Cry havoc as youth face early grave

Every home in Mt. Kenya region has a story of how their loved ones have been wrecked and died from consuming a concoction of drugs and cheap alcohol that is pulling back families into poverty and disseminating men in their thousands into graves, under the eyes of an overwhelmed government and the society.

The drugs and cheap alcohol havoc is indiscriminatory, swallowing on its path young educated skilled workers as well as the unskilled, the rich and the poor, but mostly productive men.

Elders say if it is unchecked, its consequences could near the severe drought of 1897-98 that had in its wake a cattle plague in 1898, a serious famine in 1898/99 and a simultaneous outbreak of smallpox,

estimated to have killed about 50 percent of the Agikuyu population. This is not a far-fetched comparison considering that in a region that embraced education earlier than other parts of the county, this is reversing because in almost all the counties, the number of licensed bars exceeds the number of schools for instance. In Embu for instance, the number of licensed bars exceeds that of the

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schools by almost four times. The Eastern Regional Commissioner Isaiah Nakoru said a recent census by the county security team noted that the number of bars was 2,008 while that of schools stood at 532. In Kirinyaga County, there are about 900 licensed bars against 527 schools, primary and secondary schools combined.

Killing by its own, the drugs and cheap alcohol menace is also believed to be contributing to the high number of suicides. Recent data based on interviews with County Commissioners and County Police Commanders indicate that Mt. Kenya region is losing at least five lives every day through suicide in what officials and residents say is a never-seen-before catastrophe that should now trigger community reawakening to restore social ethics.

The worst hit, according to police records availed to Mt. Kenya Star is Nyeri County where on average, four people are killing themselves every day. Kirinyaga follows with at least one death per day while in Murang’a at least four people commit suicide every week.

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 “The numbers are just shocking,” said Nyeri Police Commander Ali Nuno. Nyeri is estimated to be losing at least 120 people per month to suicide, nearly all being men. The sad reality, however, is that this catastrophe can be stopped, if the administrators, the governors and the police use the current laws to manage the sale of drugs and cheap alcohol.

While the community has the responsibility to volunteer information, what is being done does not need whistleblowing as most of it is being done in the open. Residents cite corruption as the main driver of the supply of killer drugs and cheap alcohol, attributed to the laxity by the administrators and the police to enforce and arrest the perpetrators.

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Some, however, say even after the arrests, there is no severity of punishment from the judiciary, making the whole chain to collapse. Bhang is the new normal A decade or so ago, there was even mystery by the mention of the word bhang. Today, it is normal and obvious. Reports indicate that the 445 kilogrammes of bhang, valued at Sh11 million that the former presidential aspirant Jafeer Issaak was allegedly arrested within Marsabit was destined for Isiolo, most probably for onward distribution to Mt. Kenya region. In Murang’a for instance as in many other counties in Mt. Kenya region, bhang has found an insatiable market among Murang’a youths, according to County

Commissioner Mohamed Barre. He says bhang is being supplied from as far as Samburu. According to the commissioner, the increased usage of drugs, especially bhang, has resulted to increase crime and suicides in the county. At least one person commits suicide every day in the county, and the suicides cut across all age groups.

Barre noted that it has become common even for the elderly to commit suicide which he said has been shocking. He also pointed out that bhang worth Sh6 million that was intercepted in Kirimon area in Samburu county may have been on its way to Murang’a County.

The drug from as far as Ethiopia may be finding its way into County, he added and has become a common commodity amongst local youth. Barre, however, pleaded with locals to volunteer crucial information that may lead to the arrest of peddlers. He noted that the biggest challenge facing security officers in the fight against drugs is the lack of information from members of the public.

The commissioner said the security team is now planning to install suggestion boxes in strategic places where members of the public will give information anonymously. This is after residents expressed fears that some police officers may expose their identities after giving information and put their lives in danger. A hotline will also be put in place for residents to give information on drug users and suppliers. According to a psychiatric nurse at the Murang’a County Level-5 Hospital Psychiatric Unit Angela Muthoni the, clinic has been receiving high numbers of

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patients, with symptoms of mental illness to the extent that the unit with a bed capacity of 20 is fully occupied by patients at critical stages throughout the month. Muthoni said that on average they attend to more than 300 patients with mental illness in a month. Majority of the patients are men aged between 15 and 39 years and many of them are students from secondary schools and higher learning institutions.

