Nairobi — Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has declared a war on drugs, but efforts to combat drug trafficking and drug use among youth could fail unless law enforcement agencies receive adequate support and are held accountable, observers say.
Kenyatta announced his war on drugs June 10th, as he opened the 2nd National Conference on Alcohol and Drug Abuse at the Moi International Sports Centre in Kasarani.
He called on law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders such as the National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA), the ministries of health and education, and county governments to work together to eradicate the use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco products among youth.
"I particularly call on the National Police Service to tighten law enforcement measures to deal with illicit drug trafficking across our borders, enforce the law on access to alcohol, stamp out illicit brews in our towns and villages, and deal firmly with those encouraging underage drinking," Kenyatta said.
"The sad reality presented by the figures and facts in NACADA's 2012 survey on drugs is that 14.8% of the respondents aged between 10 and 14 years old are completely oblivious of the risks associated with substance abuse," he said.
"These statistics underline the need to educate our young people on the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse; and this is indeed very urgent."
Cracking down on drug traffickers:
The opening of the conference came a week after Kenyan authorities deported six Nigerians on narcotics trafficking charges, including businessman and alleged drug kingpin Anthony Chinedu, who had lived in Kenya for the past ten years.
"And we are not yet done," said Bramwel Wanyoike, senior assistant principal registrar at the Ministry of State for Immigration and Registration of Persons.
"We are liaising with Kenya's anti-narcotics police wing, the attorney general and other relevant government agencies to identify known and unknown drug cartels, and to let them know that their days are numbered in Kenya because it is not business as usual," he told Sabahi. "We have the president's full support and the goodwill of Kenyans."
Kenyatta's head-on approach to the issue is largely welcomed by the public, but there are fears that the initiative may fade because of the government's poor record in enforcing existing laws.
The war on drugs could be won if the government enforced existing laws without fear or favour, PeaceNet Kenya Chief Executive Officer Stephen Kirimi Mwamba told Sabahi.
"Our laws on drug trafficking are strict-enough and comprehensive," he said. "What is failing the campaign against drug trafficking is weak prosecution and implementation."
Mwamba blamed the situation in part on NACADA, the agency tasked with developing strategies and spearheading the war on drugs.
NACADA was formed in 2012, and its main focus is on reducing demand for drugs through preventive education, public awareness, treatment, rehabilitation and other support. The agency is also involved in forming policy to supress the drug supply in Kenya.
Mwamba also said the police and judiciary should be more accountable when it comes to arresting and prosecuting drug users and cartels.
"How come the police are more vigorous in arresting and arraigning small drug users in court, but turn a blind eye when it comes to powerful and major drug traffickers?" he said. "The inspector general needs to investigate if the police service is selective in arresting suspects."
"The confidence of the police to crush drug cartels is undermined when the judiciary frees drug suspects on cash bail," he said. "These suspects go back to their illegal trade, thus leaving the police frustrated."
Mwamba said the government should deploy more police officers and immigration officials to protect Kenya's borders.
"Kenya should not hesitate to approach the United States, Britain or even the United Nations for funding or personnel expertise, if that is what will help annihilate drug trafficking in Kenya," he said.
For Kenyatta's crusade against drugs to succeed, the government must follow through with tangible support to the enforcement agencies, said Philip Ochieng Onguje, co-ordinator of Usalama Reforms Forum, a security sector reform lobby based in Nairobi.
"Our president needs to now move beyond rhetoric and empower the police Anti-Narcotics Unit by adequately funding and staffing the agency," Onguje told Sabahi. "Look at the good work the Kenya Anti-Terrorism Police Unit is doing dismantling terrorism rings because it has adequate funding, skilled staff, equipment and political backing."
Scope of the problem:
Kenya has grappled with illegal narcotics for years. The fact that traffickers continue to bring billions of shillings worth of illegal narcotics into Kenya has raised fears that the country might join other countries, where drug money has ruined national economies and compromised the rule of law.
According to the U.S. State Department's 2011 International Narcotics Control Strategy report, drug trafficking in and through Kenya is a growing problem. "Drug trafficking is linked to the prevailing culture of impunity and presents serious ramifications to the nation's health, security and stability," the report said.
In September 2011, the International Peace Institute reported that profits from the illicit drug trade had infiltrated Kenyan politics and that allegations linked officials to international cocaine and heroin smuggling rings.
Kenya and East Africa are also attractive to international drug traffickers who exploit non-existent or ineffective border controls, limited cross-border and regional co-operation, as well as deficiencies in the criminal justice systems, according to a 2012 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Drug traffickers are relocating from Asia, South America and West Africa because it is easier to bribe police, judges and politicians in East Africa, according to lawyer Suyianka Lempaa, a senior analyst at the International Centre for Policy and Conflict.
The previous administration's reluctance to go after drug kingpins only made things worse by hampering law enforcement agencies' efforts, he said. "Because ministers in [President Mwai Kibaki's] government and close allies were implicated in drug trafficking, law enforcement officials treaded carefully," Lempaa told Sabahi.
To change that environment, he said, port officials must conduct thorough checks of suspicious containers at the port and Kenyatta must deal ruthlessly with any corrupt government officials.
Tackling drug and alcohol abuse has been a major aspect of Kenyatta's political platform and he has pledged to strengthen the enforcement of policies and laws to prevent youth from accessing illicit substances.
"We must from now henceforth apprehend and punish all persons who sell alcohol and drugs to the youth," Kenyatta said June 10th. "At the same time, we must upscale our capacity to rehabilitate those among our youth who need help out of the bondage of alcohol and drug abuse."