Why shadowy drug barons elude detectives as mules rot in prisons

Tuesday February 26 2019

Cocaine

Cocaine. In the drugs underworld, one of the golden rules is to never name the baron if caught. FILE PHOTO 

ABIUD OCHIENG
By ABIUD OCHIENG
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In the drugs underworld, one of the golden rules is to never name the baron if caught.

It is a rule that has baffled State agents and the judiciary when they try to unravel those behind drug trafficking in Kenya.

As such, most of those who benefit from trafficking have always watched as the drug mules get caught.

INSTIL FEAR

In one such case, the court had offered to reduce the sentence if the accused agreed to reveal the master. The prosecution also agreed that they will not oppose reduction of sentence, but the accused emphatically declined.

High Court judge Luka Kimaru says that in the many years he has been a judge, he has not come across a case where the persons caught ferrying or in possession of drugs agree to disclose their master. This is the one thing such cases have in common, he says.

The accused often say, ‘I was contacted by a stranger’. That they met somewhere, the stranger said he will meet the travel expenses to a particular country to meet someone, and that the said someone will pick this cargo from them at a particular place.

“How are the drugs being imported from one country into Kenya?” Justice Kimaru poses, and answers that it is a syndicate.

It is believed that drug barons have instilled fear into their mules, or the barons use such multi-layered approaches that the persons they use to traffic drugs cannot know who exactly sent them.

Mr Abdalla Mohamud Badhrus, programme manager Muslim Education and Welfare Association (Mewa), says some drug lords are extremely influential and have corrupted the system.

Mewa is a lobby that fights against drugs and drug abuse at the Coast.

UNTOUCHABLES

“Some drug lords are very influential and powerful people. They use their money to support political campaigns and they are, therefore, untouchables and enjoy political protection,” Mr Abdalla says.

Their financial muscle is also visible from the fact that they are able to hire invariably high-end vehicles to ferry drugs, knowing that traffic officers are unlikely to stop such vehicles for inspection.

In cases where the vehicle is impounded and drugs worth millions of shillings found, it always turns out that it had been hired.

The owner would testify in court that they don’t know who hired the vehicle, and that it was a walk-in walk-out customer, who paid in cash.

The number of minors and young adults being charged with the use or being found in possession of drugs is also on the rise.

Family law practitioner Enricah Dulo says that even though they will rarely reveal the identity of the owner, it is obvious that the drugs are supplied by rich people with connections.

“Marijuana (bhang) is not grown in Nairobi, and this shows somebody with means is bringing it and can afford to offer bribes or ferry it to the city while avoiding roadblocks,” lawyer Dulo says.

When found guilty, the court takes several factors into account before passing sentence on minors. These include the age of the child at the time of committing the offence, whether the child is a first offender, evidence before the court, mitigation and the contents of the report by a probation officer.

CELEBRITIES

They can be convicted to juvenile detention centres, placed on probation, community service, or given a suspended sentence, among others.

Lawyer Irene Ndegwa, who specialises in criminal law, says minors get involved due to peer pressure, but sometimes from the family, where a relative is a drug dealer.

“Bhang has become common nowadays and many students are using it. They see drugs being used by stars in movies and reality TV shows. It makes them feel it is a normal thing to do, something very cool,” lawyer Ndegwa says.

Mr Abdalla believes the best way to reduce drug addiction among youth is through harm reduction programmes, where the victims are subjected to thorough treatment, and given alternatives that will reduce their over-reliance on drugs. This will, in turn, shrink the illegal substances market.

Porous fencing and incomplete perimeter walls have also made it possible for students to easily get out of school and sneak in drugs.

Mr Stephen Mukundi, an alcohol and drugs addiction professional counsellor based in Tharaka-Nithi County, explains that the drug menace has not been effectively managed in schools.

“Teachers are not well equipped to deal with the drug threat. They are overloaded with work, which makes them too busy to handle other emerging issues,” Mr Mukundi, who is also a teacher, says.

REHABILITATION

This has been complicated by the fact that the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) does not vet school counsellors to establish whether they have the requisite training in handling issues such as drug and substance abuse.

Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers secretary-general Akello Misori says TSC doesn’t have a proactive way of building capacity to handle drug and substance abuse, and schools, especially those in urban areas, are having challenges stopping drug peddling.

He adds that there are few rehabilitation centres for children, and in case of juvenile drug addicts, they are all lumped together.

In the end, instead of being reformed, the youngsters may end up learning other prohibited behaviour. Many rehabilitation centres are private and not affordable to many parents with limited means seeking to help their children.

Efforts by law enforcers to fight the vice are equally made difficult in that they cannot just enter a school and do whatever they want, Mr Misori says. “There are procedures and this limits the extent of their involvement,” he says.

The war on drugs can only be won by fitting them in the curriculum.