 Muthoni noted mental illness among the patients is occasioned by substance abuse particularly bhang. Kuber, tobacco among other substances abuse, are also associated to increase of mental disorders which is common among youth. “After clinical assessment of our patients, we have ascertained the conditions are attributed to excessive use of bhang. Some of the users of the substance are not strong enough to overcome effects of bhang,” she added. In Kirinyaga County, the recent seizures of huge bhang hauls in

Kirinyaga County have sent tongues wagging with fears that the use of the narcotics has sharply increased. This year alone, law enforcers have netted over 3,500 stones of the drug which was being transported to the region with questions being asked how much is being sneaked without notice. Suspects charged with trafficking the prohibited substance have risen dramatically with pundits associating the upward intake of bhang to strict enforcement of laws regulating alcoholic drinks.

 “Many people are shifting to smoking bhang since they no longer find cheap illicit brews in the villages,” asserts John Muthii, an anti-drug abuse campaigner.

Muthii who is the chairman of the Kirinyaga County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Forum (KICOADA) points out that punitive measures spelt in the Alcohol Control Act has minimized illicit brews. Each stone of bhang produces around 30 rolls of the drug which is retailed for Sh20 to the final consumers making it one of the challenging drugs to eliminate. But the worry too many is how the drugs are transported as far as from Western Kenya to Kirinyaga County without detection by numerous police roadblocks.

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 On 10 October 2018 for example, Administration Police officers were tipped that a Toyota Prado had been spotted around Kagumo town. By the time they started tracking the vehicle, its occupants had offloaded the cargo and disappeared leaving behind seven sacks with 1,530 stones of bhang. The haul was found in nearby tea bushes within Karaini village and no suspect was arrested neither the vehicle used to ferry the same found. In yet another incident, police were tipped off a saloon car that was seen at Wanguru Town along the Embu-Makutano highway with bhang.

 The driver and transporter changed vehicles at Wanguru before proceeding to Kerugoya town where police managed to intercept the 1,800 stones at Kibingo trading centre. In a dramatic turn of events, no suspect was arrested but the bhang was found stashed in the saloon vehicle that was towed to the Kerugoya police station. On January 25 this year, Administration Police officers were forced to deflate tyres of a saloon vehicle which was carrying over 600 stones after the driver defied orders to stop. But County Commissioner Jim

Njoka says the netting of bhang shows police officers around Kerugoya are fully alert and dismisses the assertion that more could be in the market. “We are very alert not that there has been an increase of bhang in the area,” he says adding that they have in the recent past dismantled the illegal trade.

“We have known the suppliers usually drop their cargo at designated places mainly along the highways where the brokers pick it up for distribution to final destinations,” Njoka said Concerted efforts Former Kirinyaga Governor Joseph Ndathi, who at his tenure initiated the fight against drug abuse, said a deliberate effort must be put in place if the fight is to be won.

 Ndathi says Kirinyaga had been classified as a transit zone for hard drugs adding that many youths whose lives have been wasted by their engagement in taking of the hard drugs had reached alarming proportions and urgent remedial measures must be put in place. In Kiambu County, drug peddlers have taken their illegal trade a notch higher and have now been selling cookies laced with bhang with their target customers being students.

This was unraveled after two students in one of the higher learning institutions were nabbed by police officers while baking the ‘delicacies’ using bhang at their den in Githurai Kimbo area within Ruiru constituency. John Gitonga and Robert Ndee were arrested preparing the drug-laced cookies and upon interrogation, they disclosed that they were selling them to high school students who were returning to school from their mid-term break.

 “It’s a new tactic the criminals have adopted and they are targeting our children,” said Kiambu County Police Commander Ali Nunow.

 The matter has raised concern from community leaders who have challenged the society and parents to take up the mandate of counselling and nurturing the behaviours of school-going children so as to prevent them from indulging in drug abuse. Gladys Chania, a Thika based Psychologist said that it is worrying to see that drug peddlers are now targeting students as their easy-to-convince consumers.

“It’s high time we protect the young generation from being exploited by callous drug traffickers. Parents and the society must stand up against these immoral behaviours and assist the authorities to weed out the few elements in the community, that are creating social disorder,” Chania said. — Report by Wangechi Waithera, KNA, Kamau Njoroge, Mugucia Rugene and Filex Muriithi.

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Central KenyaAlcoholCocaineHeroin