Narcotics: A raw nerve that no one dares touch
Published on March 23, 2008, 12:00 am
By Athman Amran
When investigating the multi-billion shilling narcotics business in Coast Province, one is met with authorities’ conspiracy of silence.
There is a lot of suspicion and fear as some people warn that the probe is a dangerous affair.
Kenya is an important transit route for Southwest Asian hashish and heroin dealers. Europe is the primary market and North America the secondary destination.
Eastern Africa representative of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Mr Carsten Hyttel, once remarked that South American traffickers had moved into Kenya.
This was after the tightening of law enforcement in Spain, which was once a main transit point for cocaine headed to Europe.
When The Sunday Standard was investigating the suspected routes and methods used to smuggle hard drugs into the country, the Coast Provincial Criminal Investigation Officer, Mr Bernard Mate, expressed suspicion and mistrust.
We were questioned about what we had learnt from our investigations.
We met hostility at the Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA), which registers private speedboats.
A senior KMA officer, who declined to give his name, threatened to call the police after we inquired about speedboats and their link in drugs trafficking.
But another officer said the authority did not know how many speedboats were in the country.
“We are doing some baseline survey and after compiling the data, we will post it on our website,” the officer said.
Such records could help in tracing the owners of boats involved in illicit trade.
Private speedboats, some of them luxurious, dot almost the entire coastline — from South Coast, the Mombasa Island, Mtwapa, Kilifi, Malindi all the way to Lamu.
Private speedboats face trade competition from private jetties.
It is suspected that the porous small seaports — from Vanga on the Kenya-Tanzania border in South Coast to Lamu in the North— are used to not only smuggle hard drugs but also some counterfeit goods and guns.
Speedboats have been in this trade for a while.
Slain drug baron, Ibrahim Akasha, used a speedboat in the trade. The Government later confiscated the vessel.
A speedboat was also used in the Sh6.4 billion-drug haul, part of which was located at a Malindi villa in December 14, 2004.
Some of the suspected entry points are Bodo, Kinondo — where a major drug consignment was discovered in 1997 — Shimoni and Majoreni.
The Mombasa Old Port on Mombasa Island, Mtwapa Creek, and areas bordering some North Coast hotels, especially where access to the beach is difficult for fishermen and police, are also entry points.
Others are in Kanamai area, Kikambala, Bofa, Tezo and Kilifi beach, Watamu, Malindi, Ngomeni, Mambrui and along the beaches of some islands in Lamu.
The Sunday Standard visited some of the suspected entry points and talked to the locals, especially fishermen.
At Ngomeni, villagers say there are some days when there is a flurry of activity at night involving speedboats and some huge sea vessels.
When there is such activity, some lorries are always on standby while the owners of the consignments arrive in big expensive cars to ensure everything goes on smoothly.
When we visited one of the suspected notorious entry points of smuggled goods and drugs at daytime, it was quiet and deserted. We only found a few fishermen and some young boys who were swimming.
“Some big ships usually anchor in the high seas. Small boats are used to reach them,” a Ngomeni resident said.
But no one is sure what kind of activity goes on between the owners of the big vessels in the high seas and the small speedboats.
Ordinary fishing boats are used in the smuggling business sometimes, it is alleged.
At such sea points, it is suspected that speedboats are used to bring in drugs for local use or those on transit. Crafty drug barons also use roads to bring in narcotics.
According to a former drug dealer, who sought anonymity, the road from Likoni Ferry to the Kenya-Tanzania border is frequently used to transport drugs from Dar-es-Salaam to Mombasa.
“The drugs are mostly from Pakistan and are offloaded through Dar-es-Salaam port or other routes,” he says.
They mostly use matatus, although private top-of-the-range cars, which are rarely stopped and checked on roadblocks, sometimes come in handy.
When matatus are used, the former drug baron says, the dealers collude with some police officers.
A spy is usually sent to find out the officers manning roadblocks, just in case “unfriendly” officers happen to be on the scene. The person sent ahead usually strikes deals with wayward officers and ensures safe passage of the vehicle carrying the drugs.
The traffickers use mobile phones to get in touch with their contacts at roadblocks or some police officers to ensure safe passage of the drugs.
“The mobile phone has helped a lot in the drug trafficking business,” he reveals.
Drugs transported by road transport, especially hashish, are usually in small quantity, another former drug trafficker says.
He adds: “The narcotics haul in high seas is usually in large quantities.”
He alleges that large quantities of hard drugs still find their way into the country since there are few anti-narcotics police in Mombasa.
The Government, he claims, is incapable of patrolling the long stretch of shore from Kwale to Lamu.
Also used to bring in the hard drugs, especially at border points, are bicycles and tuktuks (Three-wheeled taxis).
There are many ways of carrying drugs when transported by road.
They can be carried in spare tyres, thermos flasks, three-piece suits, buibuis, shoes and even private parts or through ingestion.
“Women are increasingly being used as couriers of hard drugs. It is not easy for them to be nabbed,” the former drug dealer says.
Drugs from Mombasa find their way to Lamu via the Mokowe jetty, he claims.
The drugs are placed in some boats, which head to Matondoni point of Lamu Island instead of Lamu jetty.
The drugs are then loaded onto donkeys and moved into the island for storage in a safe place. Such safe places are distribution points to youths through special couriers (peddlers).
The Moi International Airport, in Mombasa, has also been used as an entry point for drugs despite tight police checks.
According to the International Narcotics Board, some traffickers use small planes.
In Malindi and Lamu, where many youths are hooked to heroin, the former drug dealer cautions against accepting free black or sweet coffee.
“After about three cups of the coffee on three consecutive days, a person can easily get addicted and become one of the customers of some merciless drug dealers,” he warns.
Sources allege that some senior people in Government work with local and international drugs cartels.
Drug trafficking is big business.
Those in it, it is alleged, drive around in expensive cars.
Like Akasha, they always have some “honest” businesses that act as fronts.
The mansions they live in — some right on the beachfronts — are stupendous fortresses and their lifestyle, a source of envy.
It is alleged that Akasha used to give some police officers monthly “hand outs”.
When Akasha’s drugs were impounded, it is said that some senior government officials had to make regular trips abroad to meet the Colombian owner for negotiations.
Akasha, notorious drug dealer, confidently swaggered in the town of Mombasa and his private speedboat was always openly and proudly displayed.
Had it not been for a deal gone sour between those involved in the hashish haul netted in 1999, the drug consignment could never have been discovered. The consignment had already found its way to Akasha’s Nyali house hideout.
Akasha was suspected to be close to some high-ranking Government officials and he may never have gotten into trouble.
Some Coast residents want the Government to investigate some tycoons who have mansions along beachfronts and who have built high walls to block access to the beach.
Fierce dogs and harsh security guards man their properties.
This is despite the beaches being public utilities.
residents suspect that some foreigners from Italy, Switzerland and other European countries could be using their mansions and private villas to hide drugs and commit other illegal activities.