7 January 2013

Uganda: Slum Areas, Posh Pubs Biggest Drug Hubs

Drug barons have infused narcotic drugs into the local market, posing a huge threat to public health and safety, the Police have warned. Simon Masaba explores how the drug business is booming in Uganda.

It has emerged that sly drug dealers have made in-roads into institutions of higher learning, secretly vending pancakes laced with cocaine and heroine. The Police say they have intelligence that narcotic drugs which are adulterated are being peddled in mainly suburbs dominated by foreigners.

"It is true that adulterated drugs are being sold locally and we have intel¬ligence that this is mainly in suburbs like Kabalagala, and some posh suburbs which have a high presence of foreign-ers," Fabian Amadia, the Police anti-narcotics unit boss says.

Other than Kabalagala, Amadia says, they are investigating reports that some of the drugs are being peddled in high-end pubs, restaurants and institutions of learning in the city, usually frequented by foreign nationals and some affluent locals.

"They sell the drugs through pancakes. We have this intelligence and because of this, they (institutions) are becoming a market for drugs," Amadia says.

The drugs, particularly cocaine from Latin and Central America and heroine mainly from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Burma and India, are couriered into the country mostly by West Africans.

This is rapidly transforming Uganda from a destination country where the drugs initially only used to be repackaged, into a drug consuming country.

Immigration speaks out

"Drug trafficking is a very profitable investment, that the drug lords construct serious infrastructures (building), employ people but with a hidden agenda of dealing in drugs," Charles Oluru, the assistant commissioner Citizen and Immigration Control, says.

The drug cartels are growing in the country because they come as research¬ers, international journalists, tourists, educationalists who renew their stay.

"Immigration, as a department, does not work alone but a joint effort with other security agencies to help in monitoring would help," Oluru says.

Many of the dealers, the Police say, take advantage of the weak penalties in the National Drug Policy and Authority Act, 2006 to carry out their trade.

"The law provides for a fine of sh1m or a custodial sentence not more than two years, but in Uganda, many of them get away with a fine. There is need for Parliament to look into this," Amadia says.

Lack of resources

Amadia adds that the only way to prevent the drug lords from feasting on the country is mass sensitisation of the citizens about the dangers of dealing in and consuming these narcotic drugs.

"Why sensitise? Because the drug lords target unemployed youth who are exposed to loads of money," Oluru says.

He adds that drug lords have a series of methods of concealing drugs, so continuous training of officers, constructing perimeter walls and use of technol¬ogy on border countries, would help beat the vice.

However, Oluru says lack of resources to monitor and the lack of enough manpower to run down the suspects on the porous borders, is a major loophole.

Oluru adds that weak laws and penal¬ties against the drug dealers have given room to the access and growth of cartels in Uganda. "What is a sh1m court fine for freedom to a drug dealer who earns billions?"

Adulterated cocktails

Drug dealers, he says, increase the quantity of cocaine by mixing it with various items, such as flour, cellulose and sugar and sell it to unsuspecting but desperate clients. He cites the case of Jeff Rice, the American TV producer who was found dead in a city hotel after consuming adulterated cocaine, procured from a city bar in a posh suburb.

In another incident, he says, Julius Walimbwa, a Ugandan, was arrested about two weeks ago while crossing into Kenya with two kilograms of cocaine laced with marijuana.

The barons, Amadia says, buffer up the drugs with other substances to increase on the quantity so as to improve their profit margins.

Fabric of soceity threatened

But that is not the biggest threat, says the Police. "Apart from the risk of spread¬ing diseases through sharing syringes, the vice is lucrative and can be a threat to national security by funding terrorism and can be used to launder money for other ulterior motives," says a Police source.

Additionally experts express fears that the increase in the number of drug ad¬dicts, particularly among the youth, can disrupt the social fabric, leading to increase in crime, among them theft and domestic violence.

For now, the Police is closely monitoring the slum areas of Kamwokya, Bakuli-Mengo, Naboa Road (Mbale) and Lubasi Street (Jinja).

I used beggars to sell drugs

Peter Kimaswa (university student) says he got introduced to adulterated cocaine by a Kenyan friend he studied with in high school. "We became suppliers of cocaine to expatriates on the streets of Mbale.

Our racket was busted when my father tipped the Police based on my deteriorating behavior. I even dropped out of school."

Kimaswa, who was remanded to Malukhu Prison, said the business kept running but on a small scale and eventually collapsed because the collectors had since shied away from the streets and there was no more supervision.

"We used the Mbale street beggars to sell the cocaine to our clients," Kimaswa says. "It was hard for the Police intelligence to track down the beggars."

Abdu, Kimaswa's Kenyan friend, was deported back to Kenya. "My family took me to Butabika Hospital and 16 months later, I rejoined university to complete my studies," Kimaswa says.

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