Uganda has gradually become one of the leading drug trafficking conduits for organised international drug cartels in Latin America, West Africa to Europe and Far Eastern countries.
The May 5th arrest of Ugandan Anne Birungi Bisaso alias Gillian Kiconco by Kenya Police at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport with 21 kg of cocaine worth Ksh 85 million (Shs 2.2b) epitomises the complexity of this clandestine trade.
Prior to the Kiconco incident, a litany of illicit drug-related interceptions was reported at Entebbe International Airport. Moreover, a number of Ugandans are currently languishing in Chinese prisons on drug trafficking charges.
Given China’s tough anti-trafficking laws, some of these Ugandans face life imprisonment or even death penalty. It’s hard to establish the exact number of incarcerated Ugandans abroad on drug-related offences because they rarely register with Ugandan embassies.
Ugandans’ notoriety in this trade should alarm law enforcement agents in Uganda and neighbouring countries as it raises serious national security questions.
International drug cartels have obviously found Uganda to be an easy ground for their trade because of our weak security measures. Exacerbating this is the pervasive corruption in virtually every Ugandan government institution.
Under these circumstances, I was perturbed by statement to the media by Mr Owomugisha, Entebbe Airport security chief that he was “shocked” about Kiconco’s re-arrest in Nairobi because he had personally confiscated her passport when she was first arrested at Entebbe to prohibit her from getting a new passport and further international travels.
The mounting arrests of Ugandan traffickers by no means make Uganda a leading producer of cocaine, heroin or marijuana.
Rather it’s a replay of what goes on here at US/Mexico border where powerful Latin American drug-lords hire drug-runners commonly called ‘coyotes’ or ‘moles’ to ferry drugs to the US, Europe and Middle East.
The drug-lords are hardly apprehended but the coyotes pay the price.
Apparently, tighter security at US/Mexico border has diverted traffickers to East Africa where getting the coyotes is so easy because of high unemployment, poor security surveillance and systemic corruption, including within our immigration department.
For Kiconco to have been issued three Ugandan passports was a grave breach of trust, integrity and national security interests. An independent commission of inquiry should thoroughly investigate conditions under which these happened and overall internal operations of immigration department. Perpetrators must face the law.
East African Community members should wage a concerted war against these traffickers by setting up a joint regional task force that should, among others things, include instantaneous sharing of information on known traffickers and terrorists, and harmonising heavy penalties against traffickers – unlike the one-year jail time and Shs1m fine currently enforced in Uganda.
Such light penalties make the risks worthwhile for this multi-billion dollar industry. As East African Community members forge towards regional integration, these are some of the security challenges they should address because security lapse in one country may have catastrophic consequences for a neighbouring country.
By Vivian Asedri
Tuesday, June 22 2010