Saturday, May 8, 2010

Drug barons getting ‘real dirty’

  A police officer display some of the shoes that were used to traffic drugs at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi . Photo/FILE

A police officer display some of the shoes that were used to traffic drugs at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi . Photo/FILE 

By MUGUMO MUNENE

Kenya is increasingly becoming a destination for hard drugs like cocaine and heroin, thanks to the lawlessness in Somalia, local and international experts have warned.

The Somali blind spot and the vast Indian Ocean make Kenya an attractive transit hub for heroin barons pushing their illicit wares out of South East Asia to East Africa and beyond.

According to government statistics, there are over 200 Kenyans in jail in foreign countries as failed drug couriers.

The number of addicts in the country, according to official government and UN statistics, exceeds the population of Machakos, Kenya’s seventh largest town. Only one other African nation – South Africa – has more heroin addicts than Kenya.

There are over 200,000 heroin addicts in the country, according to government and UN statistics. It is estimated that about 10 per cent of them are in Coast Province.

Kenya’s biggest problem is what the UN anti-narcotics chief Antonio Maria Costa calls blind spots – places where security is non-existent or minimal.

According to police, the Anti-Narcotics Unit leads the war against drug abuse, but every new report seems to show that Kenya is gradually giving in to the drug barons.

An anti-narcotics officer who could not be named without compromising the unit’s undercover operations says that Somalia is one of Kenya’s darkest blind spots and a favourite for the drub barons.

“You’re dealing with piracy, drug- trafficking, arms-smuggling and trade in human beings all rolled into one,” said the Kenyan anti-narcotics officer. “The abundant profit the traffickers make buys them allies around.”

Last month, police in Mombasa started screening goods at the Mombasa port as part of efforts to curb drug-trafficking.

Coast provincial police boss Leo Nyongesa said all goods arriving at the port would now be screened as part of measures to ensure that Mombasa is not used as a transhipment centre by international drug-traffickers.

“The days of barons ferrying drugs into the country through the port are numbered,” he warned. But the efforts fall short of manning the blind spots identified by the UN stretching into war-torn Somalia.

Mr Costa recently told the UN Security Council: “These are precisely the places where smugglers, terrorists and insurgents operate. Unperturbed, and undetected, they run fleets of ships and planes, trucks and containers that carry tonnes of drugs and weapons.”

Counselling psychologist Mbutu Kariuki agrees that the drug problem is worsening.

“We are slowly but surely becoming a destination. We used to be a ‘‘transit market’’. They would drop a few kilos on their way to the West. Now they are dropping a little more as the demand is increasing. Ask the people of Mexico. It starts small,” Mr Kariuki told the Sunday Nation.

The peddlers

And he fears that barons are getting worse.

“Barons are getting real dirty. They get the peddlers to remove tobacco from cigarettes and introduce the stuff. This is served to unsuspecting young people in the estates, colleges and schools. These drugs are really addictive. Once they get hooked, the rest is history,” he said.

Furthermore, the drugs are cut to make them more affordable and to hook younger addicts.

“Because heroin is expensive, these fellows never sell it in its pure form. The purity of the stuff depends on the financial capacity. The more able the buyer, the purer the stuff. And the dens are found anywhere from the posh estates to the slums,” he said.

According to a recent report by the US State Department, Kenya is developing into a major money-laundering country.

“Kenya’s use as a transit point for international drug traffickers continues to increase and the laundering of funds related to Somali piracy is a substantial problem.

‘‘Reportedly, Kenya’s financial system may be laundering over $100 million each year, including an undetermined amount of narcotics proceeds and Somali piracy-related funds,” says the US report.