East Africa: Tanzania, Kenya Fingered as Region's Narcotics Hub

(file photo).

Tanzania and Kenya remain the region's significant transit points for illicit drugs, facilitating the movement of the multimillion-dollar drug trade to Uganda and Europe because of porous borders and poor policing.

A report released by the United States (US) Department of State says Tanzania-based trafficking organisations and courier networks operate globally and play a prominent role in the southwest Asian heroin trade, using Dar as the launchpad to control the trade in East Africa.

The 2021 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report by the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs shows that the countries' location, porous borders and persistent corruption present challenges to drug interdiction.

Inadequate port security

"International drug trafficking organisations and courier networks transit through Tanzania to smuggle heroin from southwest Asia. Traffickers transport heroin via small vessels to Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania and over Tanzania's land borders with Kenya and Mozambique to destinations in Europe and North America," the report said, adding that porous borders and inadequate port security present considerable challenges to drug interdiction efforts.

In April 2020, Tanzania's Drug Control and Enforcement Authority (DCEA) seized 300kg of heroin in Dar es Salaam and arrested a Nigerian and two Tanzanian nationals. The seizure represented one of the largest in Tanzania's history and underscored the government's commitment to the operation.

The report says that drug traffickers use financial incentives to influence politicians, law enforcement and others in positions of power.

In August 2020, the DCEA seized more than five metric tonnes of marijuana because of multiple ongoing drug investigations. In September, Tanzanian police seized 51kg of heroin and arrested eight suspects.

Washington, in the report, also says that there are indications that domestic drug use is on the rise in Tanzania.

"In June 2020, Tanzania opened a methadone clinic in Tanga Region, on the border with Kenya. Contacts suggest the clinic will serve a growing number of persons suffering from substance use disorders, likely resulting from traffickers who pay employees in narcotics instead of cash," it said.

In February 2019, Tanzania's DCEA arrested prominent businessman Abdul Nsebo and his wife Shamim Mwasha for alleged heroin trafficking. In October, DCEA destroyed a total 120.9kg of seized heroin and cocaine, the highest in the East African region.

In August 2019, a US federal court sentenced 10 Tanzanian citizens for their part in a transnational heroin trafficking ring, including Ali Khatib Haji Hassan, an international drug kingpin under US Department of the Treasury sanctions who was extradited to the US with two associates in 2017.

Illicit drugs in Kenya

The report has also fingered Kenya in the drug trade, noting that its geographic position on the Indian Ocean and major international air transit location make it an attractive target for narcotics traffickers moving drugs from Asia and Latin America to Europe and the Arabian Peninsula.

"The growth of illegal drug abuse within the country, especially in coastal areas, is a concern. The Government of Kenya and civil society emphasize vigilance against the drug threat, publicly reject the illicit narcotics trade, and support demand reduction and mental health efforts, but official corruption is a major factor in the effectiveness of all Kenyan government endeavors," the report says.

Washington says that Kenya remains a transit country for a variety of illicit drugs, including heroin and cocaine, and domestic drug consumption is growing. Precursor chemicals used to produce methamphetamine and other illicit drugs also transit Kenya.

"Heroin originating from Southwest Asia enters Kenya both from direct shipping across the Indian Ocean via south Asia and, increasingly, from countries to the south, such as Tanzania and Mozambique. Most of the heroin entering Kenya is destined for international markets, principally Europe. Cocaine enters Kenya primarily via transshipment through Ethiopia from South America," it said, adding that domestic heroin abuse is a growing concern in Kenya, especially along the coast and in the main port city of Mombasa.

However, Washington says that Kenya recognises the threat the illegal drug trade represents and is taking steps to increase control of its territorial waters with regional neighbours. This includes focusing on capacity building and professionalising the Kenya Coast Guard Service (KCGS), increased cooperation with regional maritime security bodies including the Djibouti Code of Conduct and drafting a Maritime Security Strategy.

"Increased enforcement and preventive measures in Kenya have in recent years pushed maritime drug transport to the south, toward Tanzania, Mozambique, and beyond," the report said.

Kenya continues to successfully target traffickers operating within its territory. In July 2020, in cooperation with US authorities, Kenyan law enforcement arrested an international trafficker of wildlife and heroin currently under indictment in New York.

During the first nine months of 2020, the Anti-Narcotics Unit seized about 18kg of heroin and two metric tonnes of cannabis, along with trace amounts of cocaine, methamphetamine, ketamine, and rohypnol. Authorities also seized about $255,000 (Sh27 million) in property (vehicles) and cash linked to suspected drug trafficking.

"The Kenyan government is expanding its liaison and communication with drug and border enforcement authorities in East Africa and undertaking assessments of its border security capacity and capability to combat trafficking of illegal drugs and other goods," the report said.

This assertion now confirms a September 2018 Interpol report on the narcotics trade in the region, which said that drug traffickers were using the eastern African coast as their open transit route for illicit drug trafficking from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, India, Brazil, Bolivia and Peru with destinations including South Africa, Europe, the United States and Asia.

"Eastern African ports remain strategic points for drug trafficking, with other Eastern African countries continue to be major transit points for drug trafficking from Latin America and the Middle East to Europe and the United States," the Interpol report said, adding that Tanzania forms part of a major transshipment route for heroin entering the region, but is not a major end market for consumption of this drug.

Last Friday, a new report by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime cited Kenya as a transit country for most of the drugs leaving the continent.

According to the report, most drug shipments appear to have departed from South Africa, followed by Morocco and Kenya. The report shows that in 2019, about four tonnes of heroin and morphine was seized in the continent in 2019, accounting for about three per cent of the global quantities of heroin and morphine seized.

"The largest quantity of heroin seized in East Africa (1 per cent of the regional total) was reported by Kenya. Over the period 2009-2019, the largest quantities of heroin and morphine seized in Africa were seized in North Africa (52 per cent of the total, most notably in Egypt), followed by East Africa (37 per cent of the total), most notably in Kenya, followed by Tanzania," the report says.

Despite the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, trafficking continued in 2020, and large quantities of heroin were reported seized by Tanzania, including a seizure of 270kg of the drug from traffickers from Nigeria and Tanzania in Dar es Salaam in April 2020, and 342kg of heroin from a truck that had travelled from Mozambique to South Africa in September 2020.

Some "263 seizures of smaller amounts were reported by other countries in sub-Saharan Africa (Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda) and in North Africa (Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia)," the report says.

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