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The Kenyan woman on Obama’s drug list

Friday June 3 2011

By SAMWEL KUMBA [email protected]

The Kenyan woman targeted for sanctions by the US is a known companion of a former Makadara MP with whom they co-own business in Nairobi, the Saturday Nation reveals.

Ms Naima Mohamed Nyakiniywa, also known as Mama Lela, is expected to appear in court on Monday in Dar es Salaam, where she was arrested with four others in a police operation in which 5kg of cocaine were recovered, according to police.

In an email to the Saturday Nation Friday, Mr Marti Adams, the spokesperson of Illicit Finance and Enforcement at the US department of the Treasury, said Ms Nyakiniywa “is head of one of the largest drug trafficking organisations operating out of Nairobi”.
“Mama Lela and her network coordinate drug shipments and link narcotics suppliers with courier networks in order to transport drugs to various locations in Africa, Europe, and the US,” he told Saturday Nation.

The mother of three girls, who grew up in Majengo — a slum close to central Nairobi, which has a history of crime and prostitution — has a home in the rich Kitisuru neighbourhood near Westlands, Nairobi.

Ms Nyakiniywa was named on a list of “kingpins” of the international drug trade by US President Barack Obama on Wednesday in a letter to Congress. Also on the list was another Kenyan, Kilome MP John Harun Mwau, who has vast business interests.

President Obama’s action imposes harsh economic sanctions against the two and bars American companies from any transactions with them or their companies.

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According to the US Treasury department, Mama Lela deals in various drugs for various regions. This include heroin for Southwest Asian, cocaine for Latin American and precursor chemicals used to produce synthetic drugs, and typically supplies narcotics to associate members who operate their own drug trafficking businesses.

In January 2010, Nyakiniywa was claimed by Kenya’s anti-narcotics police to be the owner of an intercepted haul of heroin worth about Sh80 million (about $1 million) at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, the US statement added.

Other informants in Nairobi said Friday that she had previously been arrested in India on drug trafficking charges but later released. There was no information on how she secured her freedom.

Ms Nyakiniywa has interests in real estate, a convenience store on a petrol station in Westlands and two beauty salons — one in Nairobi’s Westlands area and the other within the central business district.

Most of the businesses are co-owned with the former Makadara MP, but she is said to have her own blocks of flats and a shop in Westlands that sells anything from car spare parts to leather goods and clothing.

Following her arrest in Tanzania alongside three other Kenyans for allegedly trafficking drugs, there were conflicting reports about her true nationality. She is said to hold more than two passports and seems to be well known in Kenya and Tanzania.

When asked as of her nationality, one of the police officers investigating her case in Tanzania, who did not want to be named, said they were still communicating with Interpol Kenya for records of Kenyan suspects and whether or not she was a Kenyan.

Her Tanzanian passport identifies her as Mwanaidi Ramadhani Mfundo but she is also popularly known as “Mama Lela” by neighbours who believe she’s Tanzanian.

A senior anti-narcotics officer said the other Kenyan nationals Antony Karanja, whose name read in his passport as Antony Karanja Asa Kibunja and Ben Ngare who uses Ben Ngare Macharia in his passport were arrested at midnight on Wednesday at Dar es Salaam’s Mbezi suburb.

They were arrested in a house claimed to belong to “Mama Lela” who Tanzanian police suspect to be a drug kingpin. Caught along the three was Ms Sara David Munuo who was found in possession of one kilogramme of the suspected drug in the same house.

Later on Monday, police also arrested Almasi Hamis Said, Yahaya Haroun, Rajabu Omari and Asha Said who arrived at that house on a request of “Mama Lela” after she protested to a local government leader to witness searching of her house.

“These four came to Mama Leila’s home that night after she called them for help. We believe they would help in our investigations,” a police officer, not authorised to speak to the press, said.

The police were acting on a tip from an informant. “We knocked the door and introduced ourselves. We carried out inspection and uncovered five kilogrammes of substances, which we believe to be cocaine,” disclosed an officer who asked for anonymity.
In the room, the police found the drugs stuffed in small two packets of one kilogramme labelled Coffee Care Original, apparently to conceal the substances.

In earlier years, Ms Nyakiniywa, was a companion of another Nairobi politician, Mr Jimmy Kuria, who recently contested for the Kamukunji parliamentary by-election but lost at the Party of National Unity nominations stage.

Reached yesterday, Mr Kuria, distanced himself from Mama Lela saying it was many years since he has set his eyes on her.

“If we are talking about the same Naima, the last time I saw her was seven years ago,” Mr Kuria told Saturday Nation.

Additional report by Bernard James in Dar es Salaam