the community level.
  2. Treatment and Rehabilitation: Strengthen and expand rehabilitation programs to provide effective treatment for those already affected by addiction, emphasizing a holistic approach that addresses both physical and mental health.
  3. Educational and Economic Opportunities: Invest in educational programs and vocational training initiatives to provide youth with viable alternatives to drug abuse, fostering a sense of purpose and hope for the future.
  4. Law Enforcement and Regulation: Strengthen law enforcement efforts to curb drug trafficking and regulate the availability of substances, creating a safer environment for young people. In this regard, the need for an increase budgetary allocation to the DEA should not be overlooked.
  5. Community Support Networks: Establish community-based support networks to provide assistance and encouragement to individuals and families affected by drug addiction, reducing the social stigma associated with seeking help. Privacy and confidentiality are also important in this regard.

In confronting the issue of drug addiction among Liberian youth, the collective efforts of the government, non-governmental organizations, and the international community are crucial. It is also important that the family being the basic unit of society be given a role to play in combating the high increase of drugs intake amongst the youth. By addressing the root causes, providing support systems, and creating opportunities for positive change, Liberia can break the chains of addiction and empower its youth to build a healthier sand more prosperous future.

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