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Drug Abuse: The Uncles Looking Out for Uganda’s Youth

Mark Owori is using this experience as a child soldier to ensure that other children don’t go through the same. His duty was to keep soldiers supplied with drugs. Today Owori is 48 and still a drug user, but he is also part of a small group of men known as the “street uncles”, who rehabilitate addicts in Kisenyi, a slum in the capital, Kampala, that is infamous for high levels of drug use among its estimated population of almost 24,000 people. Owori, or “Uncle Mark”, as he is known, says his own experience in rehab inspired him in 2001 to open a centre in Kisenyi where street children and adults with addiction problems could find other avenues of self-expression beyond using the cheap and toxic drugs available in the slum. An estimated 5-10% of Uganda’s population regularly abuse alcohol and drugs. One study of 12-24-year-olds in northern and central Uganda showed that 70% of people had abused these substances and more than a third used them regularly. Hand-rolled marijuana cigarettes sell for around 10p each; jet fuel can also be bought for as little as 10p. In 2014, Uganda’s parliament passed a Narcotics bill to punish drug trafficking with life imprisonment and impose a minimum fine of $4,000 or a two-year jail term for the possession of drugs.