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Traffickers' drugs haven in Kenya

By Karen Allen
BBC News, Mombasa

The Kenyan sea port of Mombasa, one of East Africa's busiest, is now seen as a key staging post in the international drugs trail.

Abbas, a heroin addict in Mombasa
They go to Karachi in Pakistan and bring it to Kenya
Drug addict Abbas

Overlooking the coast, shaded by a tree, I met Abbas injecting himself with heroin.

Once a bus conductor with a couple of kids, he has been hooked on the drug for the past six years.

Dealers target addicts like him, but the real money is being made shifting drugs overseas. Abbas explains how it works.

"They go to Karachi, Pakistan. They take it and bring it to Kenya," he says.

"Then they take it from Kenya to Kampala [in Uganda]; they take it to other countries."

The fact that Kenya is grappling with two simultaneous challenges - a growing indigenous drug problem and high levels of corruption - make it a convenient transit and storage point for international drug cartels.

No convictions

According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, heroin seizures have doubled in Kenya in the past five years.

KENYA'S NARCOTIC RECORD
Local use: 0.5%, more than 60% found in urban areas
Heroin: seizures doubled in past five years
Biggest seizure: 1.1 metric tons of cocaine, worth $90m
Main home-grown crops: Cannabis, khat

Murad Saad works with addicts and says the police turn a blind eye to dealing on the street so why should it be any different for drugs just passing through?

"They know who these people are, yet we don't seem to see any changes. Even if they do make an arrest, within a day the person is already out because he's posted bail and if he ever gets to go to court, he also gets out," he says.

"We've not seen any tangible convictions or anything really tangible being done. "

The problem started back in the 1980s with heroin being brought onto Kenya's shores.

Now, the narcotics gangs have used the same tricks to traffic cocaine.

December 2004 saw the biggest ever seizure of the drug - 1.1 metric tons, equivalent to $90m - a little further up the coast, in Malindi.

Mules

But the very size of it clearly showed that it was not destined for Kenya, but for other, more lucrative, markets overseas.

A Kenyan soldier guards seized cocaine
We cannot be blind to the fact that we have a very poor record
Police spokesman Gideon Kibunja

The drug was destroyed in a very public display back in February.

Since then, there have been a number of drug seizures, including $600,000 worth of cocaine, detected at Nairobi's main airport recently.

So, do senior police officers accept that Kenya is now an established transit point for drugs, fuelled by corruption?

"We cannot be blind to the fact that we have a very poor record. Law enforcement is very thin on the ground," says Gideon Kibunja, spokesman for Kenya Police.

"At the same time, it is admittable, although it's regrettable, that there is quite a bit of corruption in the country and efforts to try and stamp it out are going on."

Mules

It is something that worries Titus Naikuni, chief executive of Kenya Airways.

Titus Naikuni, CEO Kenya Airways
There are a few who are already hooked into drug trafficking and maybe they might not be able to get out of it
Kenya Airways' Titus Naikuni

His airline crews have been amongst those used as drug mules.

Five of his staff have been arrested over the past year, trying to bring narcotics into Europe.

With extra security measures now in place, he says his employees are aware that international drug cartels are now targeting them.

"I am seeing the realisation by staff that it is dangerous to get involved with drug trafficking," Mr Naikuni says.

"Unfortunately, there are a few who are already hooked into it and maybe they might not be able to get out of it, but we are tracking them."

Poverty, corruption and geography all conspire to make Kenya an attractive transit and storage point for drugs, but so too does a lack of awareness about the home-grown drugs problem.

'National disaster'

Historically, drugs intended for overseas have spilled onto the local market, fuelling demand.

Drug users in Mombasa
Some believe police turn a blind eye to dealing

Dennis Wachira Heineman, who runs an addiction clinic, says there is still naivety about drug use in Kenya - particularly worrying when injecting drug use is on the rise.

He blames the authorities for being slow to grasp the problem and wants to view to the situation as a national disaster.

"That means creating awareness to the public, tightening up the court system in terms of one recognising who is an addict, who's a dealer; giving stiff sentences to the dealers and helping to treat the people who are addicts," he says.

Although compared to richer countries, drug use in Kenya is relatively low, less than 0.5% of the population, there is a sense that with more narcotics seeping in, and a continued climate of corruption, that could rise.



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