Dar es Salaam — After the high-profile July arrest in South Africa of two Tanzanian singers on drug smuggling charges and related allegations against six Dar es Salaam airport workers, Tanzania's government is taking strict measures against narcotics trafficking.
"We have put in place a special joint operation that involves the police, the intelligence and our military intelligence unit to stop traffickers at all points of entry," government spokesman and Tanzania Information Services Director Assah Mwambene told reporters August 21st.
Some of the new measures aim to close loopholes in security procedures for luggage handling and inspections, Transport Minister Harrison Mwakyembe told Sabahi.
Under new rules, all airport employees will be required to register their shift start and end times in an attendance book. Employees will even have to record times for toilet breaks, the minister said.
In addition, employees will be barred from work areas if they report for duty late, Mwakyembe said. Supervisors will be responsible for ensuring the records are maintained according to regulations.
These rules restrict anyone other than designated workers -- such as porters and customs agents -- from coming into contact with passengers' luggage. Anyone who ignores the rules will be fired and could face legal repercussions, he said.
The crackdown is in response to a drug bust on July 5th involving Tanzanian singers Agnes Gerald Deal, known as Masogange, and Melisa Edward.
The two women were arrested after their flight from Dar es Salaam landed at O.R. Tambo International Airport outside Johannesburg, allegedly carrying 180 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine in nine identical bags, Mwakyembe told Sabahi.
Six officials at Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam were accused of helping the two women check their suitcases containing the drugs at the South African Airways counter. Airport security cameras taped the alleged involvement.
The officials have been identified as Jackson Manyonyi, Mohamed Kalungwana, Yusufu Daniel Issa, Juliana Thadei, Zahoro Mohamed Selemani and Corporal Ernest. They were accused of fast-tracking the bags that contained 8.2 billion Tanzanian shillings ($5.1 million) worth of drugs, and have been fired.
The two arrested singers have appeared in a South African court and likely will face a life sentence, Mwakyembe said.
Tanzania a stopping point for international drug smuggling:
According to Assistant Commissioner of Police Godfrey Nzowa, who heads the Tanzanian anti-narcotics unit, nearly 2,000 people were arrested in the past three years for smuggling or using drugs. Most of those cases involved cannabis farmed in the Mara region.
Heroin, however, is smuggled into Tanzania from Pakistan aboard cargo ships, he said.
"They normally stop along the Indian Ocean at night and offload the drugs into speed boats that ferry them to the coast off Bagamoyo," Nzowa told Sabahi. "From Bagamoyo, drugs are loaded in expensive cars and driven to Dar es Salaam for repackaging and to fly them to South Africa, China and other parts of the world."
Pakistani heroin traffickers route illegal shipments bound for China via Tanzania because of stringent Chinese security inspections on imports from Pakistan, Nzowa said.
Tanzanian authorities have become increasingly successful in finding drugs, thanks to information gained from ongoing investigations and new equipment supplied by international partners, he said.
"We have received new technology from the United States where we press a needle with special chemicals for detecting drugs into suspicious luggage and when you take it out, if the bag contains illicit drugs, the needle produces ashes in five seconds," he said.
Tanzania is also partnering with international security organisations to combat drug trafficking globally, according to Christopher Shekiondo, head of the Drug Control Commission.
'Zero tolerance for corruption'
Nonetheless, drug trafficking remains a problem in Tanzania because of complicity from officials, Commissioner of Immigration Services Permits and Passes Dawson Mongi said.
"You cannot fight drugs without defeating corruption in the country," Mongi told Sabahi. "Drugs are tarnishing our image as a country. We have to resolve as a nation to have zero tolerance for corruption."
Addressing concerns that the government is not doing enough on that front, Minister for Home Affairs Emmanuel Nchimbi said the high number of drug-related arrests reflects the government's seriousness in dealing with the problem.
"The government has issued special instructions to arrest anyone connected to this illicit business, regardless of the title, political affiliation and ethnicity," he told Sabahi.
Meanwhile, a new law to fight drug trafficking is being drafted, said William Lukuvi, minister of state in the prime minister's office for policy, co-ordination and national assembly.
"We have come to realise that our laws are a bit lax on drug trafficking. Traffickers are fined 500,000 shillings ($309) for being found in possession of 10 billion ($6.1 million) worth of drugs. This is nothing," Lukuvi said.
"The council of ministers is currently debating the law, and it will come out with severe punishments that will deter people from engaging in this business," he told Sabahi.
Among new ideas being discussed is the establishment of a special court for expediting drug cases.
"Currently, it takes up to seven years to adjudicate a case against a trafficker. By the time the court hears a case, the evidence is sometimes compromised due to poor standards of maintenance of evidence," Lukuvi said. "Therefore, the court ends up acquitting drug dealers on technicalities."
The government also is working on improving facilities where criminal evidence is stored, he said.
"This financial year we have set aside 300 million shillings ($185,000) under the prime minister's office budget for building a special warehouse that will be used to keep evidence once culprits are arrested," he said.