Press Briefing on Major International Drugs Conference in Nairobi, U.S. Partnership With Africa to Fight Addiction

Kirsten D. Madison
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Via Teleconference
December 4, 2018

Audio File:

MODERATOR: Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I’d like to welcome our participants dialing in from across the continent and thank you for joining this discussion. Today we are very pleased to be joined by Kirsten Madison, Assistant Secretary covering drugs and crime at the U.S. Department of State in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. Assistant Secretary Madison will preview U.S. participation in the upcoming International Drug Treatment and Prevention gathering, which is called the International Society of Substance Abuse[1] Professionals Global Workshop, which begins December 10 in Nairobi, Kenya. This will mark the first year that this annual global conference will take place in Africa. The African Union, Kenya, and the United States are organizers of the ISSUP.

We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Assistant Secretary Madison, and then we will turn to your questions. We will get to as many of your questions in the allotted time that we have, which is about 30 minutes. At any time during the call, if you would like to ask a question, you can press *1 on your phone to join the question queue. You can also join the conversation on Twitter. Use the hashtag #AFHubPress. You can follow us @AfricaMediaHub as well as follow us on Twitter @StateINL. As a reminder, today’s call is on the record, and with that I will turn it over to Assistant Secretary Madison.

ASST. SEC. MADISON: Thank you very much. Thank you, everyone, for joining us this afternoon - or even much later for many of you. It is actually bright and early in the morning here in Washington. I wanted to give a special welcome to the group joining us from the NACADA offices in Nairobi, and thank you so much to our partners there for hosting everyone.

Next week, as my colleague from the media hub noted, I will travel to Nairobi to attend the fourth annual Global International Society of Substance Abuse[2] Professionals, ISSUP, as well as meet with our Kenyan partners about our joint work on disrupting and dismantling criminal organizations that feed corruption and that traffic in illicit drugs, wildlife, weapons, and humans. So there’s a lot of big issues to discuss.

While in Kenya, in addition to the critical work we will do at ISSUP, I’m looking forward to visiting with some of the outstanding people in Kenya who are working on police reform and accountability, anti-corruption efforts, and countering wildlife trafficking.

So to return to the major focus of our conversation today, for those of you who are not familiar with it, ISSUP is a rather remarkable gathering that convenes experts and practitioners from around the world in the field of drug treatment and prevention. This year marks the first time, as my colleague noted, that this high-level global gathering will take place in Africa. A record 83 countries will participate, including 41 African nations, as well as the United Nations and three other international organizations.

Kenya’s government and the African Union will be co-hosts. As the head of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, I’m truly honored to be leading the U.S. delegation to ISSUP, and see it as a great opportunity to advance the global fight against drugs from the demand side. We expect participation from approximately 2,500 drug prevention and treatment practitioners, researchers, and government officials, who will take part in trainings, expert meetings, and multiple plenary sessions.

The United States recognizes the crucial importance of reducing demand for narcotics globally. Last year, in our own experience, a shocking 70,000 plus Americans died from overdoses, and sadly, we know that we in the U.S. are not alone in facing this scourge. According to the latest World Drug Report, worldwide drug deaths in 2015 reached 450,000 people - nearly half a million people. And in addition to that, that same report also indicates that 275 million people - more than 5% of the global population - used a drug at least once in 2016. This is, in fact, a global problem.

On the positive side, we know that substance abuse is a disease from which people can recover. More than 70 years of scientific research shows that prevention and treatment, when done properly, can work. This is a powerful truth, and it’s a powerful truth that will bring so many people together at ISSUP next week to exchange expertise, to conduct and engage in training, and to network with peers who grapple with, themselves, similar challenges around the world.

The United States supports global efforts in drug demand reduction under a four-pillar framework to advance a sustainable, evidence-based, public health approach to addressing drug use. Pillar one is building the prevention and treatment workforce worldwide. We do this through the development of evidence-based training materials and support for training professionals in the field. Next week, during ISSUP, we are proud to support a number of such trainings on drug use prevention, treatment, working with adolescents, and developing drug-free workplaces.

Pillar two focuses on professionalizing drug treatment around the world through official credentialing and accreditation. Pillar three is exactly what we will be doing at ISSUP next week: connecting the worldwide prevention and treatment workforce, academia, and policy makers to turn cutting-edge research into policy and programs. And lastly, the fourth pillar of the U.S. strategy is supporting populations with distinct clinical needs, such as women, children, people who live in rural communities. So those are the major planks of the effort.

