February 25th 2018

Opinion / Commentaries

Is Kenya on the verge of becoming a Narco-State?

There has been very few successful prosecution of the local drug barons. Further, many politicians known to be involved in the drug trade hold important political and public offices at both national and county level.

By Odhiambo OyokoMonday, 14 Nov 2016 17:25 EAT

Sometime in 2005, packages of white powder washed up on the beach of an island off the coast of the West African state of Guinea-Bissau. According to the UK newspaper The Guardian, the locals had no idea what the mysterious substance was but they soon put it to use in various practical ways, including using it to decorate their bodies and houses and even to mark soccer pitches. They even sprinkled it on their crops (which wilted and died).

Later, some men arrived on the island aboard a chartered plane with US$ 1 million in cash and offered to buy the remainder of the powder. The islanders accepted the offer and learnt that the substance was in fact cocaine. The windfall brought instant wealth to the hitherto poor islanders and started Guinea-Bissau and other West African nations' rapid descent into the dubious status of a Narco-state – in effect a country whose institutions and apparatus are controlled by drug barons and the narcotics trade.

In the last decades, drag traffickers mainly operating from South America and Asia have been able to capture often weak and fragile states in those regions and in Africa, making them subordinate to the drug barons. These Narco-States serve a critical role. First, they shield the drug traders from prosecution. Secondly, they provide vital logistical support to the drug barons and thirdly, they allow the drug barons to hide or launder their illegal proceeds. State capture by these drug barons in turn breeds corruption, mismanagement and bad governance.

In Kenya, according to The Economist, the political and security organs have effectively been under the corrupt influence of these drug traffickers. While in West Africa the drugs are trans-shipped to Europe from South America, in East Africa the main source of drugs destined for Europe is from Pakistan and Afghanistan. The increasing quantities of seized shipments points to the importance and value of this route. For instance, in April 2014, the Australian Navy seized US$240 million worth of heroin off the East African coast. In November, a separate operation netted 712kg of heroin. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 3,500kg of illegal drugs were seized of the coast of East Africa in 2014.

The transshipment of drugs through Kenya involves loading of the drugs into small boats from larger ships off-shore and transporting them into small landing beaches. They are then shipped to Europe via Jomo Kenyatta International Airport using individuals known in the trade as ‘mules’.

The complicity of virtually every branch of the Kenyan state and many of the political, judicial security elite in Kenya in this trade has been the subject of much speculation. The International Peace Institute has stated that ‘The foundations of the Kenyan State are under attack from the [drug barons]’. Nothing highlights this fact more than the saga involving a relatively junior Magistrate called Julius Nang’ea.

Mr Nang’ea, according to local media reports, recently quit a criminal case he was handling citing ‘Executive interference’. The case involved seizure of illegal drugs worth Sh22million. Five alleged traffickers had been charged in connection with the case. However, the government went ahead and destroyed the cache. This in and of itself was a criminal act by the state and patently illegal. It amounted to destruction of evidence/exhibits and potentially obstruction of justice.

This followed the destruction of a yatch - The Baby Iris - which had also been cited in a separate drug trafficking case. The destruction of the yatch went ahead despite the owners obtaining a prior court order stopping its destruction. President Uhuru Kenyatta at one time personally supervised the destruction of yet another vessel suspected of involvement in drug smuggling.

While the strong arm, if not illegal, actions of the government may seem to signal a robust fight against drug trafficking the facts on the ground are very different. There has been very few successful prosecution of the local drug barons. Further, many politicians known to be involved in the drug trade hold important political and public offices at both national and county level. The corrupting influence of the drug barons extends to every sector of Kenyan society and insidious and creeping  influence will soon envelope all our public institutions unless we stand up, speak and act on this as concerned citizens.

The writer is a Governance Consultant and Convener of the Forum for Civic Participation in Governance (FCPG)

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