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How illegal sugar imports have fuelled trouble in Garissa town
Sunday, April 28, 2013

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Detectives in troubled Garissa town say a booming black market could be the main cause of the incessant violence. The illegal trade is on household products such as sugar, which is imported tax-free.

Investigations into the recent wave of killings in Garissa town that have claimed dozens of Government workers including police, have established the victims may have differed with the trade barons before meeting their deaths.Barons involved in the underground economy may have irregularly acquired Kenyan citizenship and are suspected to be financiers of the Al Shabaab. A senior detective said the killers of two employees of the Kenya Revenue Authority ( KRA) in broad daylight late last month, were hit men hired by a sugar baron, but are thought to have fled after the ongoing crackdown was launched.

“The killers are an execution squad hired by the dealers in contraband products in this town,” said the detective unearthing the killings.

However, police have said the probe is not conclusive. Our source said police officers killed in different attacks had been directly involved either at the numerous road blocks erected on the entry points to the town, or were assigned to investigate cases of illegal imports.

“All this violence revolves around the illegal imports where people opposed to it become targets for elimination,” said the detective in anonymity.

 Some suspected sponsors of the criminal gangs are thought to have moved into the town when the Somalia government collapsed in the 1990s, bringing with them immense wealth that has since multiplied from their business interests.

Small arms and explosives are also smuggled into the country by the same barons in the same consignments with the household commodities.

The information is part of findings that the intelligence officers are expected to hand over to President Uhuru Kenyatta, who demanded a thorough probe into the cause of violence in Garissa.

President Uhuru is expected to make a decision on whether an audit to establish how the barons obtained their Kenyan citizenship, since an initial probe on the suspected crime lords had cast doubts on how they acquired identification cards.

Quality of investigations

Lack of residents cooperation, however, may have compromised the quality of investigations into the killings, opening wide the possibility that the sleuths may never catch the hired hit men, a frustration shared by Charlton Murithi, the Provincial Police Officer (PPO).

“It is almost impossible to get any information on criminals from the people here, but we are starving the market fully of the sugar imports as a starting point,” said Mr Murithi in an interview at his Garissa town office.

He said the violence in the town and nearby places had financiers, who were most probably involved in the irregular cross-border business.

Without revealing names of the financiers, the PPO said the investigations had profiled them and a manhunt to track them down launched.

The link between the violence and contraband products, mostly imported from the neighbouring Somalia, is so obvious in the town that wholesale dealers were the first target when the police started their operation to stem the spate of attacks. Major stores previously stocking the irregularly imported sugar have remained closed in recent weeks but as we established, some retailers could still access the cheap sugar that comes packed in yellow bags. 

The sugar is repackaged before it is sold in varying small quantities, according to a motorbike taxi operator in the town, who is often contracted to deliver the commodity.

“You have to be trusted by the seller to buy the other sugar, it is not for everybody these days,” said the taxi operator.

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