In closing, I would just note that the scourge of drug addiction is a sad reality for countries and citizens around the globe, including for many Americans. That’s why learning best practices and sharing new skills and findings about prevention, treatment, and recovery is an international effort. I’m really looking forward to engaging with our global partners next week as we work together to face this challenge, and frankly, I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for everyone to learn from each other. Thank you again to everyone for taking the time to be on this call, and to our friends and partners at NACADA for hosting the listeners for today’s call, and to everyone who’s helping to make ISSUP a reality next week. I look forward to your questions.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Assistant Secretary Madison. We’ll now turn to the question and answer portion of today’s call. For those who are called upon to ask a question, please state your name and the affiliation, your outlet, and if you could limit yourself to one question. Again, today’s topic is the United States’ participation at the ISSUP global workshop and U.S. partnership with Africa to fight addiction. For those listening to the call in English, you can press *1 on your phone to join the question queue. As a reminder, if you’re listening on a speaker phone, you may have to pick up the handset in order to press *1. You can also submit your questions in English to as an email and we’ll try to get to your questions that way.

While we wait for participants to join the question queue, we do have questions that we received in advance. I will ask on behalf of one or two journalists, starting with Julia Steers with the Wall Street Journal in Kenya, and her question is: How are the United States and Kenya working to combat transnational drug trafficking, and what are the specific steps in that cooperation?

ASST. SEC. MADISON: Thank you very much for that question. Obviously, the partnership with Kenya on this issue is an important one, and it has a variety of components to it. In my Bureau, we do a lot of work with the government in Kenya: working on improving law enforcement skills to help stop drugs, on improving the capacity of prosecutors to prosecute those who traffic in drugs, and of course there’s the work that we’re talking about at ISSUP, which is work that we do to build the capacity of individuals and organizations to combat drug demand.

So, I would say that there’s a lot of pieces to the puzzle; it’s everything from law enforcement to the treatment and prevention side of the equation. And it’s an important partnership, and it’s important from the perspective of Kenya in human terms, because of the impact of drugs on individuals and communities and societies, but it’s also important because it connects to issues like corruption, and the rule of law, and violence, and other things that actually are sort of spin-offs and connected to transnational organized crime and drug trafficking.

There’s a lot of work to be done together, and I think we have a good partnership in this regard.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We have a couple of journalists who’ve joined our queue. We’ll turn first to Kevin Kelley. If you could introduce yourself and your outlet and ask your question. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi, thanks for doing this. My name is Kevin Kelley; I’m the U.S. correspondent for the Nation Media Group in Kenya. I’m based in New York. So, the announcement for this call said that you might also be able to discuss U.S. efforts to improve police professionalization in Kenya. It’s obviously related to the topic at hand as well, preventing drug use and international drug trafficking.

So, there’s been a narcotics trial in New York involving a major drug syndicate in Kenya, run by the Akasha family, the Akasha brothers. The two principals have recently pleaded guilty to large numbers of counts of international drug trafficking. It’s a major disruption of that network. At the same time, one of the counts they pleaded guilty to involved repeated systematic bribery of Kenyan officials, politicians, police, prosecutors, judges, right down the line. So, these two strands come together here. Can you speak specifically, perhaps to that situation, but also more generally to efforts to professionalize the police in Kenya regarding anti-narcotics work? Okay, thanks.

ASST. SEC. MADISON: Of course. Thank you for the question. With regard to this specific case, I can’t speak to an ongoing case, it wouldn’t be appropriate. I can say that I think it’s a sign of good cooperation and the importance of cooperation on law enforcement between the United States and the government of Kenya.

On the question of corruption, I think it’s an absolutely critical question. One of the things that I frequently say - and I like to think it’s true - is that corruption is an essential piece of the business model for criminal organizations and for transnational criminal organizations. They must have corruption to basically facilitate their criminal activities. So this is always built into the law enforcement and other programs that we do around the world, and it’s certainly built into the programs that we do in cooperation with the government of Kenya.

