Kenya Becoming a Cocaine Trafficking Hub

By Benzhead · Sep 13, 2006 · ·
  1. Benzhead
    Kenya Becoming a Cocaine Trafficking Hub

    Filed at 2:20 p.m. ET

    NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- A beach front mansion. A high-speed boat. And a ton of cocaine. It sounds like ''Miami Vice,'' but in Kenya it's real.

    Until recently a backwater producer of marijuana and hashish, Kenya has become a cocaine distribution hub, according to the U.S., the U.N. and British diplomats. Traffickers from South America are taking advantage of Nairobi's extensive air links to Europe and Asia, and spending piles of cash to minimize government interference, they say.

    ''International drug trafficking rings have made inroads in Kenya and may benefit from a climate of official corruption, which allows them to operate with near impunity,'' says the State Department's 2006 drug control strategy report.

    The cocaine allegations are a further headache for a country already caught up in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, and struggling to make good on the reformist democracy it voted for when it elected President Mwai Kibaki four years ago on an anti-corruption platform.

    The reports of a burgeoning cocaine trade underscore how official graft and complicity continue to thrive under Kibaki's government.

    The wake-up call came in December 2004. Kenyan police, acting on a tip from the Netherlands, raided a luxury housing compound in seaside Malindi and a warehouse in Nairobi. Their haul was a record for Africa: 1.1 tons of cocaine, some of it hidden in a speed boat.

    Investigators found that South American traffickers had moved into Kenya because law enforcement was tightened in Spain, once a main transit point for cocaine headed deeper into Europe, said Carsten Hyttel, Eastern Africa representative of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

    A former top Kenyan prosecutor, meanwhile, says he was fired for probing too deeply into the 2004 cocaine haul. Philip Murgor charges that corrupt or inept Kenyan police officers protected the smugglers from prosecution. His allegations dovetail with the concerns expressed by Western diplomats and U.N. experts over corruption in Kibaki's government.

    The allegations are helping to make Kibaki's administration look increasingly like the corruption-riddled, 24-year rule of his predecessor, Daniel arap Moi. Moi's regime failed to crack down on drug trafficking that included heroin, marijuana and hashish. Kenya has frequent flights to Pakistan and India, making it convenient for heroin couriers.

    But the only drugs seized in large quantities in the past were marijuana and hashish.

    In a series of busts early this year, several Kenya Airways flight attendants were arrested at London's Heathrow Airport carrying pounds of cocaine.

    Kenya has gone from zero cocaine seizures on flights out of Kenya to ''quite a few, so that is an obvious concern to us,'' Mark Norton, spokesman for Britain's embassy, told The Associated Press in June.

    George Kiragu, a Kenyan serving a five-year sentence in the Netherlands for helping to smuggle cocaine there, charges that he's a victim of a cover-up of corruption. He is resisting extradition to his homeland to face charges related to the 2004 seizure, saying his life would be in danger.

    ''The Kenyan authorities know who is guilty ... I'm being used as a scapegoat. If we could get more information, it would be clear that someone is being protected,'' Kiragu said during an extradition hearing.

    Kenyan officials, including Police Commissioner Mohammed Hussain Ali and Joseph Kamau, who oversaw anti-narcotics detectives as director of the Criminal Investigation Department, did not respond to repeated requests for comment about allegations of corruption surrounding the 2004 seizure.

    Details of the case reveal the scope of the drug smuggling operations.

    Kenyan police were tipped off about the shipment by their counterparts in Europe, who had discovered 650 pounds of cocaine in a container shipped from Kenya to the Dutch city of Zevenbergen on Dec. 7, 2004. Five men, among them Kiragu, were convicted and sentenced to up to five years.

    A week after the Zevenbergen discovery, Kenyan police acting on information from Dutch police made their record bust and arrested eight people. Seven others were arrested in the case later, and two trials were held, but only one person was convicted.

    Rose Ougo, the magistrate who heard the first of the two cases, acquitted all seven in that trial, and accused the police and prosecution of doing a shoddy job, failing even to show that the suspects handled the drugs.

    Murgor, who had been criticized for his handling of high-profile cases, claims he was fired as director of public prosecutions in May 2005 because he pressed for ''a transparent investigation.'' He said the acquittal confirmed his contention that there had been ''a coverup by the government, and in particular the police, designed to protect the barons behind trafficking cocaine in and through Kenya.''
    Associated Press correspondent Toby Sterling contributed to this report from Amsterdam.

    Link to NYT article (subcription - which is free - may be required)

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  1. zera
    I just got bach from Kenya a few months ago. Our guide said that drug use among Kenyans has been up a ton over the past few years (with huffing gas being one of the most popular:confused:). His theory was indeed that Kenya has become a major transit hub because of the relative corruption, but still close trading and travel ties with the west. I guess like the Columbians they've just started to get high off their own supply.
  2. VincentVan
    I have been living in Kenya for a total of 7+ years.
    I went to school there, grew up in the shadow of Mount Kenya, and since I still have many good friends spread between Lake Victoria and the Indian Ocean, I try to go back as often as I can.
    What I can tell you is that drugs have always been widely available all over the country.
    Apart for bangi (ganja) which is grown everywhere and used by the near totality of the population, opium has been a mainstay in Nairobi, Mombasa and everywhere there was a sizable asian population, for as long as I can remember; let´s say the early seventies (and probably before that too).
    The black folks ,when I was a teen-ager ,mostly limited their drug consumption to bangi (ganja) and marunghi (or mirah, a kind of khat).
    Heroin arrived only in the early eighties and constantly gained in popularity ever since. European travellers and asian smokers drove the market in the beginning but more and more africans got a taste for it and the effects on street crime (among others and even worse things) have been devastating.
    LSD, and lately syntetic & party drugs, are to be found in almost all the discos of the "turist territories" on the coast, specially in the italian settlements of Malindi and Watamu, and sadly also in my beloved Lamu.
    It may be a coincidence, but the italian governements have been using Kenya and the well established italian community, since the early eighties, to hide notorious criminals under witness protection programs.
    Not long, when they had the problem of getting rid of khurd guerrilla leader Abdullah Ocalan, they sent him to Kenya too. The kenyan authorities, this way, got payed (very well )by the italians to accept him and a few hours later they got payed (Just as well) by the turks to return him to them.
    Anyway, in the beginning it was only ex-terrorists ( there, some years ago, I interviewed what the italian press was calling "the killer with icy eyes") also because WPP at the time applied only to them;but later on they introduced WPP also for mafia members, and sure enough, soon quite a few shady characters started to show up around the Mombasa Casino and the Borletti family (italians too) thought wiser to get rid of the joint.
    That´s exactly the same period in which Kenya´s drug problem reached epidemic proportions.
    Last time I was there, this december/january, I have been told that the bangi (ganja) plantations of Kisumu are being replanted with coca and the malayas (part time prostitutes who hang out with europeans) carried cocaine in their hand bags in case their friends wanted to buy some.
    During the time I was there,in this last (european) winter, the kenyan president, Mr. Mwai Kibaki, was on TV with his speach about the wonders of "african progress".
    I and some kenyan friends listened in silence but I could see that they soon started to look at each other with a weary expression on their faces.
    Then one of them turned to the others and said: - I wonder if he belives it himself!- Everybody loughed, but not too loud, so as not being heard in the next room.
    I love Africans.


    " Every passing hour brings the Solar System forty three thousand miles closer to Globular Clouster M13 in the constellation of Hercules - and still there are some misfits who insist that there is no such thing as progress."

    (Ransom K. Ferm)
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