Hardly a day passes without Anne Wangui thinking of her daughter Anita Njoki, 32, who is serving a 12-year jail term in Hong Kong.
According to Ms Wangui, Njoki was arrested in 2008 with an unknown amount of cocaine.
Wangui said she gave her daughter Sh10,000 to help her travel to Hong Kong after she was informed that there was a good paying job there.
The call for “greener pastures” was great and Njoki bade farewell to her mother and her daughter who was in Standard Eight. Her daughter has since finished school and got married. Njoki also missed the marriage of her two younger sisters.
“If you gave me a ticket today I would leave tonight to visit my daughter who is in jail. I don’t fear, I want to be used as an ambassador to warn other girls against being used as traffickers,” said an emotional Wangui.
“I would not like such a thing to happen to any other family,” she said.
What disturbs Wangui most is her daughter’s desire to remain in Hong Kong as a refugee after her jail term.
“She calls to say she does not want to come back because she thinks we do not want her here,” says Wangui.
Njoki is one of the more than 40 Kenyans suffering in various jails in Hong Kong after they were duped into trafficking drugs by a cartel operating in various world capitals.
Almost all were lured with the promise of well-paying jobs after years of frustration at home. Most of them (there are 30 women and 12 men) were arrested in 2010 and are serving jail terms ranging between 10 and 15 years. Five others are in remand awaiting their fate.
The plight of Njoki and other Kenyans moved a Catholic priest to start a campaign to warn other Kenyans on the dangers of drug trafficking.
John David Wotherspoon works with the Diocese of Hong Kong Bishop’s Office and has been visiting prisons where the Kenyans are. He picks letters and pictures to share with their kin back in Kenya. Wotherspoon has been in Kenya for the last three weeks and has met 35 families and shared with them letters from their jailed relatives.
“The jails there are not good. Life is hard especially for a mother who gave birth in remand the other day. We need to educate the people not to engaged in such things,” he says.
It’s not only Kenyans who are languishing in these jails; more than 100 Tanzanians and 12 Ugandans are also suffering there.
However, Wotherspoon says it is only Kenya that has women jailed for drug trafficking. The priest, who has a similar campaign in Tanzania, says the country has witnessed a significant drop in such arrests from four in a month to almost nil. He has also been to Uganda with a similar message.
“Even the authorities need to question those who are headed to either China or any Asian countries. There is no mercy there,” said Wotherspoon.
His meeting with the families in Nairobi was emotional. Tears flowed freely as relatives recalled their conversations with their jailed kin, whom they are allowed to talk to once every two months on phone. Some said they would love to visit the jails where their kin but cannot raise money for air tickets.
The distraught families now want the Government to hold talks with Chinese authorities to have their incarcerated relatives repatriated to Kenya.
James Wamae says his younger sister Esther Wanjiku Wamae, 32, has also been in jail since 2008. Wanjiku was ironically a neighbour to Njoki and was arrested on arrival in Hong Kong with a luggage she had been given to deliver. Mr Wamae says her sister had a heart complication and was operated on while in jail.
“They asked us to be there on the day of the operation, but we could not because it is expensive. We don’t know the way forward,” he said.
Jackline Kiet’s sister Christine, 42, is also in a Hong Kong jail after she was found with drugs in 2014. Christine had traveled to Hong Kong after she found job, but was arrested with drugs on arrival.
She wrote a letter through St Teresa’s Catholic church in Eastleigh to inform her family that she had been arrested.
“We did not know until a letter was delivered to us through the church. We thank the priest for trying to stop others from being arrested,” said Jackline.
Jackline said they are now taking care of Christine’s two children.
Mariam Abdallah Rehan, 50 is also in jail. According to her sister Saum Rehan, she travelled to Dubai then to India where she was given a luggage to drop in Hong Kong.
“She told me when she arrived in Hong Kong she was arrested after being informed the luggage had drugs. She had been working at a shop near Jamia Mall and I think the cartel behind it is still active,” said Saum.
Saum has been to Hong Kong twice to visit her sister and she says life there is not good.
She said the ministry of Foreign Affairs has been helpful in ensuring they visit the woman in jail.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the number but said the figure could be higher as more Kenyans were arrested in the last months.
Many other Kenyans are serving sentences in jails around the world for drug-related offences, but the Government is unaware because they used fake documents or were not registered with Kenyan missions abroad. A number of them have died in foreign jails.
— Additional report by Daniel Psirmoi