Drug peddlers: Is renewed war on drugs in Coast big hit or miss?

By , K24 Digital
On Mon, 2 Sep, 2019 08:00 | 4 mins read
Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i.

Reuben Mwambingu

As you walk down the site of the ongoing construction of Mama Ngina Drive Waterfront Park in Mombasa, the waft of marijuana scent is unmistakable.

At the foot of the coral cliff, beneath the site where ocean water kisses the island during high tide are numerous hideouts, popularly as maskani — which loosely translates to base — where drug peddlers and drug users meet under mangrove shades to trade and consume drugs.

Nothing appears to shake the drug peddlers and users who seem to be in their own world. Police are clearly the least of their worries.

Last week, they appeared undeterred even as Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho led the national celebrations committee in the inspection of the waterfront site.

Not even the renewed anti-narcotics war ordered by Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i seems to have had an effect on the drug dens.

This raises many questions about the effectiveness of the crackdown. Did the crackdown bear any fruit? Did it hit the key suspects? Are there untouchable figures frustrating the war?

Shortly after Matiang’i declared “a painful renewed anti-narcotics war” at the Coast, police raided businessman Ali Punjani’s Nyali home in an operation that has left more questions lingering.

A source privy to findings of the raid disclosed that it exposed the deep rot the security agencies in the region, which prompted the transfer of several senior officers.

“Perusal of some of the records obtained from Punjani’s office exposed the officers. Money transactions found in some files were traced to names of some of the shuffled chiefs,” said the source, adding that transactions showed millions of shillings was exchanged as protection fees. 

“The records indicated the transactions were made on several occasions, some in Sh200,000 others in Sh50,000,” said the source.

Several security officers among them former Mombasa County Commissioner Evans Achoki, Regional Commander Marcus Ochola and  County Commander Johnstone Ipara, were moved after the operation in Punjani’s home.

According to the source, the operation “sparked sharp divisions and bad blood” among security chiefs in the region who differed on the manner in which the raid was conducted.

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“It is clear the man enjoyed the protection and, to some extent, the raid might have backfired on some of the officers who deliberately bypassed protocol, perhaps, to bottle up the whole thing. At some point, there was a directive that the files obtained from Punjani’s house be taken back,” the source said.

A detective handling the matter told People Daily that documents obtained from Punjani’s house revealed the suspected drug kingpin used millions of shillings to fund the campaigns of at least two presidential candidates, 10 governors and several MPs.

“This is a high-profile case. You know people in illegal business like him like to associate themselves with power so that their evils can be covered,” said the spy.

During the search in Punjani’s house, detectives accessed a highly secured office which is said to have an electric door and 24/7 surveillance of CCTV cameras. Only Punjani is said to access the office.

On Saturday Coast Regional Coordinator John Elungata was unwilling to speak about the drugs issue.

“I will not comment about that. Why now? Just leave it there please,” was Elungata’s response to People Daily’s question of whether the transfer of security officers was linked to the ongoing operation.

He did not wish to comment on whether the crackdown had made tangible progress, either.

But in an earlier interview, Elungata said the crackdown had established that Mombasa is notorious for hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin while marijuana is rampant in Kilifi and Kwale.

While the operation did not focus on Lamu county, the arrest of Kizingitini OCS and his juniors, who reportedly aided escape of a suspected drug peddler, was a major success.

Shadrack Mumo was arrested for allegedly facilitating the release of a suspect who was reportedly seized in possession of marijuana.

The same crackdown ensnared five suspects, among them three university students, in Sofia area of Voi, who were found selling “weed cookies.”

Go for Jugular

On August 11, two prison warders, Boniface Korir and William Chege, were arrested after they were allegedly found with 27 sachets of cocaine.

Political leaders, including two MCAs in Likoni and Kanamai, were also accused of being involved in the drug trade and fanning gang-related activities.

While some Kenyans have dismissed the operation as a mere public relations exercise, security chiefs in Mombasa say the crackdown will soon strike the jugular of drug networks.

“This time we are not relenting. We have been able to go to high-profile targets in the region as you saw in our operation and that should send a message to them that nobody is safe,” Elungata had said in a previous interview.

He warned security officers, businessmen and politicians who have been colluding with suspects that they will not be spared. He  also asked for the Judiciary’s cooperation in stamping out the drug menace.“We want to call upon our courts to support us so that when we take people there with sufficient evidence, let them be convicted,” he said.

A programme manager in charge of harm reduction at Muslim Education and Welfare Association (Mewa) Abdallah Badrus has a different view regarding how the crackdown is being conducted. He said the arrests spell doom to recovering drug addicts who “access drugs while in police cells.”

“Before the operation, they should have involved the prisons department, the Judiciary, the Ministry of Health and other stakeholders. Much as it is a security issue, drug addiction is also a health issue because, among the addicts, there are people who are on Antiretroviral drugs and others on methadone treatment,” he said, adding:  “The addicts need mass clinics. Some people who have been recovering through methadone therapy were netted in the crackdown. While at the cell, they are not able to access methadone but are instead accessing drugs. Police themselves provide drugs to remandees and convicts in the cells. That’s an undeniable fact.”

Badrus said he knows no case of an addict who recovered after being arrested.

“Treating drug addicts is cheaper than arresting them. The raids should focus more on drug barons,” said Badrus, who has, in the past 10 years, been helping drug addicts recover.