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How new law will take drugs war to offenders

OPINION
By Catherine Ngina | December 5th 2020

Kenya is among top-ranked countries of origin, departure and transit of trafficking of narcotic and psychotropic drugs. This is despite the Narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances (Control) Act No. 4 of 1994 which provides the framework for combating abuse of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. The law provides the parameters on control, possession, transportation, trafficking and use of narcotic drugs. The law also outlines the punishment for illicit use, possession and trafficking of illegal substances.

Substance abuse remains a huge menace and is a major challenge with negative impacts on social, economic, governance and criminal justice sector. In 2004, 1,000kg of cocaine was seized in Kenya making it one of the biggest seizures in Africa. According to the World Drug Report 2018, Kenya was one of the main countries that heroine was trafficked along the Southern route to Western and Central Europe during that period.

In 2014, President Uhuru Kenyatta oversaw the destruction of a yacht christened Baby Iris intercepted with narcotics worth Sh22 million. In his 2015 State of the Nation Address, Uhuru cited drug trafficking and substance abuse as one of emerging security challenges, undermining national identity and exercise of sovereign power.

The National Survey on Alcohol and Drug abuse among Secondary school students in Kenya (2016) by the National Authority for campaign against Alcohol and Drugs (Nacada) revealed that although heroine, mandrax, rohypnol and cocaine are illegal, they are available to school going children with cocaine being the most abused.

According to the Institute of Security Studies, criminal groups and gangs work hand in hand with drug traffickers to maintain drug trade and criminal network alive. The jailing of the Akasha siblings in the US, whose family built a big drug trafficking operation in East Africa for over 25 years, has no doubt disrupted the top-tier of the drug trade. However, the lower criminal activities around drug trafficking remain active.

In 2019, there were increasing gang attacks at the Coast, which the police attributed to links with drug cartels. These increasing criminal attacks have had an adverse impact on tourism sector and somewhat dent Kenya’s image on safety and security.

Now, although the new Bill has the legal framework in place, it has gaps. For example, the penalties are deemed lenient and not punitive enough to act as a deterrent.

Additionally, there is uncertainty of the sentences prescribed under the law. For example, the law also lacks provisions for punishing law enforcement officers who aid or conceal drug trafficking, which is now a global concern.

The law is lenient on people who conceal information or fail to disclose information to aid in investigation and prosecution of drug trafficking offences.

Fortunately, the fight against narcotic drugs and substance abuse is not all lost as there has been a growing recognition by various actors to address these gaps and challenges under the law.

To address this, the National Committee on Criminal Justice under the auspices of the Judiciary has recommended the amendment of the Narcotics Drug and Psychotropic Substance (Control) Act No. 4 of 1994 to enable effective enforcement of the Act and streamline the criminal justice system.

 The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) (Amendment) Bill, 2020, is timely as it responds to governance, social, economic, and criminal justice sector.

-The writer comments on social issues.

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