Drug lords on global spies radar set up East Africa’s hub in Dar, US agency says



Tanzania is East Africa’s biggest hub for drugs trafficking, a US government agency has said, putting Dar es Salaam on the radar of international anti-narcotics spies.


A new report released by the US department of State says that Tanzania-based drug trafficking organisations and courier networks operate globally and play a prominent role in the Southwest Asian heroin trade, using Dar es Salaam as the launchpad to control the trade in East Africa.


Dar es Salaam has been fingered as the region’s key transit point for illicit drugs, facilitating the movement of multi-million-dollar narcotics to Kenya, Uganda and Europe as a result of its porous borders and poor policing.


The US Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs report says Tanzania’s location, porous borders, and persistent corruption present challenges to drugs interdiction.


“Traffickers exploit Tanzania’s 1,300km coastline and inadequate port security. Heroin is transported by small vessels southward along Africa’s east coast to Zanzibar and the mainland and in large quantities via land borders from Kenya, through Tanzania, and onward to Mozambique for trans-shipment to Europe and North America. Smaller quantities are trafficked to Europe, India and North America largely via commercial air,” the report released on Monday reveals.


The South American cocaine enters Tanzania by air for further international distribution, the report says, while the country also produces cannabis and khat for domestic consumption and regional distribution, even though they remain illegal in the country.


New landing points

The US also says Dar es Salaam and Mozambique have become the new landing points for the narcotics brought through the Indian Ocean, after the enhanced enforcement efforts undertaken by Kenyan authorities in recent years.


“This has seen ocean-going dhows transporting heroin into East Africa to bypass Kenya in favour of less protected Tanzanian and Mozambican shores, with subsequent land transport to Kenya or neighbouring Uganda,” the report says.


The drugs then find their way back to the Kenyan Coast via the porous borders it shares with Tanzania.


In January, a US court sentenced Ibrahim Akasha, once a member of Kenya’s Akasha drug trafficking empire to 23 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to trafficking heroin and methamphetamine and other crimes.


Baktash Akasha, the Akasha organisation’s former leader, was sentenced to 25 years in prison last August.


This assertion confirms a September 2018 Interpol report on narcotics trade in the region, which notes that drug traffickers were using the Eastern African coast as their open transit route for illicit drug trafficking from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, India, Brazil, Bolivia and Peru with destinations including South Africa, Europe, the US and Asia.


Ports for transit

“Eastern African ports remain strategic points for drug trafficking, while other Eastern African countries continue to be major transit points for drug trafficking from Latin America and the Middle East to Europe and the US,” the Interpol report notes, adding that Tanzania forms part of a major trans-shipment route for heroin entering the region, but is not a major end-market for consumption of the drugs.


Tanzanian authorities last year seized a large haul of drugs acting on real-time intelligence. In February, Tanzania’s Drug Control and Enforcement Agency arrested prominent businessman, Abdul Nsebo and his wife Shamim Mwasha, for alleged heroin trafficking.

In October, DCEA destroyed 120.9kg of seized heroin and cocaine, the highest ever seizure in the East African region.


In August 2019, a US federal court sentenced 10 Tanzanian citizens for their part in a transnational heroin trafficking ring, including Ali Khatib Haji Hassan, an international drug kingpin designated and sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury, who was extradited to the US with two associates in 2017.


Tanzania’s exposure has complicated the drug fight for Kenya, which bears the brunt of the narcotics being smuggled through the long common border.


In the first nine months of last year, Kenya’s narcotics enforcement agency, the Anti-Narcotics Unit conducted over 1,500 raids, seizing over 56.8kgs of heroin, 7.9 tonnes of cannabis, as well as 3.6kgs of cocaine, and over $177,000 in cash and property. Most of these seizures were done in the coastal city of Mombasa, with the drugs being traced to Tanzania, investigation sources said.


Most of the raids and seizures were made possible through the use of modern surveillance techniques and forensics, which saw the drug units of the police conduct investigations in 2019 targeting police and judicial officials involved in drug trafficking.


Washington has also pointed an accusing finger at the Kenyan judiciary for doing little to help in the fight against narcotics trade in the country, adding that it “requires further improvements to effectively prosecute drug-trafficking cases.”


“Kenya continues to face the threat of drugs flowing to and through the country and the ancillary corrupt activities associated with drug trafficking. Kenya’s government will need to remain vigilant and aggressively pursue drug traffickers and continue efforts at the grassroots level to reduce drugs demand,” the report states.


The US still puts Kenya as a significant transit country for a variety of illicit drugs, including heroin and cocaine, and states that domestic drug consumption is growing. Some chemicals used to produce methamphetamine and other illicit drugs also continue to transit Kenya, according to the report.


Heroin routes

“Heroin originating from Southwest Asia enters Kenya both from direct shipping across the Indian Ocean from launch sites along the Makran Coast in Pakistan and Iran, and, increasingly, from countries to the south, transiting Tanzania and Mozambique. Most of the heroin entering Kenya is destined for international markets across the globe, particularly in Europe. Domestic heroin abuse is a growing threat in Kenya, particularly in the coastal areas, including the main port city of Mombasa,” it notes.


The US admits that Kenya’s law enforcement continued efforts in 2019 to reduce the supply of heroin, cocaine, marijuana and other drugs entering the country through increased targeting of international traffickers.


“By targeting drug trafficking organisations instead of individual traffickers, Kenya can more effectively prevent large shipments of drugs from entering or transiting Kenya. Multi-kilogram seizures of heroin are becoming more frequent within Kenya, primarily due to the increased diligence and capability of the Kenya Police Service,” the report notes.

According to Washington, cocaine enters Kenya primarily via direct flights from South America to Ethiopia with subsequent land transport to Kenya, through the porous Northern borders. This year alone, four police officers based in the northern frontier have been arrested using government vehicles transporting narcotics, lending credence to these assertions by the Americans.


“Kenya has seen an increase in cocaine investigations over the past year. Limited maritime enforcement capabilities on Kenya’s Indian Ocean coastline hampers drug interdiction,” it said.


This article was originally published on The East African.

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