Pubdate: Thu, 01 Aug 2002
Source: Daily Nation (Kenya)
Copyright: 2002 Nation Newspapers
Contact: (254-2)213946
Author: Ken Opala
Note: Mr Opala is the editor, Africa Investigative News Service


The amount of narcotics seized at Kenya's key entry points in the past two 
months is an indication of a malignant problem gradually destroying 
society, but which authorities seem not to be taking seriously.

The merchants of death that are drug traffickers are placing Kenya on the 
unenviable map of the family of nations notorious for the narcotics trade. 
The deluge is so strong that it has swept away anti- drugs authorities.

A couple of weeks ago, a Kenyan-based foreigner was arrested with one of 
the largest hauls of narcotics ever recovered. He died in custody in 
inexplicable circumstances. It happened at a time when the public was 
reeling from a court case involving an airline official charged with 
trafficking in heroin.

These two are mere items in an unyielding catalogue of cases. Drug 
consumption and trafficking is not a new phenomenon in Kenya. Indeed, 
figures tell a worrying story. Over 20.7 tonnes of bhang and its 
derivatives were seized in Kenya in 1999/2000, compared to 13.6 tonnes the 
previous year. Also seized in 2000 were 28kgs of heroin and four kilos of 
cocaine, the latter's figures having shot up from 0.11kgs in 1999.

Serious Problem With Heroin Abuse

Kenya "appears to have a serious problem of heroin abuse," the UN 
International Drug Control Programme said in a report last year. "- the 
abuse of other substances as well seems to be on the verge of escalation 
due to deep-rooted economic and social problems that are exacerbated by the 
country's political problem."

In an earlier report, The Drug Nexus in Africa, the UN agency said bhang 
(cannabis) had become "a commercially significant crop produced for profit 
on a large scale." It showed that, based on the amount of seizures, Kenya 
was only third after Ethiopia and Nigeria as Africa's top countries in 
heroin trafficking - and possibly consumption.

Even in developed countries with enough drug detection facilities, seizures 
are translated to be a mere 30 per cent of the amount trafficked. It is 
possible that in a country as ill-equipped to deal with the problem as 
Kenya, the amount seized could be a negligible fraction of the quantity of 
drugs consumed or trafficked within the country. What should now be 
disturbing authorities is; why the sudden increase in the amount of 
seizures. Is it that anti-narcotic units have become more active or is it 
that traffickers have identified a loophole in the country's security 
network? Both scenarios are possible. But the latter looks more plausible 
given the nature of Kenya's ineffective security infrastructure.

It is possible also that the huge haul is an indication that traffickers 
have become emboldened by a shift in policy by authorities, from narcotics 
control to curbing terrorism and illegal immigrants.

Most of Kenya's drug busts are happening only at the airports. And yet. 
Those familiar with trafficking routes are aware more drugs enter and exit 
through land and sea border points.

Cannabis resin (popularly known as hashish locally) leaves Pakistan, docks 
at the eastern African coast, where it is blended and packaged in Kenya, 
before it goes down to southern Africa on its way to Australia, Europe and 
North America. It enters Kenya through the Mombasa seaport or through the 
Namanga border point, where it is ferried to Central Kenya and Nairobi for 
blending and packaging.

Some bhang consumed locally is sourced in Tanzania and in Uganda and gets 
in through Namanga, Isebania and Busia.

The morphine arm leaves Thailand and on reaching Mombasa, it forks into 
two, one arm feeds the southern Africa market and the other traverses the 
harsh terrain to west Africa enroute to Europe and the US.

Another conduit, which is used only occasionally, starts in the Arabian 
peninsula, runs down the eastern African coast to southern Africa.

One thing is clear; drug trafficking and arms smuggling are convenient 
bedfellows. Now sharing the same bed is "terrorism", and the three vices 
have allied to produce a terrible crime mix the world is now united against.

What options does Kenya have?

Kenya's ratification of international instruments, such as the inherently 
powerful UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, has 
hardly helped. In fact, authorities are torn right in the middle whether or 
not to classify miraa as a narcotic.

All told, Kenya can ill-afford to remain in slumber. But what options do we 

Last year, I wrote an article in which exhorted authorities to set up an 
elite Rapid Reaction Force that is able to track down lords of narcotics 
and their hirelings.

This is more so because the industry has defied the latest legislation that 
imposes high penalties on drug convicts. The 10-year jail penalty, a fine 
of Sh1 million and repossession of wealth acquired through the illicit 
business have hardly been deterrent enough.

Recall that to arrest poaching, Kenya revamped the Kenya Wildlife Service, 
equipped it well and boosted morale of its staff. Ten years down the line, 
poaching is almost negligible, save for snippets of elephant killings here 
and there. Another force, stronger and more purposeful than the present 
Anti-narcotics Squad, needs to be installed to tackle the menace.

Also, focus should be on the points of exit of the drugs. It is good to 
catch drugs entering the country, but equally important is to direct 
arsenal towards eradicating the illicit home-grown industry that feeds off 
bhang plantations in Mt Kenya forests.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth