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How drug traffickers use street children as couriers

TRAVEL
By | July 14th 2010

By Michael Chepkwony

It is a cold early morning in Eldoret town and the few people on the streets move around easily as they begin yet another busy day.

Mr Davis Kamau, a social worker in the town, is among the dozens of people crisscrossing the town’s streets as he embarks on a delicate task.

Street children in a backstreet in Eldoret town. Some of the street children are used as couriers for drugs by the traffickers.

On this day, he is visiting some ‘barracks’, the name given to the hubs for streets children in the dingy backstreets of the town. In tow is this writer who is investigating alleged drug trafficking among the street children and the town’s business community.

The first point of call is River barracks where most street families live.

Life in these streets with urchins looks normal for Kamau, an official with Ex-Street Children Community Organisation (ECCO), as he shakes hands, chats and smiles with the dirty looking street children. He introduces this writer as a volunteer with the organisation.

Billy, one of the teenage street boys who has a large healing wound on his face, steps forward from a group of street boys.

"Jana walikuja wakachukua our sister Mercy kwa lazima. Walikuwa wengi sana na walibeba mapanga, (yesterday they came and took our sister Mercy by force. They were many and armed with machetes)," Billy says looking at Kamau. As Kamau listens to the news of a young street girl who was gang-raped, Kevo, another urchin, suddenly surges forward to greet him.

"Brother Jemo aligenya. Police walimshoot usiku walipochoka kuwafuata wauza madawa. Mysterio pia aliumia, (our brother Jemo died after being shot by police officers who were tired of chasing drug dealers. Mysterio also sustained injuries)," he tells Kamau. Others come with their reports and Kamau records them in his notebook.

Child’s murder

"Take me to the place where he was killed," he orders the boys.
The scene of the murder is close to the Sosiani River. There are bullet shells around and blood is all over.

"They dragged him here. We vigilantly followed them from behind and at last we heard the gunshots. They took the body but left Mysterio to run before setting a dog on him," Kevo explains. Jemo was one among many street children who have been involved in drug trafficking in Eldoret town.

The street children say some people who pretend to be car cleaners or mechanics use them to ferry the drugs from one point to another for a fee. They say the street children act as couriers since police would not suspect them. Kevo says they receive payment in the form of food and small quantities of the drugs they peddle. This has led most of them to become drug traffickers and drug addicts dependent on the cartels. Some of the street boys hooked to the underworld trade agreed to show us how they work in a stakeout that took three days.

First we had to visit Mysterio at an Eldoret Hospital where he was receiving treatment after being bitten by a police dog. Mysterio, who is in pain, struggles to speak as he groans in bed at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH).

"We told Buda that we no longer wanted to participate in the drug trade and he was annoyed. He told us that could only happen once we were dead. He forced us to take the drugs across the river before setting police on us," says Mysterio.

Kevo explains that Buda is a drug dealer who operates within Eldoret town. He uses the boys to ferry drug consignments to his clients in exchange for narcotics and security. The boys say Buda is a dangerous man since if one is of no importance to him, he is murdered or he sets police on them.

"If only the police arrest Buda, it would be easier for us to reform these street children and eradicate drug-abuse," Kamau says. To demonstrate how some of the town’s businessmen are involved in the drug trade, Mysterio asked his colleagues to help us trace Benzi, a street boy who has been working for one of them. However, he warns us to be very cautious. The next day, it didn’t take long for the boys to trace Benzi idling in town near an Asian shop along a busy street pretending to be collecting refuse.

An Asian shopkeeper arrogantly directs Benzi to collect refuse from a carton in his shop.

"Take that rubbish," he barks at him pointing at a carton full of refuse. Kevo explains that the drugs are concealed in the rubbish.

Benzi then walks out and discreetly looks around for anyone suspicious before he walks away confidently. He goes to a nearby street behind a hardware shop where there is a car wash.

Businessmen’s involvement

He then approaches a tall dark man and then drops some items.

A street boy shows injuries inflicted by a police dog after he allegedly defied orders by a drug trafficker to continue acting as a courier. Inset: Davis Kamau. Photos: Kevin Tunoi/Standard

"That is Buda," Kevo explains. Benzi bends and pretends to be searching for something in his dirty gunny bag before he removes a carton and hides something under a rusty metal sheet in the car wash. He then walks some distance away and sits down.

He dips his hand in his pockets and then pulls it out before directing it into his nose. As that happens, Buda, the ‘car washer’ walks to the rusty metal sheet and retrieves the items Benzi left. "Clean that car, I will be back soon," he gives orders before walking away.

Buda dials his phone as he walks along Uganda road within the Eldoret Central Business District. Still on his trail, Buda comes across a man and they shake hands as they chat. A deal has been sealed. The man walks into his car and drives away.

Buda walks back to his garage and continues with his business of washing cars. Kamau says police and some hospital employees are to blame for the flourishing of drug trafficking in Eldoret.

"A section of street boys reveal that the drugs reach them through some health institutions with the help of some rogue policemen," Kamau says. "They inform us that some businessmen reward them well to engage in the drug business since a lot of money is generated in the process," he claims. He says they have no idea where the businessmen source the drugs from.

"Whether they purchase from the medical centres around or any other source is what we are yet to establish," he says.

He says they have received complaints of street children who die due to use of the narcotics or those killed by the dealers who fear being exposed.

Drug abuse among street persons, says Kamau, has undermined his organisation’s objective of reforming them.

Police role

"They cannot openly express themselves and that makes counselling hard. Some return to the trade even after rehabilitation," he laments.

"Police know everything about the trade and yet they do nothing about it. Some medics are in it too," he notes.

But Uasin Gishu OCPD Muinde Kioko, says police have not received any reports about street children being used to traffic hard drugs.

"We do not rely on rumours. We know of street boys sniffing glue but no one has reported those peddling hard drugs and brought evidence so that police can make arrests," says Kioko.

He, however, appeals to NGOs working with street children to assist the police if at all there was evidence so that the suspects can be arrested.

Kioko also accuses some NGOs of abusing their offices by creating alarming issues for them to attract funding from donors and charitable organisations.

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