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BNN News Archive Page
       Monday, July 17, 2006

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Illegal Drug Traffic Increases in Central and East Africa

By James Karuhanga
Senior Researcher, GLCSS

Central and East Africa are faced with increased reports of drug abuse and trafficking. Cocaine seizures around the continent increased by 300 percent but Central Africa scored nearly a 600 percent increase. In addition, the UN reports that drug usage of cocaine and heroin has increased by more than 10 percent in Kenya.

The illegal drug market in the Great lakes region, once viewed as relatively innocent when compared to West Africa, has now been identified by anti-narcotics agencies as a major transit point for hard drugs. Most of the drugs funneled through East Africa originate from India and Thailand and are destined for the Gulf, Europe and Southern Africa.

According to Kenya’s Minister for Internal Security John Michuki, Kenya is becoming an illicit drug trafficking point.

“Of concern to Kenya is the fact that drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and mandrax are now finding their way into the local market. The falling street price of cocaine is a poignant indicator of the drug’s increased supply,” he said, publicly recognizing the problem.

A 2006 World Drug Report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) places Kenya top in Africa, where large seizures of cocaine were netted over the past five years. However, all of the Great Lakes countries are affected. Even though the exact acreage of cannabis cultivation in Uganda is not known, there has been an increase in cultivation of cannabis mainly for export.

In addition, the drug abuse situation in Tanzania has continued to deteriorate with herbal cannabis abuse increasing throughout the country; and heroin abuse, including intravenous use, has become common in both Dar-es-Salaam and Zanzibar. Cocaine is also available but its high cost restricts its abuse to the affluent sections of the community. Khat, a local narcotic, is in use, particularly by the Somali and coastal communities.

According to a Kenyan official, the country has become a dumping ground for hard drugs because traffickers find it difficult to ship them out after bringing them into the country. In June, Nehemiah Langat, a deputy police boss in Kilifi, reported that his officers raided a farm in Tezo, about eight kilometers from Kilifi Town, which was being used as a center to package drugs, and the raid netted about 257 sachets of heroine and arrested three suspects during the raid.

In addition to Kenya’s Jomo Kenya International Airport, Entebbe International Airport in Uganda is also being used as a transit route for heroin and mandrax from the Far East en route to South Africa. A review of drug seizures in 1998 and 1999 indicates an increase in the trafficking of heroin to east African countries from Pakistan, Thailand and India. Increased seizures of heroin with Nigerian connections bound for Uganda through Ethiopia have been noted.

Traditionally, Entebbe International Airport has been the centre of most trafficking. However, bus routes now lead to Rwanda and Tanzania in addition to traditional bus routes to Kenya. Uganda also acts as a transit route for cargo destined for Rwanda and Burundi. The Uganda Revenue Authority also reports that post parcels are being used for trafficking heroin.

According to the 1997 UNODC country profile report, Tanzania ranked 6th world-wide with 2.7% of the total global seizure of herbal cannabis (Global Illicit Drug Trends 1999). According to the World Drug Report, about 29 tons of herbal cannabis were seized in Tanzania in 1995. In June 2006, Dar es Salaam Anti-narcotics police confirmed that foreign drug barons are using the country as a safe transit point for drug destined for markets in the Middle East and Latin America.

Criminal groups based in Dar es Salaam appear to be linked to associates in Kenya, Zambia and South Africa and involved in this increasing trade. In response to increased law enforcement at the Nairobi airport, heroin traffickers are flying to Uganda and Tanzania and bringing the heroin into Kenya by road or small air carriers. The heroin is then trafficked to Europe and to the United States.

Tanzania has extremely weak controls at all seaports and in particular, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. The flow of heroin in sizeable quantities has also been discovered at the airports of Kilimanjaro, Dar-es-Salaam and Zanzibar. And yet there are no indications of large scale quantities being sent by sea container or by air freight utilizing the already established hashish routes and other Tanzanian connections.

One consequence of the movement of drugs through the country is that more drugs are becoming available for the local market. Reports have been received that direct shipping routes have been established with Latin America, ostensibly to carry bulk sugar. Controls in Zanzibar are even less effective than in Dar es Salaam and much of the incoming shipments are eventually bound for the mainland.

According to Tanzania’s anti-narcotic police, security lapses at the country’s entry points have made international drug cartels to prefer Tanzania as a ’safe haven’ for their illicit multimillion drug rings to Asia, which in the past was the dispersal zone for drugs enroute to various destinations in the world.

Police in Tanzania also pointed out that the amount of illicit hard drugs seized had increased.

“The number of cases for this year was alarmingly high compared with previous years.” said Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Afwilile Mponi, the officer in charge of the Drug Prevention Unit.

UNOC reported that Rwanda is emerging from a long period of civil conflict and is building totally new drug control infrastructures. The police have formed a small Anti-Narcotics Unit in Kigali comprising of five officers, and recently seized 4 kgs of heroin in Kigali, despite never having received specialist training or the means to identify illicit drugs. Other branches of the police also pursue drug-related offences.

According to police sources, Rwanda does not have a large drug trafficking problem. Some cannabis from Nyungwe forest may be sold in Burundi and some may also be grown in the Virunga Park in Uganda and DRC, and can be relatively easily transported through the forest by the local population since the borders in that region are porous. Raids, however, have only netted about 30 kilograms of cannabis this year. There is a smaller problem associated with heroin, which police believe is being imported from Uganda and the DRC, and used primarily by well-off urban youth.

Rwandan police sources admit that prosecution difficulties arise due to a lack of training among all police regarding drug- related procedures and rights. Sniffer dogs are employed at Kigali international airport in an attempt to identify illicit drugs but the Rwandan police still lack sophisticated equipment.

The countries of the region have started joint meetings with the heads of the Criminal Investigation Departments from Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to develop a regional approach to the problem. However, London-based Great Lakes Center for Strategic Studies (GLCSS) believes that increased corruption in Kenya will significantly reduce the effectiveness of any enforcement regime.

It is important to note the Columbia example of the 1980s and 1990s. A corrupt, inefficient government allowed the creation of illegal militia fuelled by cocaine cartels and this led to the eventual destabilization of the country and potentially the region in 1998 and 1999. It is difficult to assess, at this stage, the long term impact of the illicit drug trade in the region. GLCSS believes increased corruption in Kenya and Tanzania will place pressure on Uganda and may have a negative affect on the entire region.

The Great Lakes Centre for Strategic Studies is a London-based think tank.

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posted by GLCSS at 7:07 AM  


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