Corruption is theft; it undermines institutions, it undermines the future in terms of economics and political stability and all those things that it can impact if it’s left unchecked. Ultimately, each and every individual country, including Kenya, has to take on the responsibility for fighting corruption and for prioritizing it as a national effort. But I can say specifically that the United States is specifically committing resources to build the capacity of investigators in Kenya to pursue complex transnational crimes, including those involving corruption. We provide assistance to enhance the capacity of the Independent Police Oversight Authority, which is really about improving police accountability, which we acknowledge has been a problem. But I think it’s a work in progress in our work with the government of Kenya.

Our Department of Justice provides assistance to Kenyan prosecutors, also, to help them develop the capacity to take on corruption-related cases, in a very practical way. And USAID also supports a number of programs related to accountability and government, not just at the national level but at the county level, and they are doing what I would call “backbone work” in supporting the Kenyan School of Government and developing and implementing ethics and integrity training for public service.

So I think there’s a lot of different activities going on in cooperation with the government of Kenya, but at its heart, addressing this issue will take the commitment of the Kenyan government, civil society, and all actors in Kenya. It’s a long-haul effort, but it’s a critical one.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Assistant Secretary Madison. As a reminder to all of our participants, you can press *1 to join the question queue. You can send your questions via email to and if you’re on Twitter, we’re using #AFHubPress and you can follow us @AfricaMediaHub as well as following the INL Bureau; their Twitter handle is @StateINL.

We’ll turn now to Mr. Simon Ateba. If you could introduce yourself and your outlet. Let us know where you’re calling from and ask your question. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Good morning. Thank you, Assistant Secretary Madison. My name is Simon Ateba from Today News Africa in Washington, D.C. I have two short questions. First, can you please give us an update on Senator Kashamu in Nigeria, who is being wanted for drug trafficking in the U.S.?

Second, the new opposition presidential candidate in Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar, has not been able to travel to the U.S. for the past ten years, and the allegation has to do with drug trafficking or corruption. Could you please give us an update on that? Thank you.

ASST. SEC. MADISON: I am not in a position to give you an update on either one of those specific cases, I’m very sorry, but I feel certain that someone can follow up with you.

MODERATOR: The Africa Regional Media Hub here can follow up on your question and see if we have more information to provide. Thank you for those questions, and for anyone that has other follow-up questions after the call, you can always send those to us by email - Again, we’re taking questions separately by email and from Twitter.

A question that comes to us separately for the Assistant Secretary: When the U.S. approach to the drug challenge is discussed, it’s usually done so in terms of supply side. Could you elaborate on how is the demand side, which is the focus of this conference, how is that a factor in the United States?

ASST. SEC. MADISON: So, I think over time we’ve come to really understand that when you look at the issue of drug use and drug addiction and drug trafficking, that you have to understand all of the pieces of the spectrum, right? It’s everything from what’s going on in communities, with treatment and prevention, to what’s going on in the law enforcement world. And in the case of my Bureau, the international cooperation associated with law enforcement on narcotics issues. And I do believe - so in the United States, there’s a tremendous piece of the work that’s being done on, for example, synthetic opioids, that’s being done by practitioners who work on prevention and treatment - the kind of issues that we’re talking about at this conference.

So addressing the demand side of the global drug challenge is actually a really critical piece of the puzzle, and we believe firmly that you have to have this piece of it if you’re going to be successful over the long term. And so you have to have public health-oriented policies and programs that really address the underlying demand piece, even as you work on the law enforcement elements at the other end.

And I think ISSUP is a great example of something we think is really, really critical, which is that we know that we have not cornered the market on all things associated with demand reduction or with treatment or with prevention on these issues, and we believe it’s essential for there to be opportunities for international practitioners to share information and to share what they’re learning and what’s successful and what’s not successful in drug prevention and treatment fields. So we support ISSUP, which we’ve talked about, but we also support the International Consortium of Universities for Drug Demand Reduction, which works like ISSUP does, globally, to advance prevention and treatment curricula - in this case, specifically within university settings.

And as I mentioned, we have a four-pillar approach to addressing these issues. I won’t run through them again, but again, we see that you have to do evidence-based training, you have to do credentialing and accreditation to build the skill sets that are necessary for practitioners to really take these issues on, on the demand side. Building global networks and ensuring that there’s a lot of dialogue, conversation, learning, development of fact-based, evidence-based approaches to these issues, and then because we know that there are specific populations that are particularly vulnerable, to develop approaches to demand reduction that focus on women and children and rural communities.

