NARCOTICS NUCLEUS

Mombasa drug trade persists despite conviction of Akashas

The Akashas' trial and sentencing may have been a major milestone to the international community, but going by happenings in Mombasa, the war on drugs is far from over locally

In Summary

• Dozens of heroin and cocaine-trading foreigners and locals are on the police radar.

• But on the ground, the business of drugs is still rife and intact in Mombasa and the Coast at large, revealing the complexity of the trade in the Coast.

Sachets of cocaine nabbed at Mombasa Port are displayed before destruction at DCI headquarters Nairobi on November 6, 2019/ANDREW KASUKU
Image: ANDREW KASUKU

As you walk in the streets of Kisauni, Mombasa county, youth with glazed eyes rest in dark alleys after routine heroin and cocaine jabs.

This is symptomatic of rampant drug abuse in the Coast. It speaks volumes of the availability of hard drugs, despite crackdowns.  

Months after US authorities convicted cartel kings the Akasha brothers, Mombasa is still in the grip of drug traffickers.

 
 

In August, Baktash Akasha was sentenced to 25 years in prison and a Sh10.3 million fine after pleading guilty to multiple charges of trafficking narcotics, weapons and obstruction offences.

The much-awaited sentencing of his younger brother Ibrahim was pushed to December after presiding judge Victor Marrero cited discrepancies in the charges.

 

Their pleading guilty put ‘the most prolific drug traffickers in the world’ out of business, according to the US Attorney’s Office.

But on the ground, the business of drugs is still rife and intact in Mombasa and the Coast at large, revealing the complexity of the trade in the Coast. This despite efforts to crack down on it.

The palatial home of Ali Punjani, who once fought with the Akashas over the drugs business, was raided on August 13. Top police bosses were transferred soon afterwards: Mombasa police commander Johnson Ipara, county commissioner Evans Achoki and Coast regional police boss Marcus Ocholla.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg. Recent court proceedings and off-the-cuff interviews with cops indicate that dozens of heroin and cocaine-trading foreigners and locals are on the police radar. 

Drug suspects at Mombasa police headquarters on August 25
Drug suspects at Mombasa police headquarters on August 25
Image: ANDREW KASUKU

DISTRIBUTION NETWORK

On August 3, police arrested Suleiman JM Mjikenda, 47, and Saady BO Dawa, 59, in Barsheba, Kisauni, with three kilogrammes of cocaine of street value Sh11,917,600.

Reports indicate that the detectives had trailed the traffickers from Brazil, where they sourced the drugs, to Juba, South Sudan, through Kampala, Uganda, to Nairobi and finally to its final destination, Mombasa.

Later during the court proceedings, the court heard that Mjikenda was a Tanzanian. He was found with a birth certificate, PIN certificate, fishing licence and driving licence all issued by Tanzanian authorities.

 

Masuo B Tajiri, another Tanzanian living in Kisauni, has been arrested thrice this year and has ongoing court cases over the trafficking of heroin.

In one of his court appearances mid this year, he threatened a photojournalist, pointing at him and uttering inaudible words in court in the presence of police officers and magistrate.

His wife Halima A Mohamed was linked to the recovery of a 100kg heroin haul in Kikambala, Kilifi, on September 2018.

She was among six drug suspects, including Zainab A Farah, Rosemary Kavinya, Omar S Hussein and Alfan R Ali, who were arrested on August 25 after a weekend operation that netted 3kg of cocaine.

Briefing the press at police headquarters, regional commissioner Johnstone Elungata said Farah operated a heroin distribution network in Kisauni, while Hussein was a high-profile drug trafficker, who has been managing a distribution network of cocaine and heroin in the Coast region.

Halima’s sister is married to another drug operative, Swaleh Ahmed, alias Candy Rain or Kandereni, who, despite arrests and several court trips, remains free. He was once arrested alongside his wife with 17kg of heroin worth Sh170 million in 2017.

DRUG BARONS FIGHT BACK

While the US may have helped Kenyan authorities by extraditing the Akashas, who built their sprawling and lucrative international drug business in Mombasa, the state is still struggling to wipe away the trade, which has turned many youths into zombies.

The situation is best captured by the urban slang statement, ‘Vitu kwa ground ni different,’ which loosely translates to ‘Things are not as they appear publicly’.

Journalists have had to censor themselves to remain alive, as known drug barons roam in the streets with immense power derived from their connections with the who is who, including politicians and police.

The most recent extreme episodes of violence meted to would-be persecutors is the assassination of Lamu police constable Hesbon Anunda.

He was beheaded and his body discovered in a mangrove forest on October 5 after unknown people called him to allegedly arrest a drug dealer.

While touring Boni Forest on Wednesday last week, Coast regional commissioner John Elungata said Anunda was murdered by drugs barons to send a signal to other anti-narcotics crusaders.

While Mexico’s drug cartels remain fugitive to the state and law, Mombasa’s drug barons live stress-free lives among the community, with police still staging press conferences saying they are looking for them.

The Akashas' trial and sentencing may have been a major milestone to the international community, but going by happenings in Mombasa, the war on drugs is far from over locally.

BARONS 'PROTECTED'

Drug barons live in Bamburi, Mikindani, Ukunda, Kiembeni, Mtwapa and Nyali, according to a security official involved in the anti-drug war in Mombasa.

Reports indicate foreigners living large courtesy of the trade include Cameroonians, Nigerians, Ghanaians and Tanzanians.

“They eat life with a big spoon. Many of them have protection in security circles. Even if we know them, we keep a distance because we don’t want to lose our jobs,” said the official, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal.

In a case of the state being its own enemy in the war on drugs trade, this year, several police officers have been implicated in the drugs war in Coast.

In August, Hamdi Ibrahim, a police constable attached to Likoni Police Station in Diani, was arrested while cohabiting with a drug suspect, Said Abdalla. He was nabbed in a joint operation by the Anti-Narcotics Unit, the Transnational Organised Crime Unit and the National Intelligence Service.

In the same month, two warders were arrested after CCTV cameras captured them trying to hide cocaine in a toilet at Manyani Prison, Taita Taveta county.

In Lamu county, Kizingitini police station OCS Shadrack Mumo was arrested after releasing a boat and its owner suspected to be ferrying drugs on August 12.

Mombasa Port is a key economic facility for East and Central Africa. Top managers have been reshuffled numerous times in the recent past amid the port's growing reputation as a trafficking hub. International groups have flagged it as a route for heroin from Asia to Europe.

Loud silence from local political leaders on the matter lends credence to long-running allegations that some popular leaders are key players in the trade.

On November 6 at DCI headquarters, Interior CS Fred Matiangi led the destruction of 100kg  of cocaine worth Sh598 million. He said, “We are so prepared to wage a very decisive war on drug trafficking and movement of drugs in our country.”

The cocaine haul was nabbed on July 29, 2016, from a container at the Port of Mombasa.

“We will stop at nothing and we are going to do whatever it takes to confront you... If you enjoyed protection in the past from within our ranks or security sector, my declaration to you today is that that kind of thing will never happen again in our country,” he said.

The country looks on the CS to actualise his words.

Edited by T Jalio

Coast Regional Critical Infrastructure Protection Unit head Nelson Masengele, regional coordinator John Elungata and police commander Rashid Yakub inspect sachets of heroin and cocaine at regional police headquarters in Mombasa, on August 25
Coast Regional Critical Infrastructure Protection Unit head Nelson Masengele, regional coordinator John Elungata and police commander Rashid Yakub inspect sachets of heroin and cocaine at regional police headquarters in Mombasa, on August 25
Image: ANDREW KASUKU