Kenya is kaleidoscopically contradictory yet still a third-world country in Eastern Africa. Our budget is financed predominantly by incessant and interminable borrowing because over the years we have had great problems breaking-even with regards to being able to find balance in creating more revenue compared to our expenditure. Things have gotten ‘elephants’ since 2013 as the ruling coalition consists of two rubes who run their kakistocracy with minimal regard for professionalism & meritocracy with the heft of their consideration guided by mundane attributes like tribe, political affiliation and propensity to pay fealty to personality cults in antipathy to sound principle. And the consequences would have been comical were I a casual onlooker, but they are actually as deleterious as empirical wisdom dictates the ramifications of misgovernance to be. But my sentiments in no dissimilitude to seeds could either fall on fertile ground and thrive or are merely meant as victuals for the birds. In the modern-day Kenyan political season, the culture of ostentatiousness is the order of the day. Picture this. Bugattis, Aston-Martins, Maybachs & Bentleys owned by our self-christened but purportedly unassuming ‘hustlers’ bankrolled by exchequer funds may or may not have their day in the sun! What will almost assuredly be flaunted are the varieties of personally-owned and chartered helicopters to access rural constituencies.
Let me cut to the chase. There are characters in this cash-strapped nation of ours living by the precepts of a 1996 track made popular by American rapper Jay-Z and his wingman Jermaine Dupri titled – ‘Money Ain’t A Thing.’ During campaign rallies, this special caste of humans move about in helicopters. As Vertical Take-Off & Landing contraptions of conveyance are able to hover above a particular spot, the so-called leaders open up briefcases (probably sacks) with actual legal tender and throw currency notes out of the chopper to the ground below. Needless to say, stampedes are occasioned as the hoi-polloi scramble for these trinkets. For these particular big-wigs, it heralds just another day in the office as for them money is low on their list of vexations. “What is wealth and opulence if it’s not to be flaunted?” They rhetorically ask in derision. However, a retrospective analysis of the entire situation prompts more questions than answers. Could you in good continence pilfer away money you painstakingly toiled for literally shedding your own blood, sweat and tears to acquiesce? As today I have no wiggle-room for digressions, this proscribed but often mysteriously shrouded source of wealth is my grouse for discussion.
On the Floor of the August House; the National Assembly, currently pending approval at the Committee Stage, is the Narcotics, Drugs & Psychotropic Substances Control Amendment Bill of 2020 sponsored by Hon. Mohamed Ali – MP for Nyali. The original act has existed since 1994 but as most Laws are dynamic with Constitutions being ‘living documents’, well-meaning amendments were due. Of course lacunae & loopholes manifested in previous iterations of the law have seen men and women of egregious character walking free and becoming a liability not just to the national security of Law-abiding citizens but also post-1998, a terrorist threat. Many are the times we have heard tales of a kinsman jailed for a year or two for possession of marijuana of negligible amounts. More often than not, you are forced to listen to tear-jerking chronicles of how police orchestrated a sting-operation and arrested a bloke over only 2 rolls of bhang – street value a measly 2000/- ! For those who have watched the ‘Bad boys’ sequel of movies, have picked up that such antics canvassing as ‘tactical’ police work could not fly in Captain Howard’s precinct, but in Kenya monkey business and smoke screens may be more important than actual work. In court the guy was given the option of a Kshs. 50,000/- fine or the one year jail term. The Capital punishment for the crime could be as much as 10 years which is incredibly severe especially for a first-time offender whose only predominant fault is ignorance. But since when did punishment act as a full deterrent for ventures where capital is low and revenues obscenely huge adjunct to being untaxed?
This new bill seeks to make the penalties for dabbling in the drug-industry more severe as pertains to possession, distribution, trading and being a user. The amendment additionally furnishes the law-enforcement agencies with additional impetus to identify, investigate and arrest drug-dealers and kingpins within and without the boundaries of our Republic. In conformity with our constitution, investigating officers will be required to obtain permission from our courts to be able to use surveillance technology on the suspects of this ignominious endeavour. Unbeknownst to few, drug-business is big business that flourishes in countries that have weak governance structures consequent to corruption and a dearth in political will from the uppermost echelons of state with regards to forestalling the menace. Kenya is actually one of the major transit points of a thriving SouthEast Asian and due to its central position acts as a nexus with the equally booming and extremely perilous trade in South America. Fans of the series ‘Narcos’ on Netflix may think some of the storylines are far-fetched in relation to the narcopreneurship here in Kenya but we are actually in the 2nd decile (Top 20) of the globally-ranked transit points. The bulk of the product that passes through is not constrained to but inclusive of Cocaine, Heroin, Mandrax, Rohypnol, Hashish, Opium – all under a broad group called ‘Opiates’, among a myriad other mind-altering substances. To understand the entire imbroglio discussed herein, we must exist in acquaintance of psychotropic substances effecting the alteration in mood, perception, consciousness, cognition and behavioural patterns.
And the issue with narcotics is no small matter. Anybody living near University campuses has chanced upon vagrants albeit troglodytes passing-off as students in those institutions of higher learning who by no stretch of the imagination look like or could contrivably be students. They just hang around the premises, exchanging darting glances with passers-by and from time to time have elaborately bizarre and suspicious handshakes with actual students which terminate as suddenly as they commenced with both parties going their own way as if they haven’t an iota of acquaintance with each other. Kenya’s dance with the ghosts of narco-preneurship is nothing new. In 2004, the Biggest Haul of Cocaine in Africa was nabbed off the Kenyan coast ostensibly belonging to a moneyed, powerful politico. What followed was musical chairs among apparatchiks in the Internal Security Ministry; a heinous execution of the assertive GSU Training College Adjutant, Erastus Chemorei – in my eyes a national hero who refused to play ball with regards to abandoning his safekeeping role for the haul; an incursion into our jurisdiction by Armenian mercenaries (Mamluki) who were quite bafflingly designated as ‘Deputy Police Commissioners’ for a whole biennial sojourn before the foggy encounter culminated in an incredulous disappearance of the entire shipment in no dissonance to ships in the Bermuda triangle! That’s Kenya for you, where the least likely outcome can become an actuality. The whole episode was akin to a horrendous horror movie with your guess as good as mine as to the destination of the narcotics. In the interest of full disclosure, I have no clue!
Fast forward; a decade & regime on, August 2014 witnessed one of the most overt shows of might by the Kenyan government when then-President presided over the controlled-detonation of an explosives-rigged luxury yacht 16 nautical miles off Mombasa. Contained therein was Heroin worth 20 billion Kenya Shillings which was destined for our coastal city that has borne the brunt of the Kenyan drug problem. “Kenya will no longer be a home for international drug traffickers,” uttered a visibly nonplussed President Kenyatta after witnessing the entire sequence of events from the military helicopter overflying the scene of operation. He promised to be there the next day to destroy yet another cache of narcotics in similar fashion, which he did. For those not in the loop, this action was not merely an episode of happenstance. According to astoundingly reliable information, a close relative of the First Family was deep into narcotic addiction and one evening overindulged in their particular vice to within an inch of their life. The said character was wheeled into the ICU in critical condition. Our typically urbane nay unruffled First lady is said to have been in a disposition, which for lack of a better word will be characterized here as ‘batshit’ nuts! It was noisy & messy. If the President thought there would have been any of the ‘kuongelesha mama kidogo tulale’ that night he might as well have tried to tread water! Consequently, on the next day, the needful was done 16 NM off the Port of Mombasa occasioning a thawing of tensions and catabasis back to normal service on matters ‘midnight conversations’ or thus the tale was recounted by my source. The party in distress was nursed back to health and mercifully committed to a Rehabilitation Centre to ostensibly kick this vice to the proverbial Kibosh sempiternally.
The tragedy of drug abuse is in its glorification by popular culture and peer pressure to impressionable pubescent teens. A narrative is created that to be the ‘cool kids’ you have to use drugs. I would be remiss if I failed to opine that this paradigm is detrimental to not just the morality of society but also to the peace of the upright teenagers who may be vulnerable to inordinate violence from their ‘doped-up’ buddies. In related news; 2020 has seen the boom of the video-sharing platform, TikTok as a melting pot for sharing memes & dance videos. However, in recent times it has also become a favoured avenue for drug cartels in places like Mexico & Colombia to showcase the cornucopia to be made from the pursuit.
Moreover, substance abuse is an exorbitant habit to maintain. Once you get addicted to these substances you are virtually caged. You will have to be put in an entire reconstructive routine and process to have any chance at reverting back to normalcy and becoming a sociable human being again. Over the last fortnight, the entire global community has been mourning one of the greatest global icons of football, Diego Maradona. He was a footballer of uncommon skill and exquisite ball control which few could even attempt, with a handful more left to marvel at his crural wizardry with the spherical bagatelle of the beautiful game. It is said that what Armando Maradona could do with an orange, few highly-storied ‘Ballon d’or’ winners would ably achieve with their very tool of trade, the soccer ball. At the height of his footballing career he was virtually a one-man infantry against any opposition. You ask the England team that played in the World Cup Quarter-finals against Argentina in 1986. 30 years of dry whisky imbibing has not in the slightest made muster with regards to numbing the piquant taste of treachery off Peter Shilton’s tongue for what he was dealt that fateful afternoon. For context; in diffidence to the sacrosanct Laws of Physics, a stocky’ 5’5ft Striker outleaped an athletic 6’5ft goalkeeper to score a goal characterized by the horse’s own mouth as one, “by the Head of Maradona but the Hand of God!” All this came crumbling down during Maradona’s time at Napoli where he won titles but quite calamitously also bedded-in with some bad crowd, the ‘Cossa-Nostra boys’ – the Napolitano Mafia. The footballing deity was introduced to the high-life and use of cocaine which portended the beginning of the end for him. His behaviour grew erratic. His productivity waned as his weight ballooned making him struggle with fitness. He could no longer do runs he could easily have undertaken in his soberer days. His later career went down the pipes fast with the rest of his life being an interminable struggle with drug addiction, a myriad resultant health problems, failed rehabilitation stints and eventually even family feuds. This is just a microcosm of the wrecking ball narcotic abuse can put through anybody’s life plans.
Needless to say, not everybody has the war chest of Maradona to finance this punitively extravagant habit of drug use. The logical backdrop of this is the preponderance of young men and women getting into debt and selling even their own household goods additional to those they non-consensually ‘borrow’ from friends and relatives. Petty theft. The next step is violent crime. Some of the vilest acts of delinquency have been committed by psychotropic substance abusers. Recent times have heralded the proliferation of many youthful criminal gangs not just at the Coast but all over the country. And they wreak havoc of disconcerting proportions. CCTV footage was in circulation a few months back of an M-Pesa attendant murdered in gruesome circumstances when a robber appeared out of the shadows and attempted to forcefully grab her bag in broad daylight. She was naturally stunned, catatonic and of course quiescent in assenting to the will of the miscreant as suddenly as an AK-47 was brandished, shots rent the air with an innocent taxpayer slumping over into eternal tranquility under a pool of her own innocent blood. The assailant made away with his loot without as much as a whimper from the befuddled onlookers! That footage was simply heart-rending to any conscientious member of our species. Under ordinary conditions, any sober soul would find the prospect of raping a damsel utterly unconscionable and repugnant. However, when your sense of perception and judgement is warped as a direct consequence of ‘being high’ people have been reported to have had forceful relations with geriatrics, livestock and even robbing the crèche. Trigger-fingers have been known to be hyper-excited by this vice. When the perpetrators come back to reality to take count of the heavy toll of their misadventures, many are aghast at their actions with a huge tranche quite repentant. But as is life, once the horse has bolted out of the stable, locking it is unavailing. Many young men today find themselves rotting in penitentiaries for acts they cannot account for but would have been easily avoidable if they would have had the presence of mind to kick that needle to the curb. Yes; before I forget to remember, one of the elected county Governors in Kenya; now dearly-impeached, made a career out of parading recovering alcoholics and drug addicts in the public domain, most of the time for exhibitionism. Though ceteris paribus noble, I personally detested this garishness for it seeks to apotheosize and render free publicity to misdemeanor. My gripes with ‘Babayao’ aside, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, it must be noted with concern that for every 1 person committed into a Rehabilitation Program, 4 others have been consumed by their habits and congruent with many superstars of yore have overdosed and died chocked in the watery comeuppance of their own bodily fluids (vomit). It boggles the mind when actual figures are crunched in to illuminate the reality of these ratios. For those with relatives gripped by the unrelenting clutches of this debauchery, you can attest to the beating the pocket of the financier takes in the effort to nurse the aggrieved kinsman back to health. The going rate for one Private Centre I know is about 60,000/- for a period of 3 months. Government Health facilities also exist for the impecunious but from what has reliably filtered through to my desk, the people going there are merely treated like cattle passing through an acaricide-infused cattle dip. Those with drug problems are lumped together with their counterparts with alcohol-addiction issues adjunct to the others with mental health challenges where a one-size-fits-all sedative course is administered indiscriminately! This is in addition to being a strain on our National Health apparatus.
A society that has a yawning gap between the rich and poor is oft vulnerable to social upheaval. Drug abuse is one of these social ills. It exists in homogeneity to the Egg vs. Chicken conundrum. By this I mean, drug abuse is both a cause and consequence of mounting poverty and inequity. For many, it is a coping mechanisms with their melancholy with life in response to loss of business, unemployment, poor governance, lack of a living wage, poverty, disease among many other challenges. It is disenchanting to see so many youth being reduced to drug-infused zombies who idle around our urban centres stalking prima-facie better-off residents for ‘Shilingi Kumi ya macho.’ Where did the rains start beating us as a society, that healthy and energetic young men are turned into beggars and delinquents for lack of economic prospects? A recourse for such an injurious state of affairs is why we need Shared Prosperity as a nation which to the unenlightened eye is abased to a mere ‘sweetener’ in a constitutional amendment initiative currently contemplated by state. Not just our national security but additionally our attainment of Vision 2030 adjunct to our part in the SDGs is imperiled when the most important resource, human beings lie in disrepair without gainful engagement yet so much lies pending.
Back to the raison d’etre of this piece, Drug Lords perverting our political scene. Ever since the former Minister for Internal Security, the late Prof. George Saitoti let the cat out of the bag, it is an open-secret that drug barons sponsor, bankroll and even actively participate in our national politics. This makes it an exercise in futility to attempt to deal with our national drug menace with kid-gloves. As well articulated in his article from the Saturday Standard of the 28th November 2020; Amnesty International Executive Director, Irungu Houghton outlined the dangers of the lucrative narcotics business to the state. He lamented about a trade which if left unchecked could easily develop a parallel economy and state, monetizing and actually purchasing our nascent democratic institutions in homogeneity with the situation in Panama, Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines. And he was not groping in the dark. Look at the state of the art helicopters, private jets and motorized contraptions of conveyance unfurled upon the throngs of adoring fanatics during the ‘silly season’ which loosely describes the period of our political campaigns. Men, women and children line the streets in anticipation of the goodies they are likely to receive from the contestants to curry favour with the polity. The certainty is that the impressionable, the naïve and gullible will have no time to judge ideology, agenda, policy and anything of the sort. They will fall prey to the wiles of populism and most importantly ‘dead Presidents’ a.k.a Cash. This is how Machiavellian political operators use philanthropy to buy state power which when acquired, they will abuse to corrupt and totally vitiate any institutions for oversight of their activities. Soon the legislature is replete with the purveyors and profiteers of the vice. The Judiciary will be gelded as quintessentially many legal practitioners are pecuniary-gain motivated so the best legal minds will follow the money and flock to the defense of a drug-fuelled disturbia. In due course, so many will become dunces and zombies who parrot nothingness after all voices of reason are violently suppressed, intimidated, blackmailed and victimized into silence. That ladies and gentlemen is how you create a narco-state. Empower incompetent rulers into office who will ultimately dilute albeit cheapen governance. The widely-read will recall the state of Panama under Gen. Manuel Noriega that converted his country into nothing more than a narcotic trading outpost. In Colombia, Pablo Escobar gained great global prominence in peddling ‘the Devil’s powder’ – Cocaine. At the height of his powers, he was going head to head with the most affluent in the world, one Forbes list putting him at 7th richest man in the world! In the interest of full disclosure, the Colombia team that made it to the 1994 World Cup consisted of players who came up through the soccer academies built & bankrolled by ‘El Patrón.’ All that can, recall with fondness the antics of fanciful sweeper-goalkeeper René Higuita, a product of those same academies in Medellin, Columbia. Mercifully, the Colombian government had the foresight to ‘liquidate’ Don Pablo in 1993 before he captured state with his enormous narcotic largesse.
In our assault against the drug menace, we should take heed not to fall into the trap of too much militarization of the entire undertaking. Cataclysmic policy missteps in Latin America and South East Asia have resulted in an overreaction by the relevant federal authorities leading to actions injurious to public sensibilities. In the Philippines for instance, current President Duterte has issued shoot-to-kill edicts with suspects regularly denied access to court adjunct to the due process of the law. Though apparently backwater, I would personally call for the implementation of stricter laws against the drug enterprise as they do in nations like Singapore where practitioners of this trade are hanged. I feel this will enforce morality in society, however our already infiltrated & purportedly righteous leadership cadre together with the many religious caucuses are certain to find this move unpalatable. As a result we have no option but take the redacted measures that are not too ‘hardcore’ in concomitance with our squeamishness to confrontational justice. Allow religious leaders into the fray. Have the Police Service play a part in enforcing the edicts of civilian law and order but remunerate them too accordingly so that they don’t fall prey to bribery and perversion. Let this be a multi-agency assault on that vice.
As I have rumbled much on the problem statement, time is ripe to dole out a few solutions:
- The most poignant among all is frying the ‘big fish’ – It took a sting operation by the United States government and FBI that among other things violated our territorial sovereignty to arrest Ibrahim and his brother Bakhtash Akasha, spiriting them abroad for trial & subsequent incarceration. It needn’t be like this because it’s not as if these are any ‘sacred cows’ though our successive leadership regimes have made them to be such. They do not even pay tax on their business venture, so why did it take so long to arrest them? Instruments of State power should take the cue from this move and arrest all the remaining Kingpins, Drug Barons and Mules to rid society of them.
Whatever happened to the late Prof. George Saitoti’s dossier on these slovenly blackguards that preceded his doom?
Indeed, we even have a guy nicknamed “The Boss” who we proffer laissez-faire to continue to run his narcotics empire among other legit businesses and even dabbling in politics. This is a deleterious prelude to state capture and in the words taken verbatim from the Series ‘Narcos’ Season 1 Episode 7– “You’ll Cry Tears of Blood” if this reality sees the light of day!
- Have punitive measures against Drug Lords, Traffickers, Accessories, Enablers & Errant Law enforcers – As recommended in the aforementioned amendment bill, a fine of not less than Kshs. 50 million or 3 times the market value of the substance, whichever is greater is to be imposed. A 50-year jail term has been prescribed for those found in possession of more than 100 grams of narcotic substances. If ever jailed on such grounds, you will be forbidden from holding public office for 30 years. Landlords, building and premises owners will also be dealt a heavy hand should they fail to exercise due diligence with regards to their tenants. The fine imposed on them is 20 Million, Prison term – 20 years. This should also apply to clandestine laboratories where these substances are enriched and cut. Law enforcers who collude with peddlers to pervert the course of justice will also be dealt with harshly.
- Curtail trade & movement of the precursor Compounds & Chemicals for narcotics – Kenyan law in previous iterations prohibited use of precursor compounds like Ephedrine (from cough syrups), Pseudoephedrine, Ergometrine, Lysergic acid, Ergotamine, phenyl-2 propanone, acetic anhydride, Anthranilic acid, Acetone, ethyl-ether, phenyl-acetic acid, Tramadol (opioid analgesic), Ketamine & Piperidine among a plethora of other chemical concoctions. Nevertheless, effective mechanisms for the law-enforcement have been lacking leading to offenders getting away with nothing more than a slap on the wrist for their transgressions.
- Secure our borders – Kenya has for an eon been touted as a harbinger of peace in a tumultuous neighbourhood. Week frontiers presage a situation where smuggling of all sorts of illicit goods could be possible across our borders which must stop. The Ministry of Internal Security in-concert with the Kenya Defence Forces are obliged to do the needful to remedy this state of affairs.
- Raise your children well so that they will never depart from those precepts – Parental and Societal responsibility is one that cannot be shirked in sounding the death knell to the drug culture. The much-touted ‘Nyumba Kumi’ initiative will be valuable in this aspiration. Parents must be well aware that they are the principal role-models if their children are to have any chance at becoming principled and law-abiding human beings.