So it’s a really important piece of the puzzle; it’s what will be the focus of our efforts when we arrive in Nairobi next week, and there is no substitute for taking on all the pieces of the spectrum. Thanks for the question.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We do have our listening party in Nairobi on the line. I see Abby Ross’s name, my colleague at the Embassy. If you could have our journalists there introduce themselves and their outlet and ask their question. Go ahead.

QUESTION: My name is [INAUDIBLE] in Nairobi, and [INAUDIBLE] I want to really know what is the overall importance of the Akasha case [INAUDIBLE] and the other report from the U.S. indicating that [INAUDIBLE] cabinet secretary or governor, and [INAUDIBLE] who are accused of taking bribes from [INAUDIBLE] that are involved in the trade of narcotics; do you have the name? Thank you.

ASST. SEC. MADISON: So, thank you again for your question. I do think the Akasha case was an important case; it’s an important example of what international cooperation and partnering looks like, because to take on transnational criminal activity, to take on narcotics trafficking, you often need partners. We know in the United States that we do.

I can’t speak specifically to the specifics for the case; it wouldn’t be appropriate, as it’s a pending law enforcement matter. As I mentioned before, anti-corruption efforts are really an important part of the work that we do together with the government of Kenya. You really must take on the corruption issue as part of any larger effort to take on transnational organized crime, narcotics trafficking, or, frankly, trafficking in anything else, because, again, the business model of these criminal actors requires them to constantly be trying to corrupt institutions and individuals.

So these are very much related; it’s a focal point of the work that my Bureau does in Kenya, and it’s an important and ongoing project, I know, for the government of Kenya.

MODERATOR: We have time for a few more questions. I’ll turn back to Kevin Kelley with the Nation Media Group, has a follow-up question. Go ahead, Kevin.

QUESTION: Yeah, great, thanks for the second opportunity here. So the announcement also says, Assistant Secretary Madison, that you could address other aspects of your visit to Kenya, such as efforts to combat wildlife trafficking and the Kenya-U.S. Strategic Partnership. Can you give some specifics in both those regards? Thanks.

ASST. SEC. MADISON: So one of the great assets and resources of Kenya is its incredible wealth of wildlife. And what, over time, I think, has become clear, is that wildlife trafficking is a remarkably profitable business for international criminal organizations. So it’s a profit to criminals, but it’s also destructive to the sort of national resources of countries like Kenya. So taking that issue on is actually quite important; it’s an important part of our partnership. We strongly support Kenya’s national wildlife strategy and action plans that are very practical and focused on combating wildlife poaching and trafficking.

The United States is the largest bilateral donor to Kenya’s wildlife sector; it’s about $55 million of investment in areas of community conservancy, countering wildlife trafficking, ranger protection, biodiversity conservation, and efforts to reduce poaching. So there’s a lot of pieces to that puzzle, and it’s very much a part of the partnership with the government of Kenya. And again, if we can be successful, we’ll not only preserve the sort of heritage of Kenya and its natural resources, but it will also help to deny resources to criminal actors.

Then in terms of the larger question about the Strategic Partnership, I think it was a remarkably important moment in the relationship between the United States and Kenya, to have President Trump and President Kenyatta talk about the relationship, about the areas of opportunity, and how to advance our commitment to prosperity, security, and good governance. I know that we’ve created an opportunity for an annual dialogue between our countries, which can be a really important piece of the puzzle in terms of driving the strategic intent to very practical action. As part of it, there’s a deepening of security cooperation and our support for the Kenyan Defence Forces, and work on a variety of other fronts, including the economic front and some opportunities to encourage additional investment in what is already an important economic relationship.

So I think there’s a great opportunity going forward for the United States and Kenya to deepen the work that they do together and to open the doors to greater economic interaction and opportunity.

MODERATOR: Thank you again to all of our listeners. For follow-up, you can always reach us by email -, and of course our Twitter handle, which is @AfricaMediaHub. I see that Mr. Simon Ateba is in the question queue again; let’s go to him for a follow-up question. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, it’s me again, Simon Ateba from Today News Africa in Washington, D.C. I just wanted you to address the allegations that the U.S. is not really serious about fighting drug trafficking as long as the drug barons have money. For instance, the [INAUDIBLE] is accused to have been involved in drug trafficking in Chicago about 20 years ago, and the U.S. seemed to have embraced him. So how do you respond to allegations that people like [INAUDIBLE] and the rest - Senator Kashamu that I talked about before, who is wanted for drug trafficking in the U.S. - how do you explain that the U.S. continues to do business with people who are accused of being drug traffickers or drug barons? Thank you.

