Why Taliban’s recapture of Afghanistan is a threat to Kenya’s war on drugs

Monday, August 23rd, 2021 00:00 |
A stateless Al Noor ship which was destroyed by Kenya Defence Forces after it was confiscated carrying heroin worth $11.3 million at Mombasa Port, in August 2014.

Taliban’s recapture of Afghanistan is ill-omened for Kenya’s anti-narcotics war. Also, the take-over could have a bearing on the 2021 political determination; owing to the intricate link between hard drugs and Kenya’s politics.

Afghanistan is the world’s largest supplier of heroin, as it accounts for 90 per cent of the global output.

Nearly 10 per cent of this finds its way to the eastern African region, where Kenya is a key player in the illicit business, according to experts.

But now the Taliban – in control of Afghanistan following the withdrawal of the United States  military and under pressure to fund its authority – most likely will target heroin for quick money. 

Indeed, even out of power, the Taliban controlled 10 per cent of their country’s Sh320 billion (US$3 billion) opiate trade.

They taxed poppy farmers and heroin-making factories, under their jurisdiction, to raise funds.

Kenya has been one of the trafficking hubs for Afghan heroin; local drug lords have directly moved the heroin through the country. 

“The East African heroin market forms an integrated regional criminal economy based on the transit of heroin from Afghanistan to the West,” according to the think-tank Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GI-TOC).

Illicit trade

While sentencing the Akashas, the American court claimed that the Kenyans (since jailed in the US) procured and distributed hundreds of kilograms of heroin from suppliers in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region, which they understood would ultimately be imported into the Americas. 

Their organisation roped in heroin transporters from Afghanistan, the Americans claimed in court documents.

The heroin is shipped from Afghanistan to the east coast of Africa on ‘southern route; a network of routes stretching along East and southern Africa, with drug consignments eventually making their way to countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and, to a limited extent-North America, the GI-TOC says in the report,The Heroin Coast: A Political Economy along the Eastern African Seaboard.

The Southern Maritime Route (also known as the Smack Track) runs from Afghanistan/Pakistan region to Europe and the Americas. The heroin docks in the eastern African region on its way to Durban in South Africa as it curves along the African coastline to eventually pour its contents in Europe and the  Americas.

Past seizures of heroin along the Kenya Coast puts Kenya, among key trafficking hubs for drugs destined for Europe and the Americas. 

Mombasa (the largest and busiest seaport in East and Central Africa) is a key port of call for hard drugs. Durban in South Africa is another port of arrival for the Afghan heroin.

The heroin, once in Mombasa, is then airlifted to Europe or moves down to Durban/Beira on its way to consumption points in the western countries. Some of it leaves on land through Uganda to West Africa.

Kenya “is arguably the first pit-stop” along the eastern African seaboard for the Europe-bound Afghan heroin, according to Ken Opala, GI-TOC Kenya analyst. 

Kenya’s importance draws from its well-developed aviation industry that allows drug couriers to flow in and out of the country, while the country’s advanced financial market easily facilitates money laundering linked to illicit trade.

That apart, the nexus between politics, corruption and narcotics, makes Kenya a fertile playground for the narcotics business. This link isn’t far-fetched.

Two years ago, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i claimed that some politicians were using drug money to fund criminal gangs. 

“There is a clear nexus between the illicit drugs trade and peddling with certain political activities by people highly placed in this society,” the Matiang’i said during a tour of Mombasa.

And according to GI-TOC, “one of the most notable evolutions in Kenya’s criminal economy is the exponential increase in the integration of drug networks and political office.

Money derived from heroin and cocaine, has been used to fund multiple election campaigns, and drug traffickers themselves have campaigned for political power funded by drug money”.

Criminal economy

Drug dealers are known to bribe law enforcement officers and top politicians to protect their business. 

“This phenomenon is fuelled by the relationship between money and politics, and the huge expenses incurred by Kenya’s electoral processes,” says GI-TOC’s report.

“Not all Mombasa politics is controlled by narco-money. But certainly in areas like Kisauni, Likoni and Nyali, money from hard drugs has long influenced political determination here,” says Opala, who has investigated the link between criminal gangs and politics in Kenya.

Contacted, the Executive Director-Amnesty International, Kenya Chapter Irungu Houghton declined to comment saying the human rights lobby did not have any available data on the link between politics and hard drugs in the country. 

“We do not have any research or policy position to underpin this,” he said in a Short Text Message. 

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