1 October 2008

Uganda: Wakiso; Where Marijuana is a Major Source of Income

Growing Marijuana, commonly referred to as "weed" is illegal, but Sarah Tumwebaze and Andrew Bagala found out that some farmers in Wakiso District grow and sell it in broad daylight

As we waited at the Central Police Station (CPS) for the officers who were supposed to carry out the marijuana operation, three policemen brought in a man who seemed to be in his late twenties.

The man is known to the policemen as "Survivor" as it was not his first time on the wrong side of the law. This time round, Survivor who hangs around Arua Park, was high on marijuana which led him to assault his colleagues and later on robbing another who eventually alerted the police.

While at CPS, Survivor became so violent that he beat up the policemen who had arrested him, including Steven Tanui, the District Police Commander (DPC) and attempted escape.

Survivor is not the only person committing crimes under the influence of marijuana. According to Mr Moses Kafeero, the police spokesperson for Kampala Central, most rapes, murders, robberies and cases like bestiality reported at police are usually committed under the influence of marijuana and other hard drugs.

The increase of such incidences compelled the police into action and they set out to look for the roots of marijuana. They zeroed in on Wakiso District as the largest producer and supplier.

A surprise attack on marijuana growers in Wakiso was arranged, plantations destroyed and several arrests made as they police laboured to get rid of the marijuana growing pockets which also feed areas such as Kampala.

We left Kampala at 11am and headed for Wakiso. When we got off the Kakiri main road, we had to take a dusty road leading to Magogo parish, Kyegobo Village. Here, most of the households grow one or two plantations of marijuana.

After driving for about 20 minutes deep in Kyegobo Village, we came across two men and a young boy each carrying a sack. When they saw the police they all disappeared into the nearby banana plantation.

The policemen swung into action as they jumped off the truck and went into a cat and mouse chase of the marijuana growers. The two adults escaped leaving a juvenile at the mercy of the policemen, The young boy who was later identified as Edison Ssempala (10) and a pupil in primary five at Namagere Primary School said, he had been sent home from school with a balance of Shs20,000.

"I was looking for money to pay for my school fees and at the moment I have only collected Shs4000," he pleaded.

Ssempala hoped to earn this money from cutting, packing and carrying marijuana. His father, a farmer who grows eggplants and like everyone else in the village, owns a small shamba of marijuana.

According to Ssempala, the two men who had escaped arrest were Yusuf and Kaggwa and they were taking that marijuana in the sacks for sale.

"This marijuana is bought by a number of people like the boda boda riders, taxi drivers, boxers, even "big people" and they don't need to hide while doing it because almost everyone in the area has a shamba," Ssempala revealed.

Marijuana is the major source of income for Kyegobo residents. A half a basin of marijuana is sold at Shs15,000, and Shs60,000 for a sack of marijuana.

As Vincent Lubowa (25), Philemon Ndaygimanya (19), an old lady Ana Maria Kizanye (70) and a young woman Jennifer Nalukwago (20) and three children, were holding a conversation at their home, in their compound marijuana was drying under the sun. Besides the house was a small plantation of marijuana which become the first target of the police. They uprooted all of it and set it ablaze.

It is very hard for a first time visitor to know that there's any marijuana plantation in the area until you go deep down into the gardens. The residents of this village grow cash crops like cassava, maize, sweet potatoes, banana plantations and beans on the roads and near their houses.

According to Ms Alison Agaba, the DPC Wakiso District, "The junior officers in the area plus the local council leaders know about the existence of these plantations but they do not say anything about it."

Ironically, the people who should be advocating for the banning of marijuana growing are the very people who own the largest shambas. As Ssempala revealed, it is the local council leaders taking potential buyers around the best gardens and when an agreement is reached, they share the spoils.

Fred Kayiri, the LC one chairman for Zimudi Village and his defence secretary David Bizibu, own plantations and at the time the operation was carried out, the latter was high on marijuana.

Musajagyagenda Gwolabyeko said he had advocated for the legalisation of marijuana growing. "It's more profitable than other cash crops," he argued.

Marijuana has not only brought money to Kyegobo residents, but also trouble. Ms Evelyn Nabawanuka, a detective said that over 10 cases of domestic violence are reported a week, most of which committed under the influence of marijuana.

In the meeting the police held with the villagers to sensitise them about the side effects of marijuana, the residents remained adamant and almost beat up Kizza Yoweri also a resident of Kyegobo village who was naming the residents with the biggest marijuana shambas.

Kafeero blames the continuous growing of marijuana on the weak laws which have failed to make the law against marijuana more punitive.

"I appeal to the government to make the law against the growing of marijuana more punitive like that of China but imprisonment for two months or a fine of Shs1m is not worth the damage caused by marijuana," Kafeero said.

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