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East Africans spend Sh13bn yearly on cocaine, says UN drugs agency


A Ugandan woman suspected of drug trafficking at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, June 6, 2010 after she was arrested with cocaine



Monday, September 09, 2013

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East Africans consume cocaine worth Sh13 billion per year.

At the same time some 22 tonnes of the drug are trafficked via the region annually, a UN report reveals.

According to the latest report by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) year, 64 tonnes of heroin were trafficked to or through the East African region undetected between 2010 and 2013.

The Transnational Organised Crime in Eastern Africa: A Threat Assessment report estimates that up to 22 tonnes of the drug is trafficked to and through the East African region annually, with local consumption alone amounting to $160 million (Sh13 billion) a year.

But in the last three years between 2010 and 2013, the only documented seizures by law enforcement officers in Tanzania, Kenya, the Seychelles and Mauritius were just a mere 1.6 tonnes. This means most of the cocaine is undetected.

The East African region is preferred by the Asian traffickers, mainly from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. The East coast of Africa has become both a destination and transit point because of the growth in local demand for hard drugs and heightened enforcement along the traditional Balkan routes.

CONCEALED IN LUGGAGE

This perhaps explains the uptake in 2012, with perhaps a dozen detections, mostly concealed in luggage. For instance, in 2011, 102 kilogrammes were seized in Mombasa but by 2013, the amount had increased to 194 kilos.

In the Tanzanian town of Tanga, the seizures increased from 145 kilos in 2010 to 813 kilos in 2013. These incidents the report states, favour the theory that trafficking has recently increased. Overall, seizures in the East African region stood at 1,011 kilogrammes in 2013 from 145 kilos.

Seizures along the Balkan Route, which transits Pakistan/Iran and Turkey before crossing southeast Europe, were down to 679 kilogrammes in 2010 from 1,804 in 2006 occasioned by, among others, the declining demand for heroin in Europe.

However, the UN says that the traffickers could have also devised other means, which are yet unknown, to get to Europe.

“The flow has indeed increased, either due to growth in local demand or growth in the use of eastern Africa as a transit area or both. One theory links these seizures to disruption in the traditional path taken by heroin on its way to Europe, the so-called

“Balkan Route. If Eastern Africa were to become the new “Balkan Route”, the impact could be enormous, similar to the impact of cocaine in West Africa. Until recently, though, there is little evidence that this is happening,” the report said.

“The latest wave of seizures should attract international attention to the issue, but until the extent of transshipment can be ascertained, consump­tion within eastern Africa remains the primary concern.”

When the drugs leave Afghanistan they are moved overland to the Makran Coast, a strip of desert coastline that crosses from Pakistan to Iran along the coast of the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman where many of the inhabitants are West Africans and native Asians.

The traffickers have their point men in East Africa, who are mostly Tanzanians and Kenyans operating across the border.

In 2011, for instance, Nyakiniywa Naima Mohamed alias Mama Lela, a prominent Kenyan trafficker from Majengo slums, was arrested in Tanzania after US President Barack Obama named her as one of the drug kingpins.

The drug kingpins however employ couriers of various nationalities including South Africans and West Africans. They are the ones responsible for trafficking of drugs through Bole International airport in Ethiopia.

“Some are undoubt­edly South Africans recruited due to the reduced scrutiny their passport brings.

But it is common for West Afri­can traffickers to carry South African passports, acquired through corruption, fraud, or marriage. Eastern African heroin dealers who have spent time in South Africa may also have acquired a South African passport.”

Based on arrests, Nigerian nationals are the second most-prominent couriers, with a large number of them living in Kenya.

The most prominent of these Nigerians is Anthony Chinedu whose deportation to his country caused Kenya diplomatic embarrassment when the Nigerian officials detained the plane and the immigration officials who accompanied him for over a week,
When they leave Afghanistan, the UN says, the traffickers prefer to use small boats (skiffs) to carry the drugs, the contents of which are then transferred to dhows from the Makran coast.

“The Pakistani section of coast is thought to be the most common launch point, likely because traf­fickers seek to avoid the harsh penalties they face if caught in Iran. The dhows intercepted with heroin have taken a direct route across the Indian Ocean, avoiding the coast of Somalia where traffickers would be at a greater risk of piracy.

TRADITIONAL CARGO ROUTES

Fifty three images of dhows caught with heroin aboard showed their cargo holds were empty, indicating the only purpose in making the journey south across the Indian Ocean was trafficking,” the report says.

Another possibility, the UN said, was that the heroin may be trafficked on cargo dhows plying the traditional cargo routes, making many stops at small ports as they move slowly up and down the coast.

“On arrival, smaller craft may be sent to meet the dhows and transfer cargo at sea.”

The movement of the dhows southwards to East Africa is dependent on and increases during the Kaskazi monsoon trade winds, blow­ing from December to mid-March, which explains the reason four out of the five recent large seizures made in the region occurred during this period.



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