Incidents of Ugandans involved in drug-related offences at home and abroad have risen steadily over the years, but now they have reached worrying levels.
Hardly a week passes these days without a report that a Ugandan national has been arrested somewhere around the world over drug trafficking. The latest is a Ugandan man, Bashir Gaddafi Polikoko, who was reportedly arrested in Indonesia last week with crystal methamphetamine. Other drug types commonly smuggled are cocaine, heroin and opium.
The week before, it was reported that some 22 Ugandans were on death row in China following their conviction in Chinese courts over drug-related offences. Many others are serving life sentences or languishing in Chinese jails. During the same week, the American authorities apprehended in Kampala and extradited one Robert Nyakana, who had reportedly been on the run, over cocaine trafficking in the United States.
Earlier, in February this year, there was the case of an American TV producer, Jeff Rice, who died in Kampala after consuming poor-quality drugs. Notwithstanding the efforts of the anti-narcotics police, which have led to several arrests in the past, that case showed in part why Uganda is becoming a safe haven for drug abuse and trafficking.
The American's South African accomplice was only fined a few million Uganda shillings and let go because that is what Ugandan law says. If she had been caught in China, a life or death sentence would have loomed. To ensure that Uganda does not turn into a country where drug abuse is safe thanks to its weak laws, drug abuse and trafficking must be made costly business.
The anti-narcotics police have for long called for a more stringent legal regime to handle drug abuse, to no avail. Now the rate at which Ugandans are getting involved in drug trafficking makes this call an emergency. Alongside addressing the legal regime, there is need for campaigns to educate Ugandan youth about the dangers of drug abuse and trafficking, including the repercussions of getting caught, especially in other countries.