Smart gadgets enhancing the ability to detect illicit cargo

Monday February 27 2017

tusks at the port of Mombasa

Kenya Revenue Authority, Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Police and Kenya Ports Authority officers on December 21, 2016 display tusks confiscated at the port of Mombasa, which were stashed in wood planks. The introduction of non-intrusive cargo inspection has helped to curb illicit trade. PHOTO | WACHIRA MWANGI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Customs officials intercepted containers with concealed cargo worth Sh75 million last December.

The officers discovered some 24, 40-foot, containers of concealed new garments and milk powder at the Port of Mombasa in the largest single seizure by the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA).

Out of the 24 containers, 21 had new garments and shoes disguised as cold rooms being imported by horticultural farms.

Three containers had a consignment of milk powder disguised as flasks and sewing machines.

The detection was due to the KRA’s increased collaboration with other state agencies in combating smuggling syndicates.

The KRA used special non-intrusive scanners to detect the real contents in the consignments.

Major ports of entry in Kenya now have the non-intrusive scanners that can detect and identify pre-cursor chemicals, strategic trade commodities as well as a special category goods.

Smart gadgets have made it easier for Customs officials to detect imported illegal goods.

However, it is important to note that maintaining the delicate balance between facilitating legitimate trade flows while deterring illicit business is a complex operational task for any Customs and border control agency.

The trafficking of endangered species and animal parts such as ivory, tiger skins, and rhino horns, is estimated to be a $19 billion a year trade.


Due to the secretive nature and lack of verifiable data on illicit trade, it is difficult to calculate with absolute precision the market size.

However, most Customs, border and law enforcement officials, policymakers, and academicians agree that the illicit trade results in major financial and social costs to the global society.

Modern-day smugglers use novel, flexible, stealthy logistical methods, assets, and systems to smuggle illegal goods across national borders to avoid detection and apprehension.

The global nature of the economy (including illicit trade) has forced Customs and law enforcement agencies to share intelligence on detection and prevention.

Illicit trade prevents fair and open markets from reaching their full economic potential and threaten state sovereignty.

This trade also causes some enormous costs, such as the corruption and destabilisation of society, the harmful effects of drugs, lost productivity and other social costs, including those associated with the dumping of toxic wastes, poaching of endangered species, endangering human lives and public health as a result of counterfeit drugs flooding the market.

Modern Customs should not only collect revenue but also play two other important roles: expediting cross-border trade to promote economic development and protecting society by preventing international trafficking in illicit goods.


The introduction of non-intrusive cargo inspection has not only speeded up clearance of goods at Mombasa Port, but has also helped to curb illicit trade.

The use of non-intrusive inspection technology by Customs and border control officials has far reaching implications on both revenue collection and national security, with the system enabling the KRA to detect any dangerous devices that may be concealed in import cargo.

With the growing volumes of trade and limited personnel, increasing the capability of the system to enable it scan 1,500 containers a day, as well as reduce duplication and queues, will improve the global competitiveness of Mombasa Port.

The non-intrusive scanners, through identification and control of pre-cursor chemicals and strategic commodities, will help to combat global terrorism, ensuring a safe and secure trade supply chain.

Col (Rtd) Wahome is the deputy commissioner for Border Control & Enforcement in the Kenya Revenue Authority