Kenya ranks among the leading hot spots for international drugs trafficking after recent drug hauls linked to high profile politicians.
The hard drugs aside, a disturbing scenario is emerging where Kenya is becoming the flash point for global trafficking in bhang – with a link to Tanzania’s cannabis growing fields.
The more shocking situation, perhaps, is the apparent reluctance by police to do anything about it even as the cartels grow bolder – including having the audacity to draft children into their ignominous trade.
"It is big business. They make big money and are well-connected. It is delicate for law enforcement agencies," said Deputy Police Spokesperson Owino Wahongo, when asked what police are doing to stop the trade.
"Although the majority are small-time cannabis traffickers, if put together including those operating from Tanzania, Busia and other parts of the country, then you are dealing with a very large group.
"They are also not acting alone because they are connected to larger, more elaborate cartels. The police are dealing with a complicated web of syndicate – it needs a lot of intelligence," he says.
About 35 tons of cannabis find way into Kenya from Tanzania each week, with majority of the consignment transshipped to Western Europe and Middle East, with the leftovers being sold locally.
The cannabis curse for Kenya originates from Tanzania’s north-eastern districts of Tarime and Sirare, where farmers grow it commercially.
Tug of war
The stuff then finds its way into Kenya via the many panya routes that dot the entire length of the expansive border between Kenya and Tanzania.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (Unodc) figures says Africa contributes between about 24 per cent of global cannabis. Major producers include Benin, Tanzania, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa, Swaziland, Togo, Zambia, Egypt and Morocco.
Compared to other regions, Africa is one of the largest annual sources of cannabis production and ranks among the top regions with respect to the number and volume of annual local cannabis seizures.
While cannabis is known to be widely produced in Africa, and some cannabis-related production, distribution, retail value, and use trends can be discerned, detailed country-level data on these phenomena are often lacking.
But the cannabis connection only exacerbates an already bad drugs situation for Kenya, which now threatens to destroy a whole generation of young people.
The country now reels under the effects of narcotics, as evidenced in runaway drug addiction among the youth, rising crime and shattered social fabric, but drug barons continue to operate with abandon amidst stalled investigations and lack of action by the State.
According to analyses by the US Government and multilateral agencies, Kenya and Ethiopia are notable transshipment hubs for heroin from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
And East Africa is the primary smuggling conduit for moving heroin from Southwest Asia to Africa for further transshipment around the globe, according to the International Narcotics Control Board.
Intriguingly, the syndicates in Kenya have infiltrated the Government with the law enforcement agencies being involved in the murky trade – police officers, armed forces personnel and Government officials have been drafted to work for the cartels.
Suffice it to say the drugs rings also command Kenya’s freight system, including owning and commanding huge shares in the major freight companies, have influence over the entire depots network in the country and are deeply entrenched at Kenya Revenue Authority.
But it is the level of official complicity in aiding, abetting and facilitating drugs permeation in the country that is more shocking.
The citizens expressed a high level of frustration with the poor handling of investigation and prosecution by the Kenya Police and the Department of Public Prosecutions of people suspected of trafficking the 1141.5kg cocaine seized in 2004 in Malindi and Nairobi.
There was a tug of war between the courts and police commissioner over production of the drugs before the court, although technically, the drugs were under the court’s jurisdiction once the case commenced. One of the only three police officers said to have keys to the storage facility was murdered early last year under suspicious circumstances. Several of his immediate family members were also killed, sending a chilling message to all those who were positively involved with the case.
Sadly these cartels have also infiltrated the cannabis trade with devastating consequences. The police have been blamed for abetting the trade, especially by not doing enough to halt trans-highway shipment of cannabis.
"Even with limited resources the Kenya police are doing our best to contain the problem," Wahongo says in defence of the force.
"It is important for the police to spread their nets wide to inspect every vehicle on the road and not just the public service vehicles," says Jorim Othengo, who runs a car hire company. He says one of his vehicles has been used to ship cannabis several times. He says many car-hire companies are unwittingly dealing with drug traffickers.
"Indeed the industry should devise ways of vetting our customers to know who exactly we are dealing with," he says.