News 2008


Kenya a popular drug trafficking hub

Business Daily

Written by Albert Muriuki

March 11, 2008: Kenya has become a popular hub for international drug traffickers operating from the Far East, a new report says.

Heroin is the most trafficked drug through Kenya.

And it is mainly brought in by air from South-West Asia with Europe as the final destination, says the report by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) that comes a year after the World Customs Organisation reported that Kenya was a pivotal route for heroin traffickers from Afghanistan and Iran through Qatar.

The INCB study warns that heroin abuse is on the increase in Kenya, especially around the trafficking routes of Nairobi and Mombasa.

The report notes that in Kenya the method of consumption is changing from smoking to injection.

Also mentioning Ethiopia and Tanzania as other main drug hubs, the report says “data on seizures of heroin in Africa suggest an increasing presence of illicit heroin markets in the region.”

“Kenya being a regional hub with a vibrant and busy airport is the most affected,” Stefan Liller, the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) for the African region, said.

Experts say the drugs are mainly trafficked by couriers on direct flights from the Arabian peninsula and Pakistan. In South Africa as opposed to Kenya, the report says, parcel post remains the favourite means of trafficking drugs.

In what points to the fact that Africa’s role in the international trade in heroin is limited to its acting as a passage way, the UN says abuse of the drug remains low on the continent.

The World Drug Report 2007 says that only an estimated 980,000 persons consumed heroin in Africa in 2005 representing 0.2 per cent of the total population aged 15-64 years.

Concern is also growing over the increasing role that Kenya is playing as a transshipment point.

In 2006-2007, the UN says, a large number of suspicious shipments containing drugs passed through Kenya and other African countries.

“A total of over 75 tonnes of the two substances were prevented from being diverted to or through the region, representing the highest amount ever recorded for Africa,” the report notes.

Drugs control experts have blamed weak legislation, lack of specialisation among prosecutors and stringent laws for the increase of drug abuse in Kenya.

Rosemary Owino, a deputy chief State counsel at the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, said better training of prosecutors and enactment of relevant control laws are needed to curb rising cases of drug trafficking in Kenya.

She added there was need to coordinate the activities of the different bodies fighting drug abuse and trafficking in Kenya.

Doubts were, however, raised as to whether Kenya’s punitive laws on drug abuse were aiding the fight against the menace or fuelling it.

Ms Fatuma Sichale, a deputy director in-charge of the legal services at the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, said the stringent laws were aiding traffickers by prompting them to bribe security agents to avoid possible harsh punishment.

“We are now being told that the problem is actually increasing instead of decreasing since the enactment of these punitive laws three years ago,” she said.

“Offenders would rather pay bribes than face the full wrath of the law.”

Dr Philip Emafo, the President of INCB, said any suggestion that legalisation of drugs would resolve the drugs problem ignores historical facts.

“The first international controls of narcotic drugs introduced in 1912 helped to reduce the scourge of opium addiction in some Asian countries. Some 60 years later, accession to the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances contributed to a significant decline of abuse of these substances that presented serious health problems in the 1950s and 1960s,” he said.

The largest ever heroin haul in Kenya in December 2004 was 1.1 metric tonnes with a street value of over Sh13 billion.