By WAWERU MUGO
KENYA: It was the largest ever drugs haul in Africa. Seized in December 2004, the cocaine weighed more than 1,000 kilogrammes and was worth Sh6 billion.
The drugs were found at a container depot said to be owned by a powerful, wealthy politician. They were believed to be destined for Europe as drug agencies from across Kenya’s borders warned that the country had become a conduit for trafficking in narcotics.
Us experts confirmed that the haul was 100 per cent cocaine, with tests showing it originated from Colombia. They took and tested 21 samples, which were airlifted to high-tech laboratories in America.
The seizure shone international attention on Kenya’s weak anti-trafficking measures as public officials fought over the ensuing investigation. It claimed the job of at least one official in the attorney general’s office.
This raised concerns that powerful individuals in government were involved in trafficking. It was believed that by the time of the drugs bust, a substantial amount had already been shipped to the Netherlands.
The haul was symbolic of how South American drug barons are turning to Africa as a shipping route because of its lax measures. The haul and public bickering was an embarrassment to President Kibaki’s government, which was faced with massive corruption scandals.
“We knew Kenya was becoming a transit hub for heroin and hashish from India and Pakistan, but it’s fair to say we missed a trick with the cocaine until we got wind of these consignments,” The Telegragh quoted a senior intelligence source as saying.
In 2006, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keriako Tobiko, applied to have the drugs destroyed. He insisted police had done a shoddy job and the key suspects had not been arrested, posing a national security threat.
“It is unfortunate that the application was made this late. It ought to have been made immediately, it shouldn’t have waited for this long,” Nairobi Chief Magistrate Aggrey Muchelule said when ordering the destruction.
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“I direct that necessary arrangements be made for destruction in accordance with international practice and standards.” Kenya invited the UN anti-drug agency to oversee the destruction. Seven people charged with smuggling were acquitted for lack of evidence.
On April 1, the court witnessed the destruction of the haul.
It was believed that the kingpins, as is often the case in drug trafficking, were free and only the errand boys had been arrested. But who were the real culprits?
In 2011, the US linked politician Harun Mwau to the drugs, which came after the world’s most powerful nation accused him of corruption. It had also barred US businesses from associating with him. The US also named another Kenyan woman as kingpin.
However, Mwau claimed that the US was accusing him falsely and was after his riches.
“The US never apologises for killing its enemies, real or imagined. They will violate other nations’ airspace and eliminate their targets. The task of justification is left to themselves,” he told a local daily. He claimed the US wanted to kill him over his Sh50b empire.
But the US viewed the matter differently. “He is actively engaged in importing narcotics into Kenya and he protects narcotics traffickers,” said the Director of the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, Adam Szubin. “We view him as among the more powerful narcotics traffickers in the region.”
What is worrying is that with lax security measures, trafficking is increasing in the East African region, and more Kenyans are also turning to drug abuse.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says a study of drug seizures from 1998 to date “indicates an increase in the trafficking of heroin to eastern African countries from Pakistan, Thailand and India.”