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Powerful criminal networks hold Kenya hostage

Sunday October 9 2011


Kenyans are seen to have a “business-as-usual” approach to corruption, but a new report published by the International Peace Institute shows that our extreme tolerance of impunity is having devastating consequences and is, in fact, undermining the State’s legitimacy.

Endemic corruption and powerful transnational criminal networks are “white-anting” state institutions and public confidence in them, says the report. These “termites” are hollowing out State institutions, thereby rendering them impotent.

Peter Gastrow, the author of the report titled “Termites at Work: Transnational Organised Crime and State Erosion in Kenya”, says that rampant corruption within the Police Force, the Judiciary and other State institutions has allowed criminals to penetrate political institutions.

Powerful criminal networks with links to Parliament currently pose a big threat to the creation of laws, policies and regulations that could help curb money laundering and drug trafficking.

Governments that lack the capacity or the political will to counter such penetration, he says, run the risk of becoming “captured states” – that is, states whose government structures have become captives of uncontrolled corruption.

If this goes unchecked, he warns, the criminal networks could penetrate the East African Community and cause havoc in neighbouring countries.


This could result in the kind of lawlessness that has turned countries such as Mexico and Colombia into murderous, violent places where drug lords and criminals hold organs of the State hostage, a scenario that is just too horrific to imagine.

The following highlights from the report are most worrying:

  • Increased volumes of heroin from Pakistan and Iran, and cocaine from Latin America, are being transmitted through Kenya. At least 10 major international drug trafficking networks, headed mainly by West Africans, but also involving Kenyans, are responsible for the bulk of the cocaine and heroin trafficked into and through the country.
  • Drug money is increasingly being used to attain positions of influence, particularly in politics.
  • Militia groups in Somalia have started to profit from drugs trafficked into Kenya. The port of Kismayu in southern Somalia is used to import drugs into Kenya.
  • Kenya is the biggest market for counterfeit goods from India and China.
  • A Kenyan cartel comprising current and former MPs, activists linked to politicians – including a prominent businesswoman – and customs personnel are working with a network of Chinese, Somali and Pakistani criminals to smuggle drugs, counterfeits and other illicit commodities through the port of Mombasa.
  • During the first nine months of 2010, at least 10 small arms seizures were reported on Garissa road en route to Nairobi from Somalia. The UN’s Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya is sometimes used as a storage facility by arms smugglers.
  • Corrupt staff at the Dadaab refugee camp are involved in human trafficking and the sale of “slots” for refugees wishing to migrate to South Africa, Europe and the United States.
    Eastleigh in Nairobi is East Africa’s hub for the smuggling of migrants and the trafficking of women and children. About 50 girls, mainly from Somalia are trafficked every week from north-eastern Kenya to Nairobi.
  • In 2010, a staggering $2.1 billion found its way into the economy without the government being able to explain its source.
  • Funds laundered from Kenya sometimes end up with al Shabaab in Somalia.

If no action is taken, there is a huge risk that Kenya’s State institutions will be eaten up from the inside by criminal elements. As a result, the legitimacy of the State will be undermined.

Kenya will crumble as criminals will be at the helm, making laws to suit themselves and bribing their way through murder, drug and human trafficking, sale of illicit arms and a whole range of criminal activities.

The report recognises that the current reforms in the Judiciary could restore the public’s confidence in government institutions.

However, these reforms must be accompanied by far-reaching steps to counter crime, corruption and impunity, including the appointment of special police taskforces to investigate these crimes and taking drastic action against those involved in corruption.

Unfortunately, the government appears unwilling – for whatever reason – to take these steps.