By By Fred Oluoch - Monday, May 10 2010
East Africa is no longer just a convenient transit point for hard drugs to the developed world.
More and more East Africans are getting high, though mostly on the cheaper cannabis (bhangi) — turning the region into a large and profitable market for illicit drugs.
The latest report of the meeting of heads of anti-narcotic enforcement agencies of the East African Community countries — obtained by The EastAfrican — paints a grim picture of a region losing the war on drugs.
As authorities fall behind on modernising anti-drug laws, intelligence and enforcement, an integrated regional drug economy is starting to emerge. This economy has a well-organised value chain of producers, traffickers, middlemen and street level retailers.
In Kenya, for instance, which has a big internal market for cannabis sativa that is supplied heavily by Tanzania and Uganda, local drug lords are starting to forge links with international trafficking cartels and crime groups. These links could soon extend to terrorist groups.
“Transit countries are progressively graduating into consuming countries,” says the report. “The modus operandi of transporting [these] drugs is changing day after day, both in scope and complexity, requiring new methods of detection.”
Tanzania and Kenya record the highest drug seizures, while Uganda leads with the vigour of its drug enforcement, prosecution and conviction. However, the data is too spotty for effective comparison.
The report says there is an increase in recruitment of European couriers, both young and elderly. There is also recruitment of local couriers by foreigners.
“Marriages of foreign and local drug barons/traffickers to local women [in Kenya] are a means of legitimising their stay and camouflaging their involvement in drug trafficking,” says the report.
Each country has unique enforcement challenges, depending on how its internal drug market is evolving. But one thing is common — cannabis is the most-consumed drug in the region.
This consumption is rising steadily, with thousands of farmers economically dependent on its production. Cannabis trade also employs thousands of low-income earners as couriers and street peddlers. At the producer level, EAC countries are interconnected.
While cocaine and heroin tend to attract the big headlines, the region does not constitute a big market because of their high prices.
Nairobi, Mombasa and Dar es Salaam are the main trans-shipment points to the global network, experts say.
The link between organised crime and terrorism is also a major threat to international security. The rising middle class in Kenya and Tanzania is also expected to create a growing market for these hard drugs.
All five countries of the regional bloc suffer from insufficient law enforcement, the report says. It adds that drug trafficking is a major threat to integration of the region, since transit countries are graduating into consuming countries.
Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda are currently working on a joint approach to the problem. The mode of transportation of drugs, for instance, is changing by the day in scope and complexity. Traffickers are also changing routes to disguise the country of origin.
Figures on seized drugs indicate that huge quantities are being produced, trafficked and abused without the detection of law enforcement agencies. This is leading to associated crimes such as theft, violence, murder, corruption and money laundering in the five member countries.
So far, only Tanzania has ratified the EAC Protocol on combating drugs in East Africa.
With the advent of the Common Market in July — allowing free movement of goods and people — drug trafficking is set to become one of the leading transnational crimes.
The most trafficked drugs in the region are cocaine, heroin, mandrax, valium and cannabis sativa, mainly originating from the Far East, Afghanistan, Iran, India, Pakistan, Brazil, South Africa, US, and Peru. Cannabis sativa is the main drug trafficked and consumed in the region.
The capacity of law enforcement is largely deficient. Water masses, land and air transport are the main means of transportation of these drugs and involvement of airline and marine crew has worsened the menace.
Of great concern are the procedures for destruction of seized drugs, which are lenghthy and cumbersome — what with court proceedings and other red tape.
While Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are grappling with hard drugs from outside the region, Burundi and Rwanda are dealing mainly with cases of cannabis sativa.
The ‘danger drugs’ for East Africa are marijuana, cocaine and heroin.
Khat is a controlled or illegal substance in two countries, but is legal for sale and production in the rest.
Marijuana (also known as cannabis, dagga or ganja) is a tobacco-like substance derived from the hemp plant.
It is grown and produced throughout the world and can be ingested by smoking, chewing or eating.
Cocaine, which is extracted from the coca plant of the Andean countries in Latin America, is the most potent stimulant of natural origin.
It has powerful psychotropic properties and can be administered by smoking, sniffing or intravenously.
Heroin, a semi-synthetic narcotic derived from the opium poppy, can be ingested by smoking, sniffing or intravenously.
The drug has a high physical and psychological dependency factor. Heroin overdose can be fatal.
Khat is a flowering plant native to tropical East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
It contains cathinone, a stimulant which is said to cause excitement, loss of appetite and euphoria.
Its fresh leaves and tops are chewed or, less frequently, dried and consumed as tea.