The Seeding of Drug User Activism in East Africa

The Seeding of Drug User Activism in East Africa, taken from INPUD’s recently published newspaper. (This will be posted shortly in its entirety and in both Russian and English languages)

There is something happening in East Africa amongst people who use drugs. At a meeting in Nairobi on 3rd of May, with the Kenyan Network of People who Use Drugs (KeNPUD), KANCO*, Médecins du Monde (MdM) and NASCOP (the Kenyan ministry directly mandated to address the HIV/AIDS response in most at risk populations); John Kimani, the Chair of KeNPUD stated – “People who use drugs should not be seen as the problem……but as the cornerstone of the solution to not only reducing drug related harm, but as the most significant contributor to the solution to the national HIV response.” 

In an effort to support the development of networks for people who use drugs across the world, INPUD has been working in East Africa, where we have been delivering capacity building workshops in Kenya and Tanzania, since June 2012.

The seeding of new networks comes under INPUD’s programming remit and so is supported by the Community Action on Harm Reduction (CAHR), and Bridging the Gaps projects, both funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This has allowed INPUD to provide technical and limited financial support to INPUD’s sister network in Kenya, KeNPUD. The Community Action on Harm Reduction (CAHR) project is led by the International HIV/Aids Alliance, whilst the work with TaNPUD in Tanzania is funded by Médecins du Monde.

It has been important for KeNPUD and TaNPUD to draw strength and experience from each other and by linking both networks together, they are able to share valuable information. Tinga from KeNPUD has been instrumental in the initial mobilisation of the networks, and both he and Peter from KeNPUD, have crossed borders to jointly facilitate workshops with their peers in Tanzania.

TaNPUD experienced a high profile launch with national TV and radio coverage, but it had yet to fully develop its internal structures. However, the April/May workshops in Kenya and Tanzania this year have clarified the aims and objectives of both activist and advocacy drug user organisations and have helped to strengthen their internal structures. Time was also spent focussing on human rights advocacy, project planning and implementation and documentation.

In countries where there is minimal OST and high levels of stigmatisation, criminalisation and discrimination, our duty of care to members’ increases in necessity and complexity and INPUD has recently revisited this issue in East Africa. INPUD has a duty of care to ensure adequate attention is given to the health and wellbeing of INPUD members while they travel and we will need to unpack this complex ethical issue further as we evolve as an international organisation.

As with our duty of care when travelling with members, our duty of care towards seedling networks and their development is paramount. The temperature of local politics, the history of police abuse towards drug users (and human rights defenders), and the deep stigmatisation and discrimination that drug users still face in the region, must all factor into our planning. INPUD must offer support to budding networks when needed, facilitating and encouraging full independence as the seeded network flourishes and begins to work effectively in its region.

KeNPUD, TaNPUD and INPUD are organising the first East African Drug User Activist Conference planned for November 2013 in Mombasa. This is intended to mark the official launch of the regional networks and is an exciting development for both the people and the politics of the regions.
Working with the community of people using drugs in East Africa is one of the most exciting and challenging aspects of our programming work; central to this is our commitment that strong peer based organisations are the foundation to reducing HIV infection and drug related harms.

*KANCO is the Kenya AIDS NGOs Consortium

INPUD is part of Community Action on Harm Reduction (CAHR), an ambitious project that aims to expand harm reduction services to more than 180,000 injecting drug users, their partners and children in China, India, Indonesia, Kenya, and Malaysia. You can visit the CAHR project website here:

INPUD is part of ‘Bridging the Gaps – health and rights for key populations’. This unique programme addresses the common challenges faced by sex workers, people who use drugs, men who have sex with men, and transgender people in terms of human rights violations and accessing much needed HIV and health services. Go to for more information.

Contacts in East Africa:  c/o Mick Webb, INPUD Programmes: programmes at


About Erin

Freelance writer and journalist for the global drug user press
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