ASST. SEC. MADISON: Thank you for your question. I’m not familiar with the specific case that you’re raising, but I will say as the person at the Department of State who is responsible for the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Bureau, and the work that we do, I don’t agree with your contention that we’re not serious about taking on international narcotics trafficking. In fact, we have a variety of tools that we use to work on this. Of course, there’s the U.S. law enforcement community, which is working around the globe, including in places like Kenya, with our partners, to address narcotics trafficking. My bureau does the international capacity building to help build the capacity of our partners in places like Kenya, but also Mexico and Colombia and, you know, around the world, to address these issues and to be our partners.

In addition, the United States, I think, if you were to look, vigorously applies visa sanctions and other dissuasive tools to those who are corrupt and who are involved in narco-trafficking. So I think we are fully committed to taking on this issue, because we recognize it’s damaging to the United States of America and its citizens; it’s damaging to the citizens of other countries; it undermines institutions and governance; it displaces licit economic activity. So on a host of fronts, it’s a damaging phenomenon, but with all the tools at our disposal the United States continues to work on this issue. And again, it could be our law enforcement partners, it could be my team and I doing capacity building, it’s the work we do at the UN at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, and elsewhere, to increase the international controls on drugs and to create a basis for us to work with our partners.

So I would say we are tackling this on all fronts, and we will continue to do so because we recognize the damage that is done by international criminal activity associated with the drug trade.

MODERATOR: We are almost out of time. I want to go back to Abby and the listening party just to double check there isn’t one last question from our listening party in Nairobi. Sounds like not, if I’m not mistaken. Sounds like not, okay. So, Assistant Secretary Madison, if you have any final words for us.

ASST. SEC. MADISON: I just want to say thank you to everyone for taking the time to join this call. We are very focused in this coming week on demand reduction and treatment, and prevention, and all the pieces of that puzzle, because it’s really a critical global effort. It’s an opportunity for people who focus on these issues to sit together, to talk about the opportunity to do more together, to learn from each other, and to then carry home ideas and relationships and partnerships that can help them address these issues in their individual countries and to begin to push back even harder on the negative impact that narco-trafficking has on the citizens of individual countries and on the institutions of democratic governance around the globe. So thank you for taking the time, and thank you for focusing, even for a short time, on the demand reduction piece of this puzzle. Thanks.

MODERATOR: Assistant Secretary Madison, before you go - and it’s a bit unorthodox - I do see our listening party joined just at the end. Let’s see if we can just give them one last question before we wrap up, if you have a minute.

ASST. SEC. MADISON: Okay, of course.

MODERATOR: Abby, if you’re there, go ahead and have your journalist ask the question.

QUESTION: My name is [INAUDIBLE] in Nairobi. I wanted to ask about do you expect sanctions [INAUDIBLE] in America [INAUDIBLE]?

ASST. SEC. MADISON: Sorry, I had a little trouble hearing, but I think you asked about the question of whether or not we anticipate additional sanctions. You know, I can’t speculate about what additional sanctions might be put in place on anyone at any given time; it’s a very deliberative process, it’s a very careful process inside the U.S. government, and it involves a variety of inter-agency partners, but I can assure you that we view the sanctions tools, whether they're financial or they have to do with visas or - you know, there’s various versions of them - we view them as an important tool and an important way to have an impact on those who engage in corrupt and criminal activities. But I can't speculate on whether or not there'll be any specific announcements.

MODERATOR: Thanks very much for your patience there, Assistant Secretary Madison. We had a little technical issue; I'm glad we were able to take one more question. That will conclude today's call. I want to thank, again, Assistant Secretary Kirsten Madison for the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Bureau at the Department of State, thank you for joining us and thank you to all of our participants. Again, questions for today's call can be directed to the Africa Regional Media Hub -, and of course during Assistant Secretary Madison’s and her delegation's trip in Nairobi next week there will be additional media engagement opportunities, and we will make sure that you're all made aware of those. Thank you all.

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